Ancient Stars

セーラームーン by SALT

Reading Ruben’s latest post on the waters day, I noticed in his quotations there was something very important missing! But only because it directly related to my own culture: Chinese.

Although the Japanese and the Koreans observe this continuing traditional nomenclature of the seven planets — namely (hah) having the days of the week follow the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn — modern Chinese do not observe this tradition. Although they have in the past.

Nowadays days of the week in Chinese, whether it be Cantonese or Mandarin, use the prefix 星期 (xīngqī, ‘star period’, officially correct), or 禮拜 (lǐbài, ‘worship’), followed by a number until Sunday, which simply uses the word 日 (ri, ‘day’). This means that Wednesday is ‘star period three’ or ‘worship three’ in modern Chinese.

Historically, however, there were two other ways of naming in Chinese that are clearly not used now. Planetary names for days of the week are ancient, but the aforementioned seven particular planets came to China from the West in the first millennium AD and thus were translated into the known system.

In those times, Wednesdays were called 水曜日 (shuǐyào-rì), and these names are still alive in Japan today as Ruben quotes, although they have died out in China. Yes, it used to be associated with water too in China, although there are reminders sometimes of the unfortunate history of the two countries.

Although the Chinese of the 19th century, with their prodigious written tradition, still knew of the 'seven luminaries' nomenclature, it never fully caught on in modern Chinese as a way of naming the days of the Western-style week. Allegedly, the outstanding scholar 袁嘉谷 Yuán Jiāgǔ, who is remembered for setting up a government department to supervise terminology in textbooks in 1909, decided against them because they were tongue-twisters in Mandarin, especially names like 日曜日 rì yào rì. The planetary names enjoyed some currency during the period of Japanese aggression against China, having been attested to in school timetables of the 1920s or 1930s. However, they never came into wide enough usage to supplant the alternatives, and they suffered from a fatal flaw -- they had become too closely associated with Japanese imperialism to be palatable to most Chinese.

The planetary names also faced stiff competition from the popular local system of naming had arisen spontaneously in 19th-century China following contact with Western missionaries.

Not only is this system of male/female and the Five Elements used in Japan and Korea though, but seemingly Vietnam as well. From something so everyday, we can draw roots of influence to the past, when Chinese roots developed into Japanese and other languages we have today, and the integration of Western elements into Chinese culture.

You can read more about its history at cjvlang.

In regards to Sailor Moon though, I’d be more likely to buy Ruben Sailor Moon merchandise than myself. At once I regret not being able to grow up with this series everyone else has, but then part of me is triumphant at being the minority again.

Illust by SALT. Not mine.