Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches

“干支” (Ganzhi, Stems, and Branches), is the short and general term for “天干地支” (Tiangan Dizhi, the Heavenly Stems, and Earthly Branches). Originally “干支” means the “stems and branches” of a tree, as they are parts of a whole entity. In ancient China, people considered the Heaven the primary and the Earth the secondary (天为“主”,地为“从”,tian weizhu, di weicong). “天” (the Heaven) and “干” (the Stems) are correlated and are thus called “天干.” “地支” come into being because of “地” (the Earth) and “支” (the Branches). So “天干 地支” becomes a collocated expression.

There are ten words about “天干” and 12 words about “地支.” But why have these words been chosen? An interesting answer is that all these words chosen are related to the process of plant growth and the farming activities. The ten words about “天干” are: “甲 (jia), 乙 (yi), 丙 (bing), 丁 (ding), 戊 (wu), 己 (ji), 庚 (geng), 辛 (xing),壬 (ren), 癸 (gui).

“甲” (the 1st of the ten Heavenly Stems), originally means “shell,” and implies here all things on Earth come out of the earth in Spring, and begin sprouting as all plant seeds do.

“乙” (the 2nd Stem) implies that grass and trees start to grow, with small leaves bending to develop.

“丙” (the 3rd Stem) suggests that all things are lightened and are naturally seen.

“丁” (the 4th Stem) implies that grass and trees are well grown like a strong man.

“戊” (the 5th Stem) means the luxuriant growth of all things.

“己” (the 6th Stem) is similar to “起” (qi, rising), which means all things are strongly rising.

“庚” (the 7th Stem) is similar to “更,” “更新” (gengxin, taking on a new aspect), which implies the ready autumn harvesting.

“辛” (the 8th Stem) has the same sounding with “新” (xin, new), which implies here that all things are new after harvesting.

“壬” (the 9th Stem) is similar to “妊” (ren, conception), implying that all things have new conceptions and “阳” (yang, the masculine or the positive principle in nature) begins to withdraw into the Earth.

“癸” (the 10th Stem) means “揆” (kui), implying new lives are breeding down in the Earth and are waiting for the birth.

There are 12 words about “地支”, they are “子 (zi), 丑 (chou), 寅 (yin), 卯 (mao), 辰(chen), 巳 (si), 午 (wu), 未 (wei), 申 (shen), 酉 (you), 戌 (xu), 亥 (hai).”

“子” (1st of the 12 Earthly Branches) means “孽” (nie), implying seeds of plants and trees are ready to sprout when absorbing water.

“丑” (the 2nd Brach) implies that sprouts are bending out of the earth surface.

“寅” (the 3rd Branch) means “影” (ying) or “津” (jin), implying the out-of-earth grass and plants are stretching towards the sunlight.

“卯” (the 4th Branch) is euphonized with “茂” (mao), implying all things are thickly or densely grown.

“辰” (the 5th Branch) is in euphony with “震” (zhen) or “伸” (shen), implying the masculine power and all things are then pushed to grow and develop.

“巳” (the 6th Branch) implies the full power of masculine and all things are then in full development.

“午” (the 7th Branch) implies the full growth of all things on Earth because of the full power of masculine, and the start of “阴” (yin, the feminine or negative principle in nature). It also implies the mix of the masculine and the feminine.

“未” (the 8th Branch) is in euphony with “味” (wei, taste), implying fruits are ripening and are having a taste.

“申” (the 9th Branch) has the same pronunciation with “身” (shen, body) and implies here that all things are well formed and developed.

“酉” (the 10th Branch) means “老” (lao, getting old). So “酉” implies that all things start to wither after ripening.

“戌” (the 11th Branch) implies that all things are withering and dying out.

“亥” (the 12th Branch) implies that all things are exposed to and surrounded by the feminine, which reaches its height.

Also, the 12 words about Earthly Branches are also used by ancient Chinese to keep the time in their daily life. With that belief, people used to divide the whole daytime and nighttime (24 hours) into 12 Time Periods (时辰, Shi Chen), which were kept in memory with the exact 12 Earthly Branch Terms. One Time Period consists of two hours. For example, the Time Period “子” refers to “11 p. m. to 1 a. m. of the next day”. The following shows how the 12 Time Periods coincide with the 24 hours today.

“子” (11 : 00 p. m.—1 : 00 a. m.) “丑” (1 : 00 a. m.—3 : 00 a. m.)

“寅” (3 : 00 a. m.—5 : 00 a. m.) “卯” (5 : 00 a. m.—7 : 00 a. m.)

“辰” (7 : 00 a. m.—9 : 00 a. m.) “巳” (9 : 00 a. m.—11 : 00 a. m.)

“午” (11 : 00 a. m.—1 : 00 p. m.) “未” (1 : 00 P. m.—3 : 00 p. m.)

“申” (3 : 00 p. m.—5 : 00 p. m.) “酉” (5 : 00 P. m.—7 : 00 p. m.)

“戌” (7 : 00 p. m.—9 : 00 p. m.) “亥” (9 : 00 p. m.—11 : 00 p. m.)

7.5) A Cycle of Sixty Years
In ancient China, in early West Han Dynasty, in fact, people began to use “干支” to keep in memory the different years, a unique way used in world history. Such historical events like “戊戌变法 (1898)” (wuxu bianfa), “辛亥革命 (1911)” (xinhai geming), and “甲午战争 (1894)” (jiawu zhan zheng), etc., had all been recorded with the Earthly Stems. Ancient Chinese also use “纪” (ji), a length of 12 years, put in the order of the 12 Earthly Branches, to name the year. When “天干” matches with “地支”, and are repeatedly used, i.e., 6 times of the 10 words about “天干” and 5 times of the 12 words about “地支,” then we have a cycle of 60 years, popularly known as “六十甲子” (liushi jiazi), usually used to keep in memory of the year when one is born.

In ancient China, people, to keep in memory their year of birth, used to name after 12 symbolic animals (十二生肖, shi’er shengxiao) as a way to match the 12 Earthly Branches. The twelve animals are rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog and hog. Besides dragon, the fictitious and mascot animal people believe, others are all common animals that exist in real world.

It is said that the minority herdsman in northern China first thought of the blending way, the names of 12 Symbolic Animals with a 12-year Cycle and the 12 Earthly Branches used by the Han nationality, to name and record different years. From the West Han Dynasty to Southern and Northern Dynasties, “十二生肖” has been much loved and popularly used. But some others believe that they may have come originally from ancients’ worship to earlier totems.

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