Liojen Oracle Basics:Sexagenary Cycle (六十甲子)

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The Chinese sexagenary cycle, also known as Stems-Branches, is a cyclic numeral system of 60 combinations of the two basic cycles, the ten Heavenly Stems and the twelve Earthly Branches.
 

This traditional Chinese calendrical system is used as a means of numbering days and years, not only in China but also in other East Asian nations like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The Sexagenary system is also important in Chinese astrology and Chinese fortune telling arts.
 

The cycle was used in China since the second millennium BC (it has been found on Shang dynasty oracle bones), as a means of naming days (just as western cultures use the days in the week). This use of the cycle for days is attested throughout the Zhou dynasty. For instance, most entries in the Spring and Autumn Annals use this system. Its use for recording years is more recent. It became widespread in the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC- 8 AD), and might have begun in the late Warring States period. The year 1984 began the present cycle, and 2044 will begin another.
 

The calendar is calculated by combining the Ten Heavenly Stems and the Twelve Earthly Branches.  These two sets of terms were used to enumerate years of the civil calendar. Combining the series form a greater cycle of 60 terms, as the least common multiple of 10 and 12 is 60. The first term is formed by adding the first stem to the first branch, then the second stem to the second branch, and so on. If you start with jiǎ-zǐ (Yang Wood Rat), so the 61st year would also be jiǎ-zǐ (Yang Wood Rat). This was how the tradition of celebrating the 60th birthday began. This counting system employing things of nature and animals create many myths, and people of Japan today still consider the good and bad luck of certain days and years. The 1st day of a new year in the sexagenary cycle should be the Lichun.
 

1. Ten Heavenly Stems
 

 

Heavenly
Stem

Chinese
name
(Mandarin
pron. in pinyin)

Yin yang

Wu xing

1

jiǎ

yang

wood

2

yin

3

bǐng

yang

fire

4

dīng

yin

5

yang

earth

6

yin

7

gēng

yang

metal

8

xīn

yin

9

rén

yang

water

10

guǐ

yin

 

2. Twelve Earthly Branches
 

 

Earthly
Branch

Chinese
name
(Mandarin
pron. in pinyin)

Chinese
zodiac

Corresponding
hours

1

Rat

11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

2

chǒu

Ox/Buffalo

1 to 3 a.m.

3

yín

Tiger

3 to 5 a.m.

4

mǎo

Rabbit/Hare

5 to 7 a.m.

5

chén

Dragon

7 to 9 a.m.

6

Snake

9 to 11 a.m.

7

Horse

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

8

wèi

Sheep/Goat

1 to 3 p.m.

9

shēn

Monkey

3 to 5 p.m.

10

yǒu

Chicken/Rooster

5 to 7 p.m.

11

Dog

7 to 9 p.m.

12

hài

Pig/Boar

9 to 11 p.m.

*

The names of several animals can be translated into English in several different ways.
 

3. Sexagenary Cycle
 

 

Stem-Branch

Chinese
name

Associations

1

甲子

jiǎ-zǐ

Yang Wood Rat

2

乙丑

yǐ-chǒu

Yin Wood Ox

3

丙寅

bǐng-yín

Yang Fire Tiger

4

丁卯

dīng-mǎo

Yin Fire Rabbit

5

戊辰

wù-chén

Yang Earth Dragon

6

己巳

jǐ-sì

Yin Earth Snake

7

庚午

gēng-wǔ

Yang Metal Horse

8

辛未

xīn-wèi

Yin Metal Sheep

9

壬申

rén-shēn

Yang Water Monkey

10

癸酉

guǐ-yǒu

Yin Water Chicken

11

甲戌

jiǎ-xū

Yang Wood Dog

12

乙亥

yǐ-hài

Yin Wood Pig

13

丙子

bǐng-zǐ

Yang Fire Rat

14

丁丑

dīng-chǒu

Yin Fire Ox

15

戊寅

wù-yín

Yang Earth Tiger

16

己卯

jǐ-mǎo

Yin Earth Rabbit

17

庚辰

gēng-chén

Yang Metal Dragon

18

辛巳

xīn-sì

Yin Metal Snake

19

壬午

rén-wǔ

Yang Water Horse

20

癸未

guǐ-wèi

Yin Water Sheep

21

甲申

jiǎ-shēn

Yang Wood Monkey

22

乙酉

yǐ-yǒu

Yin Wood Chicken

23

丙戌

bǐng-xū

Yang Fire Dog

24

丁亥

dīng-hài

Yin Fire Pig

25

戊子

wù-zǐ

Yang Earth Rat

26

己丑

jǐ-chǒu

Yin Earth Ox

27

庚寅

gēng-yín

Yang Metal Tiger

28

辛卯

xīn-mǎo

Yin Metal Rabbit

29

壬辰

rén-chén

Yang Water Dragon

30

癸巳

guǐ-sì

Yin Water Snake

31

甲午

jiǎ-wǔ

Yang Wood Horse

32

乙未

yǐ-wèi

Yin Wood Sheep

33

丙申

bǐng-shēn

Yang Fire Monkey

34

丁酉

dīng-yǒu

Yin Fire Chicken

35

戊戌

wù-xū

Yang Earth Dog

36

己亥

jǐ-hài

Yin Earth Pig

37

庚子

gēng-zǐ

Yang Metal Rat

38

辛丑

xīn-chǒu

Yin Metal Ox

39

壬寅

rén-yín

Yang Water Tiger

40

癸卯

guǐ-mǎo

Yin Water Rabbit

41

甲辰

jiǎ-chén

Yang Wood Dragon

42

乙巳

yǐ-sì

Yin Wood Snake

43

丙午

bǐng-wǔ

Yang Fire Horse

44

丁未

dīng-wèi

Yin Fire Sheep

45

戊申

wù-shēn

Yang Earth Monkey

46

己酉

jǐ-yǒu

Yin Earth Chicken

47

庚戌

gēng-xū

Yang Metal Dog

48

辛亥

xīn-hài

Yin Metal Pig

49

壬子

rén-zǐ

Yang Water Rat

50

癸丑

guǐ-chǒu

Yin Water Ox

51

甲寅

jiǎ-yín

Yang Wood Tiger

52

乙卯

yǐ-mǎo

Yin Wood Rabbit

53

丙辰

bǐng-chén

Yang Fire Dragon

54

丁巳

dīng-sì

Yin Fire Snake

55

戊午

wù-wǔ

Yang Earth Horse

56

己未

jǐ-wèi

Yin Earth Sheep

57

庚申

gēng-shēn

Yang Metal Monkey

58

辛酉

xīn-yǒu

Yin Metal Chicken

59

壬戌

rén-xū

Yang Water Dog

60

癸亥

guǐ-hài

Yin Water Pig


 

4. Application

The sexagenary cycle was first used for days in the Shang Dynasty, and later also used for years and less commonly for months.

For example, the year 2000 was the 17th year of the 78th sexagenary cycle, a gēng-chén year (庚辰年), a year of the Yang Metal Dragon. Therefore, 2006 is the 23rd year of the 78th sexagenary cycle, called a bǐng-xū year (丙戌年), a year of the Yang Fire Dog; 2007 a year of the Yin Fire Pig.

The naming of the months and days is not common now, although they are shown on Chinese calendars and almanacs.

Attention: In common practice, the "combination" elements (Chinese agricultural calendar) should be applied for the Sexagenary Cycle. Either the "Heavenly Stem" or the "Earthly Branch" alone is not enough to determine the element for any year within the 60 years of the Sexagenary Cycle.