This article is from the Calendars FAQ, by Claus Tondering email@example.com with numerous contributions by
9.3. How does one count years? (Chinese Calendar)
Unlike most other calendars, the Chinese calendar does not count years
in an infinite sequence. Instead years have names that are repeated
every 60 years.
(Historically, years used to be counted since the accession of an
emperor, but this was abolished after the 1911 revolution.)
Within each 60-year cycle, each year is assigned name consisting of
The first component is a "Celestial Stem":
1. jia 6. ji
2. yi 7. geng
3. bing 8. xin
4. ding 9. ren
5. wu 10. gui
These words have no English equivalent.
The second component is a "Terrestrial Branch":
1. zi (rat) 7. wu (horse)
2. chou (ox) 8. wei (sheep)
3. yin (tiger) 9. shen (monkey)
4. mao (hare, rabbit) 10. you (rooster)
5. chen (dragon) 11. xu (dog)
6. si (snake) 12. hai (pig)
The names of the corresponding animals in the zodiac cycle of 12
animals are given in parentheses.
Each of the two components is used sequentially. Thus, the 1st year of
the 60-year cycle becomes jia-zi, the 2nd year is yi-chou, the 3rd
year is bing-yin, etc. When we reach the end of a component, we start
from the beginning: The 10th year is gui-you, the 11th year is jia-xu
(restarting the Celestial Stem), the 12th year is yi-hai, and the 13th
year is bing-zi (restarting the Terrestrial Branch). Finally, the 60th
year becomes gui-hai.
This way of naming years within a 60-year cycle goes back
approximately 2000 years. A similar naming of days and months has
fallen into disuse, but the date name is still listed in calendars.
It is customary to number the 60-year cycles since 2637 BC, when the
calendar was supposedly invented. In that year the first 60-year cycle