I Ching

How do you match years with hexagrams?


Nowadays some importance is attached to the hexagram of the year, associated with the thought that this hexagram might be able to foretell the most important worldwide events of the year it is associated with. However this is a rather simplified version of an association that goes back to the Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368). In all there are at least 4 hexagrams associated with each year, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

On the face of it there is no obvious connection between a year and a hexagram. To discover it we need to go back to first principles. The ancient Chinese used a 60-year cycle to measure time. This cycle was made up of combinations of the 10 Heavenly Stems and the 12 Earthly Branches, knitting Heaven and Earth together using time. These combinations were called the jia-zi cycle, after the name of the first Stem (jia) and first Branch (zi). But 10 x 12 makes 120 not 60 combinations. The ever-subtle ancient Chinese realised that they could only match yang Branches with yang Stems, and yin Branches with yin Stems, reducing the number of combinations to 60.

Although we can count jia-zi combinations from year 1 to the present, it is much easier if I just tell you that the combination for 2021 is 辛丑 xin chou (Stem xin combined with Branch chou). There is no doubt about that. Xin chou is the Yin Metal Ox. You can double check if you got the Element right by checking the Element of the adjoining year. They always come as pairs. As 2020 was the year of the Yang Metal Rat, then the Element checks out. You can then check the animal by confirming that in the cycle of 12 ‘Zodiacal’ animals, the Ox follows the Rat.

So now we can use this jia-zi combination to determine the next link in the chain, the hexagram. Most commentators identify the hexagram of 2021 as Ming Yi, hexagram 36, ‘Brightness hiding.’ Taking it one step further, this hexagram is made up of two trigrams, which are Earth (kun) over Fire (li). This is visually a rather unstable combination, with perhaps the suggestion of volcanic action (fire under the earth). Already a confirmation of the rightness of this hexagram comes with the ongoing eruption of Mt Etna which began on or around 9th February 2021. Of course further eruptions of other volcanoes over the course of the year, and other indicators, are needed for this hexagram to be fully confirmed.

This combination also indicates the increasing strength of politically subversive groups working underground, like the Milk Tea Alliance which is an online movement made up of netizens from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Myanmar. Tea is drunk with milk in all these countries but not in mainland China, or PRC, a clear hint of its orientation. This alliance heated up on 1st February 2021 with the Myanmar coup.

When did the association of jia-zi combinations with hexagrams begin? It began in the Yuan dynasty with a re-awakening of interest in the Yi Jing (I Ching). Prior to that feng shui compasses (luopans) did not show any hexagrams and only four trigrams. They were formulated on a base 60 arithmetic (made up, as we have seen above, of combinations of Stems and Branches). So to pair the 60 jia-zi with the 64 hexagrams, four hexagrams were taken on one side to be representative of the four cardinal directions. The remaining 60 hexagrams were called the 60 Root hexagrams.[1]

The 60 Root hexagrams ring was a very important ring, as it formed the bridge between San He and San Yuan practice. Although it does not appear on modern luopans we can still consult it to discover the connection between the 60 jia-zi and the 60 Root hexagrams.

The 60 Root hexagram ring was so popular that during the Ming dynasty there were in fact four variant forms of this ring, each performing a different function:

a.   Heaven Yuan Root hexagram.

b.   Man Yuan Root hexagram.

c.    Earth Yuan Root hexagram.

d.   Mountain-Piercing & Earth-Penetrating Root hexagram.

If you look at Figure 1 through to Figure 4 below, you will see that in each case the four hexagrams of the quarters are missing, leaving just 60 Root hexagrams exactly matched with the 60 jia-zi or Sexagenary Combinations. Let us look at these in order:

a.         Heaven Yuan Root hexagrams. As this is the Heaven Yuan it derives from the Former Heaven Sequence. Therefore the extracted hexagrams are the hexagrams of the four Cardinal directions Chien (S), K’un (N), Li (E) and Kan (W). Figures 1 and 4 show the full hexagrams of the Heaven Yuan Root hexagram.

b.         Man Yuan Root hexagrams.  This arrangement is predicated on the Later Heaven Sequence, and so the 4 extracted hexagrams are the hexagrams of its four directions: Li (S), Kan (N), Chen (E) and Tui (W).

c.          Earth Yuan Root hexagrams. As Earth Yuan derives from the Later Heaven Sequence, so the 4 extracted hexagrams are the same as the previous category.

d.         Mountain-Piercing & Earth-Penetrating Root hexagram. This ring is quite complex and rather unsatisfactory as it contains both missing and duplicate hexagrams. We will not include it in this discussion.

Of these four arrangements, probably the most important is the first, the Heaven Yuan Root hexagram, as it is the one that was later transformed into the Xuan Kong hexagram ring.

The following illustrations show three of the possible Root hexagram configurations. This is the original key to matching the year (as expressed by a Stem/Branch combination) and the hexagram.

Figure 1: The 60 Heaven Yuan Root hexagrams. This is derived from the Former Heaven Sequence. Xin Chou and its hexagram are in the bottom left adjacent to the Chou Mountain.
Figure 2: The 60 Man Yuan Root hexagram.  Xin Chou is in the same position, but is attached to a different hexagram.
Figure 3: The 60 Earth Yuan Root hexagrams. This is derived from the Later Heaven Sequence, and has yet another hexagram.
Figure 4: The full 60 Root hexagrams of the Heaven Yuan Root hexagrams. The inner ring is the 24 Mountains; the next ring is the jia-zi or Sexagenary Combinations; then the names of the hexagrams in Chinese; and finally its constituent trigrams. This is shown in an expanded form because it is the most important Root hexagram arrangement. This is the arrangement that later transformed into the San Yuan 64 hexagram ring (after the re-introduction of the four Cardinal hexagrams).

The following is a Year Hexagram Summary for 2021. Apart from the classical four hexagrams, there have been other attempts at determining the hexagram of the year.

Stem/Branch Combination for 2021Jia-zi
StemStem ElementBranch/ AnimalBranch ElementYin Metal Ox
Xin 辛Yin MetalChou/ OxEarth辛丑
Year 2021Associated HexagramTrigrams 
Year 2021Hexagram NumberHexagram in EnglishHexagram in ChineseLower TrigramUpper Trigram
Usually Accepted36Ming Yi明夷 Fire Earth
Google21Shih K’o噬嗑 Lightning Fire
Heaven Ring17Sui Thunder Lake
Man Ring39Chien Mountain Water
Earth Ring62Hsiao Kuo小過 Mountain Thunder


[1] See chapter 7.12 on the 60 Root hexagrams in my Guide to the Feng Shui Compass, Singapore: Golden Hoard, 2016 for more details.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *