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Earthly Branches

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The Earthly Branches (Chinese: 地支; pinyin: dìzhī; or Chinese: 十二支; pinyin: shí'èrzhī; literally "twelve branches"; or Korean: 십이지) provide one Chinese system for reckoning time.

This system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of 歲星 Suìxīng (Jupiter, the Year Star). Astronomers rounded the orbit of Suixing to 12 years (from 11.86). Suixing was associated with 攝提 Shètí (η Boötis) and sometimes called Sheti.

In correlative thinking, the twelve years of the Jupiter cycle also identify the twelve months of the year, twelve animals (mnemonics for the system), directions, seasons, months, and Chinese hour in the form of double-hours. When a Branch is used for a double hour, the listed periods are meant. When used for an exact time of a day, it is the center of the period. For instance, 午 (the Horse) means noon or a period from 11am to 1pm. (The jie qi system provided single hours and 15-degree arcs in time and space.)

Chinese seasons are based on observations of the sun and stars. Many Chinese calendrical systems have started the new year on the second new moon after the solar term.

The Earthly Branches are today used with the Heavenly Stems in the current version of the "traditional Chinese calendar" and in Taoism. The Ganzhi (Stem-Branch) combination is a fairly new way to mark time; in the second millennium BC Shang era it was the ten Heavenly Stems that provided the names of the days of the week. The Branches are as old as the Stems (and according to recent archaeology may actually be older), but the Stems were tied to the ritual calendars of Chinese kings. They were not part of the calendrical systems of the majority of Chinese.







Japanese name Korean






Direction Season Lunar Month Double Hour
On Kun
1 zi2 し(shi) ね(ne) 자 (ja) Rat 0° (north) winter Month 11 11pm to 1am (midnight)
2 chǒu cau2 ちゅう(chū) うし(ushi) 축 (chuk) sửu Ox 30° Month 12 1am to 3am
3 yín jan4 いん(in) とら(tora) 인 (in) dần Tiger 60° spring Month 1 3am to 5am
4 mǎo maau5 ぼう(bō) う(u) 묘 (myo) mão Rabbit 90° (east) Month 2 5am to 7am
5 chén san4 しん(shin) たつ(tatsu) 진 (jin) thìn Dragon 120° Month 3 7am to 9 am
6 zi6 し(shi) み(mi) 사 (sa) tỵ Snake 150° summer Month 4 9am to 11am
7 ng5 ご(go) うま(uma) 오 (o) ngọ Horse 180° (south) Month 5 11am to 1pm (noon)
8 wèi mei6 び (bi) ひつじ(hitsuji) 미 (mi) mùi Goat 210° Month 6 1pm to 3pm
9 shēn san1 しん(shin) さる(saru) 신 (sin) thân Monkey 240° autumn Month 7 3pm to 5pm
10 yǒu jau5 ゆう(yū) とり(tori) 유 (yu) dậu Rooster 270° (west) Month 8 5pm to 7pm
11 seot1 じゅつ(jutsu) いぬ(inu) 술 (sul) tuất Dog 300° Month 9 7pm to 9pm
12 hài hoi6 がい(gai) い(i) 해 (hae) hợi Pig 330° winter Month 10 9pm to 11pm

Some cultures assign different animals: Vietnam replaces the ox, rabbit, and sheep with the water buffalo, cat, and goat respectively; Japan replaces the pig with the wild boar; Tibetan calendar replaces the rat, ox, rabbit and rooster with the mouse, bull, hare and bird respectively. In the traditional Kazakh version of the 12-year animal cycle (Kazakh: мүшел, müşel), the dragon is substituted by a snail (Kazakh: ұлу, ulw), and the tiger appears as a leopard (Kazakh: барыс, barıs).[1]


The 24 cardinal directions (ancient Chinese convention places the south (red) at the top).

Even though Chinese has words for the four cardinal directions - 北 (běi, north), 東/东 (dōng, east), 南 (nán, south), and 西 (xī, west) - Chinese mariners and astronomers/astrologers preferred using the twelve directions of the Earthly Branches, which is somewhat similar to the modern-day practice of English-speaking pilots using o'clock for directions. Since twelve points were not enough for sailing, twelve midpoints were added. Instead of combining two adjacent direction names, they assigned new names as follows:

  • For the four diagonal directions, appropriate trigram names of I Ching were used.
  • For the rest, the Heavenly Stems were used. According to the Five Elements theory, east is assigned to wood, and the Stems of wood are 甲 (jiǎ) and 乙 (yǐ). Thus they were assigned clockwise to the two adjacent points of the east.

Following is a table of the 24 directions:

Character Mandarin name Korean name Japanese name Vietnamese name Direction
1 자 (ja) ne 0° (north)
2 guǐ 계 (gye) mizunoto quý 15°
3 chǒu 축 (chuk) ushi sửu 30°
4 gèn 간 (gan) ushitora cấn 45° (northeast)
5 yín 인 (in) tora dần 60°
6 jiǎ 갑 (gap) kinoe giáp 75°
7 mǎo 묘 (myo) u mão 90° (east)
8 을 (eul) kinoto ất 105°
9 chén 진 (jin) tatsu thìn 120°
10 xùn 손 (son) tatsumi tốn 135° (southeast)
11 사 (sa) mi tỵ 150°
12 bǐng 병 (byeong) hinoe bính 165°
13 오 (o) uma ngọ 180° (south)
14 dīng 정 (jeong) hinoto đinh 195°
15 wèi 미 (mi) hitsuji vị/mùi 210°
16 kūn 곤 (gon) hitsujisaru khôn 225° (southwest)
17 shēn 신 (shin) saru thân 240°
18 gēng 경 (gyeong) kanoe canh 255°
19 yǒu 유 (yu) tori dậu 270° (west)
20 xīn 신 (shin) kanoto tân 285°
21 술 (sul) inu tuất 300°
22 qián 건 (geon) inui càn 315° (northwest)
23 hài 해 (hae) i hợi 330°
24 rén 임 (im) mizunoe nhâm 345°

Advanced mariners such as Zhèng Hé used 48-point compasses. An additional midpoint was called by a combination of its two closest basic directions, such as 丙午 (bǐngwǔ) for the direction of 172.5°, the midpoint between 丙 (bǐng), 165°, and 午 (wǔ), 180°.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ А. Мухамбетова (A. Mukhambetova), Казахский традиционный календарь The traditional Kazakh calendar (Russian)

External linksEdit

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