The Year of the Fire Monkey

In searching for a few appropriate visuals to help celebrate the beginning of the Asian New Year I was amused by the number of memes and graphics that bore reference to the year on our Gregorian calendar. It brought to mind the amused little smile our friend Yi gave on a visit to Rome as we vainly attempted to impress him with the antiquity of the Eternal City – and he being from the Celestial City! Oh foolish men!


2016 – bah that is as nothing in a culture where the first calendar was created several centuries before Romulus and Remus quaffed their milk cocktail at Trattoria Lupa. It is said that in 2637 BC the Emperor Huang-di created a calendar based on exact astronomical observations of the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon. The Chinese calendar (and under its influence that of most Asian countries) is a solar/lunar calculation that has several similarities with the Hebrew calendar but unlike the Hebrew calculations takes a dark moon as the signal for the beginning of a new month.  Two oracle bones (left) from the Shang Dynasty (c 1800-1200 BCE) give evidence that by at least the 14th century BCE it had been established that a solar year was 365¼ days and lunation was 29½ days.

Taking into consideration the variables of the solar system the Chinese calendar also includes a Leap Year which does not necessarily coincide with the Gregorian equivalent.  And where an extra day is added to the Western calendar the Chinese add an extra month

Unlike our Gregorian calendar the years are not dated from a fixed point nor counted in an infinite sequence but in a 60 year cycle.  Every year is assigned a name based on two components in the 60-year cycle – the Celestial Stem and Terrestrial Stem.

The  ten celestial stems are linked with the five elements according to Chinese thought and there is no literal translation for the names in English.

  • Jia (growing wood)
  • Yi (cut timber)
  • Bing (natural fire)
  • Ding (artificial fire)
  • Wu (earth)
  • Ji (earthenware)
  • Geng (metal)
  • Xin (wrought metal)
  • Ren (running water)
  • Gui (standing water)

The terrestrial stems are the twelve animals in what we think of as the Chinese zodiac:

  • Zi (rat)
  • Chou (ox)
  • Yin (tiger)
  • Mao (rabbit)
  • Chen (dragon)
  • Si (snake)
  • Wu (horse)
  • Wei (sheep)
  • Shen (monkey)
  • You (rooster)
  • Xu (dog)
  • Hai (boar/pig)

Each of the two stems is used in sequence. The first year of the 60-year cycle is jia-zi, the second year is yi-chou, and so on.  But there are twelve Terrestrial Stems and only ten Celestial – how does that work out?  The 10th year is gui-you then the Celestial Stem begins again making the next year jia-xu.  The 12th year is yi-hai, and following year is bing-zi recommencing the Celestial branch.  Finally in the 60th year with gui-hia the naming cycle is completed. The current cycle began on February 2 1984 and will end in 2044 when the new cycle begins on January 30th with jia-zi.

Copyright: dvarg/123RF Stock Photo

Tomorrow begins Bing-Shen, the 32nd year in the 78th cycle since the invention of the Chinese Calendar: the year of the Fire Monkey.

On this day in 1497: The Bonfire of the Vanities occurs in which supporters of Girolamo Savonarola burn thousands of objects like cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy.



Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

5 thoughts on “The Year of the Fire Monkey”

  1. That is fascinating. I never got much past Gong Hey Fat Choi (depending on who’s pronouncing/spelling it) myself.

  2. Pingback: Spo-Reflections

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