Gan – Heavenly Stems and Zhi – Earthly Branches

Also related to the 28 lunar houses, the ten Heavenly Stems which reflect the energy of Heaven (Table 1) and the twelve Earthly Branches, which represent the energy of Earth (Table 2).

Evidence suggests that the Stems and Branches have existed even before the invention of the Chinese characters. The symbols for the Stems and Branches are seen in the unearthed ancient Chinese oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (1766 to 1111 BCE).

As noted in the tables below, a given Stem or Branch also contains the energy of one of the Five Elements. As a brief example, the first Heavenly Stem, Jia, contains the energy of Yang Wood. The first Earthly Branch, Zi, contains the energy of Yang Water.

Traditional Chinese astrology names each year according to its Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch. For instance, this year (2014) is called JiaWu 甲午. Jia is the Heavenly Stem and it means Yang Wood. Wu is the Earthly Branch and it means Yang Fire. The astrological animal associated with Wu is the horse. This is the origin of the animals you see on menus in Chinese restaurants – they the Earthly Branch energy made manifest in a living symbol we can all relate to.

Naming years in this fashion functions not only to keep track of the year but also to characterize the energy of that time period. The energies of each month, date, or even time of day (in two-hour increments) are also reflected by a Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch. An individual's astrologcial chart is calculated through the Stems and Branches.

Read more about the GanZhi - the heart of all Chinese wisdom traditions...

Table 1.  The Heavenly Stems

Direction & Spiritual Animal
East
Blue-Green Dragon
South
Red Bird
Center
Yellow Phoenix
West
White Tiger
North
Turtle-Snake
Heavenly Stem
甲 Jia
乙 Yi
丙 Bing
丁 Ding
戊 Wu
己 Ji
庚 Geng
辛 Xin
壬 Ren
癸 Gui
Brief Meaning
Initiating Pushing Surging   A sprout breaking through the earth
Flexibility with strength Early growth with bendable branches Moving around barriers
Expanding life force All things are clear and obvious 
New life fully  grown Everything is at its strongest
Blooming Flourishing Luxuriant growth
Distinguish-able features develop Things start to become hidden inside
Fullness Ripeness Beginning of reversal
Withdrawal Harvest
Yang energy begins again inside/under earth/water
Re-gathering the life force Everything can be estimated
Number
First
Second
Third
Fourth
Fifth
Sixth
Seventh
Eighth
Ninth
Tenth
Element
Yang Wood
Yin Wood
Yang Fire
Yin Fire
Yang Earth
Yin Earth
Yang Metal
Yin Metal
Yang Water
Yin Water
Organ
GB
LV
SI
HT
ST
SP
LI
LU
BL
KD
Season
Spring
Summer
Four Seasons (Harmonizing)
Autumn
Winter
Color
Green
Red
Yellow/Brown
White/Golden
Black/Blue
Flavor
Sour
Bitter
Sweet
Spicy/Pungent
Salty
Fruit
Plum
Apricot
Date
Peach
Chestnut
System
Nervous System
Circulatory System
Digestive System
Respiratory System
Urinary System
Body Layer
Nerves
Blood
Muscles
Skin
Bones

Table 2.  The Earthly Branches 

Direction
North
East
South
West
North
Earthly Branch
子 Zi
丑 Chou
寅 Yin
卯 Mao
辰 Chen
巳 Si>
戊 Wu
未 Wei
申 Shen
酉 You
戌 Xu
亥 Hai
Hidden Stems
己辛癸
甲戊丙
戊癸乙
丙戊庚
丁己
乙丁己
戊庚壬
丁戊辛
甲壬
Brief Meaning
Yang hidden in Yin A sprout about to grow
Intertwining energy Underground growth
Advancing moving forward A sprout stretching out of the ground
Flourish Surge
Time of full awakening
Preparing for full ripeness
Against or reverse Growth at its peak
Fully ripe Uncertain Not yet decided
Stretch Expand Extend
Gather after a rich yield Ferment
Retreat from the visible
A seed awaiting the next growth cycle
Number
First
Second
Third
Fourth
Fifth
Sixth
Seventh
Eighth
Ninth
Tenth
Eleventh
Twelfth
Animal
Rat
Ox
Tiger
Rabbit
Dragon
Snake
Horse
Ram
Monkey
Rooster
Dog
Pig