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.

StemStatusElement BranchStatusElement
JiaYangWood ZiYangWater
YiYinWood ChouYinEarth
BingYangFire YinYangWood
DingYinFire MaoYinWood
WuYangEarth ChenYangEarth
JiYinEarth SiYinFire
GengYangMetal WuYangFire
XinYinMetal WeiYinEarth
RenYangWater ShenYangMetal
GuiYinWater YouYinMetal
    XuYangEarth
    HaiYinWater

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 – 1011 – 2021 – 3031 – 4041 – 5051 – 60
Jia ZiJia XuJia ShenJia WuJia ChenJia Yin
Yi ChouYi HaiYi YouYi WeiYi SiYi Mao
Bing YinBing ZiBing XuBing ShenBing WuBing Chen
Ding MaoDing ChouDing HaiDing YouDing WeiDing Si
Wu ChenWu YinWu ZiWu XuWu ShenWu Wu
Ji SiJi MaoJi ChouJi HaiJi YouJi Wei
Geng WuGeng ChenGeng YinGeng ZiGeng XuGeng Shen
Xin WeiXin SiXin MaoXin ChouXin HaiXin You
Ren ShenRen WuRen ChenRen YinRen ZiRen Xu
Gui YouGui WeiGui SiGui MaoGui ChouGui 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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