Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches

The Chinese system of time keeping is based on the Ganzhi system. Ganzhi is the short form for Tian Gan and Di Zhi which means Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches.

The Chinese Solar or Xia Calendar is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun while the Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the moon’s rotation around the earth. Many cultures including the Chinese believe that life on earth is influence by the movement of the heavenly bodies that include the sun, moon and planets such as Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury etc that ! Keeping track of their movement and their influence on mankind is not an easy task. It requires a good knowledge of astronomy and mathematics!

Many practitioners believe that the Ganzhi system is a model of this astronomical system and its influences. The outstanding feature of this system is it simplicity and that it can be understood and applied by almost anyone.

There are 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches. They have either yin or yang properties as well as elemental property of the Five Elements as shown in the table below.

Stem Status Element Branch Status Element
Jia Yang Wood Zi Yang Water
Yi Yin Wood Chou Yin Earth
Bing Yang Fire Yin Yang Wood
Ding Yin Fire Mao Yin Wood
Wu Yang Earth Chen Yang Earth
Ji Yin Earth Si Yin Fire
Geng Yang Metal Wu Yang Fire
Xin Yin Metal Wei Yin Earth
Ren Yang Water Shen Yang Metal
Gui Yin Water You Yin Metal
Xu Yang Earth
Hai Yin Water

The stems combine with the branches in a sequence shown below to form a cycle of 60 combinations known as the “60 Jia Zi”.

1 – 10 11 – 20 21 – 30 31 – 40 41 – 50 51 – 60
Jia Zi Jia Xu Jia Shen Jia Wu Jia Chen Jia Yin
Yi Chou Yi Hai Yi You Yi Wei Yi Si Yi Mao
Bing Yin Bing Zi Bing Xu Bing Shen Bing Wu Bing Chen
Ding Mao Ding Chou Ding Hai Ding You Ding Wei Ding Si
Wu Chen Wu Yin Wu Zi Wu Xu Wu Shen Wu Wu
Ji Si Ji Mao Ji Chou Ji Hai Ji You Ji Wei
Geng Wu Geng Chen Geng Yin Geng Zi Geng Xu Geng Shen
Xin Wei Xin Si Xin Mao Xin Chou Xin Hai Xin You
Ren Shen Ren Wu Ren Chen Ren Yin Ren Zi Ren Xu
Gui You Gui Wei Gui Si Gui Mao Gui Chou Gui Hai

This 60 Jia Zi is mapped to the year, month and day and repeated infinitely. For example the year 1924, 1984 and 2044 are all Jia Zi Year. The following years of 1925, 1985 and 2045 are all Yi Chou Year which is the next combination in the sequence.

Similarly if this month is Yi Chou, then the next month is Bing Yin which is the next combination in the sequence. The same applies to the day. If today is Jia Zi then tomorrow is Yi Chou. The cycle is repeated every 60 days. And if this bi-hour is Ding You, the next bi-hour is Wu Xu the next combination in the cycle.

This explains why in the Chinese Solar or Xia Calendar every day is represented by four Jia Zi combinations namely the Jia Zi of the year, month, day (and hour if specified).

To find out the Jia Zi combinations of any western day you can use this Ten Thousand Year Calendar.

Let me give an example of how this system is used to find a very inauspicious day called the Year Breaker. The stem branch combination for the year 2006 is Bing Xu. In the system of stems and branches, Xu clash with Chen (not covered here) and hence any Chen day in 2006 is considered inauspicious. This type of inauspicious clash is known as a Year Breaker!


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