The 10 Heavenly Stems

The 10 heavenly stems are a Chinese system of ordinals that first appear during the Shang dynasty (1250 BC), as the names of the ten days of the week. They were also used in the Shang-period ritual as names for dead family members, who were offered sacrifices on the corresponding day of the Shang week.


The 10 stems belong to one of the 5 elements and have an alternating YinYang polarity. Each stem follows the cyclical changes of nature in chronological order.


The 10 heavenly stems

Stem   PinYin Polarity Element Meaning
1 jiǎ yang wood Tender buds split pods
2 yin Seedling grows up day by day
3 bǐng yang fire Growth becomes notable
4 dīng yin Seedling becomes big and strong
5 yang earth Crop is growing luxuriantly
6 yin Crop is ripe
7 gēng yang metal Renovation takes place
8 xīn yin New life begins to shape
9 rén yang water It is becoming pregnant
10 guǐ yin Next generation begins to sprout


In chronoacupuncture the 10 heavenly stems are often combined with
the 12 earthly branches. Together they form the sexagenary cycle, a group of unique stem and branch combinations.