The Sexagenary Cycle to Start the New Year
The Sexagenary Cycle to Start the New Year
  • Lee Yun-so (ST Reporter)
  • 승인 2023.03.17 00:15
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We pay plenty of attention to animals that symbolize the year at the beginning of the year. However, it is often unclear how animals that symbolize the year are selected. Therefore, to help you understand this, ST tries to explain the 12 gods and 12-kan ji through easy and interesting stories, so that Soongsilians can get to know them well. ................. Ed.


     2023 is the Year of the Black Rabbit, called Gyemyo. Black symbolizes wisdom. Rabbits are not only known for their wisdom, but they also represent prosperity, fertility, and family peace. These symbolic animals add to the excitement of the beginning of the new year. At the beginning of every year, there is a custom in Korea about the year's zodiac animal and color. 2022 was the year of the black tiger, and 2024 would be the year of the blue dragon. The reason why symbolic animals can be determined every year is that the concept of the zodiac animal is well established in our daily lives. So, how do animals such as black tigers, black rabbits, and blue dragons determine their colors? This can be understood as the sexagenary cycle.

     The zodiac animal originated from the god of the zodiac that protects the land. The god of the zodiac originated in India, the birthplace of Buddhist culture. Korea accepted this as a culture during the Unified Silla Period, and has continued to this day. This is one of the beliefs that greatly influenced our culture. Furthermore, most of them are used not only in Korea, but also in Eastern Buddhist cultures influenced by Buddhist culture. You may have heard the story of a race that is related to the god of the zodiac. The story of the race begins when animals gather because the Jade Emperor allocates the position of controlling the land in the order of the race. Here, the order in which the animals arrived is the order of the 12 gods.

     The night before the race, while everyone was asleep, the most diligent ox (cow) got up and started first. As the day came, the ox reached the finish line. As soon as he was about to be the first, the rat that was hiding jumped off the ox's head, and crossed the finish line first. Thus, the 12 gods first became a 'ja' representing a rat, and then a 'chuk' representing an ox. Moreover, a rooster (chicken) lagged in raising their voices when morning came, and dogs and monkeys fought each other and arrived late. Finally, it is a race in which the slowest and fattest pig came last.

     The Sexagenary Cycle is formed by a combination of animals and colors. The term needed at this time is '12 kan-ji.' The 12 gods and 12 kan-ji may be confusing, but, in short, the 12 gods are included in the 12 kan-ji. The 12 kan-ji is a combination of 10 Heavenly Stems, a word used to count days and years in the ancient times, and 12 Earthly Branches, which indicate the orientation of the land. Therefore, the 12 Earthly Branches representing land are called 'jiji', and the 10 Heavenly Stems representing the sky are called 'Cheongan'.

     The term '10 Heavenly Stems' may be unfamiliar to us. However, it is a word that is often used in everyday life. 'Gap', 'Eul', 'Byeong', and 'Jeong' are 10 Stems. It is divided into five elements of wood, fire, soil, iron, and water, respectively, then divided into yin and yang, and each has its symbolic color. The 12 Branches are words such as "ja," "chuk," "in," and "myo," and it is the god of the zodiac that is attached to each sacred animal. According to the combination of 12 kan-ji, 60 cases occur, so every year is designated as the Cycle. This year marks the year of 'Gyemyo' by combining 'Gye' of 10 Heavenly Stems and 'Myo' of 12 Branches.

     In the Sexagenary Cycle, 10 Stems and 12 Branches are supposed to be given each year. Therefore, 10 Stems have a 10-year cycle, and 12 Branches have a 12-year cycle. The multiples of 10 include 10, 20, 30, etc. And the multiples of 12 are 12, 24, 36, etc. At this time, a multiple that 10 and 12 have in common is generated, which is called a common multiple. The smallest common multiple in the Cycle is 60. In Korea, being 61 years old is called having a 60th birthday, and usually holds 60th birthday parties. This means that he has returned to the kan-ji of the year when he was born again after reaching one Sexagenary Cycle.

     2023 is one of the years marking the methods called the AD (Anno Domini), which we commonly use. It was first used in the West, and is now widely used everywhere around the world. On the other hand, a Sexagenary Cycle is a year notation used in Korea since the reign of King Sejong of the Joseon. In Korea, the year marked by this cycle is said every New Year, and an animal is used as a mascot for the year. Several companies use it for marketing, and products related to the animal are produced. As such, since the Sexagenary Cycle is deeply related to our daily lives, understanding the Sexagenary Cycle can be of great help in many ways.


Lee Yun-so (ST Reporter)

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