How old am I?

I’ve got to an age where age isn’t so important. I remember in primary school when we would calculate our exact ages “I’m 6 and a half” because that half a year made us so much older and wiser than our classmates. Anyway, this post is about my age in China.

I met a Chinese guy a few weeks ago, and we had the usual introduction conversation, what’s your name, where are you from etc? Then the conversation went as follows:

Me: I’m 23, you?

小刘: Me too

Me: Oh cool, so you’re also a Goat [Chinese zodiac]

小刘: What? No. I’m a rooster.

Me: That’s impossible, how can you be 23 and a rooster?

小刘: How can you be 23 and a goat? What year were you born in?

Me: 1991

小刘: 1991? Then you’re not 23… you’re, let me check…you’re 25 years old.

I was slightly confused and for a few moments wondered if I really was 25, and what had I wasted the past 2 years of my life doing?

I did the maths again, 1991 to 2000 is 9, + 15 means I’ll turn 24 this year but I haven’t had my birthday yet so I was definitely 23, not 25. I asked him to explain his method, but he couldn’t. He just insisted I was 25.

Then this week in class, our teacher gave us an explanation of Chinese ages. There are two main types, 周岁 and 虚岁*:

周岁 [zhousui] is your ‘actual’ age, which increases on your birthday. But unlike in the west, in China, when you are born, you are 1 year old, not 0 months. My teacher said it’s because women are pregnant for a year before the baby is born. All the females in our class shouted an anonymous NO, it’s 9 months! Which shows how little our teacher knows about pregnancy.

虚岁 [xusui] is your nominal age, so the age that you will turn at the end of the year. It’s also based on the same idea as 周岁, that when you are born you are 1 year old. So regardless of whether you’ve had your birthday or not, you will always be slightly older.

For an example, a child that was born on 02/12/2000 is now:

  • 14 in Western terms
  • 15 周岁
  • 16 虚岁

Confused? I still am. And now I know the theory behind the ages, when people tell me their age, I don’t know if they are telling me their Western age, 周岁, or 虚岁. Is it rude to ask them to clarify how old they are? I also don’t know whether to keep telling people I meet that I’m 23, as they may think I’m 虚岁 23 [so actually 21].

*my dictionary says there are other ages, 足岁 and 实岁 but I don’t want to confuse myself anymore, so will stick to these two.


One thought on “How old am I?

  1. Yes, this is very annoying. Not only in China, it also happens in Korea, and maybe also in Japan but not sure. I usually ask people the year they were born, to avoid confusion. And if someone says I am 33 I am totally going to slap them xD

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