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APPENDIX II. The Cycle of the Twelve Animals.
This cycle is common to the people of Eastern Asia and used by them for the numeration and designation of years. Chavannes gives a list of the corresponding cycles of the Chinese, Annamese, Cambodgians, Siamese, Chams, Japanese, Turks, Persians, Mongols, Mandshus, and Tibetans.1
In China this cycle is a correlate of the duodenary cycle of the Twelve Branches arranged as follow:
1. ### tse, ### the Rat,
2. ### ch`ou, ### the Ox,
3. ### yin, ### the Tiger,
4. ### mao, ### the Hare,
5. ### ch`ên, ### the Dragon,
6. ### sse, ### the Serpent,
7. ### wu, ### the Horse,
8. ### wei, ### the Goat,
9. ### shên, ### the Monkey,
10. ### yu, ### the Cock,
11. ### hsü, ### the Dog,
12. ### hai, ### the Pig.
Wang Ch`ung (Vol. I, p. 105 seq. and 301) is perhaps our oldest source testifying to the use of this cycle among the Chinese. Since Wang Ch`ung speaks of these animals as universally known, we may safely assume that the Chinese were already acquainted with this cycle some time before Wang Ch`ung; say the first or second centuries B.C. (Chavannes loc. cit. p. 84). If we could trust a passage of the Wu Yüeh ch`un-ch`iu ###, written in the 1st century A.D., it would establish the fact that the cycle was already in use about 500 B.C. The passage is plain and reasonable, but the Wu Yüeh ch`un-ch`iu as a whole contains so many fictions, that its testimony is of doubtful value. The statement may be reliable, but we cannot be quite sure of it.
The cycle of the Twelve Animals cannot have been invented independently by all the nations making use of it, but must have been derived from one common source. The majority of sinologists seems to be inclined to regard it as of Turkish origin. This is the opinion of Rémusat, Klaproth, Wylie, Mayers, and Chavannes, whereas Schlegel and de Saussure have maintained its Chinese origin. Hirth advises us to be careful in asserting the non-Chinese origin. 2 The Chinese critics are also divided in their opinions, some look upon the Turks as the inventors, others claim the cycle for the Chinese.
Originally Rémusat and Klaproth were induced to assume a Turkish origin by their incomplete knowledge of the Chinese texts proving the existence of the cycle. They believed that it was first mentioned in the T`ang-shu chap. 217c, p. 7v., where it is said that the Kirghis (a Turkish tribe) were in the habit of numbering their years by means of the twelve animals. Consequently the Kirghis were credited with the invention of this cycle which the Chinese would have learned from them. But Schuyler3 informs us that it was introduced to the Kirghis from China by the Mongols; a statement for which he must have had some foundation, probably some native tradition. In that case the Kirghis themselves would decline the honour of having been the teachers of the Chinese.
Both Schlegel and de Saussure vindicate the twelve animals for China on grounds taken from old Chinese astronomy. Schlegel contends that six of the twelve animals are the well known Six Domestic Animals ###:--- the horse, the ox, the goat, the pig, the dog, the cock, and the other six have astronomical functions. 4 The arguments of de Saussure are not always easy to grasp, since they suppose a certain amount of astronomical knowledge which most people do not posses. He attempts to show the various astronomical, symbolical, and religious associations attached to the twelve animals by the ancient Chinese. 5
Before entering more fully into the question we must point out a fundamental difference between the Chinese and the other nations. The latter all use the cycle of the twelve animals when numbering years, whereas the Chinese merely employ it for divination, denoting years by their duodenary cycle mentioned above. Now there are three possibilities:---either this duodenary cycle and the cycle of animals are independent of one another, or the Chinese derived the cycle of animals from the Turks, or the Turks got it directly or indirectly from China.
Both cycles exactly coincide:---any year bearing the first cyclical sign tse ### is by the Turks invariably connected with the rat, and every Turkish dog year has in China the cyclical sign hsü ###. It is highly improbable that two independent cycles should fall together, so that every new cycle begins with the same year. Such a thing is not impossible, it is true, but very improbable; the improbability would be 1 to 12. Therefore we are compelled to admit an inner connection of the two cycles.
Now the Chinese duodenary cycle of the Twelve Branches reaches back to the dawn of Chinese civilisation, for we find it referred to in the most ancient literature. For the designation of years it was already used under the Chou dynasty. We have literary evidence showing that as far back as the 7th century B.C. the Chinese marked their years according to the position of the planet Jupiter passing through twelve constellations in the course of twelve years, the time in which this planet completes one revolution round the sun. Each year was designated by the duodenary sign denoting that part of the horizon in which the planet stayed during the year. Originally not the duodenary signs themselves but twelve other synonymous names or the Twelve Divisions of the Ecliptic ### were used for this purpose. 6 But already in the Erh-ya of the 5th century B.C. the position of Jupiter, the year-star is marked by the duodenary cycle. 7 The Erh-ya being a dictionary explaining expressions of the Classics and ancient authors, its method of denoting the cycle of Jupiter must have been known prior to the 5th century, say in the 6th or the 7th. At this early time the Turks did not yet exist, not even their predecessors the Hsiung-nu; the application of the duodenary cycle to years, therefore, cannot have been derived from them. Besides it requires much more astronomical knowledge than the Turks, who have not produced a culture of their own, ever possessed. In Chinese history the Turks do not appear before the 6th century A.D. The cycle of the Twelve Animals is only a corollary of the duodenary cycle involving no small amount of astronomical observations. Since the Chinese did not learn it from the Turks, these must have received it from the Chinese.
The Babylonians already knew the cycle of Jupiter, and used it as early as the 3rd century B.C.8 The Hindoos also made use of it in their chronology, but there is no evidence to show that this was done before the 4th century A.D.9
All chronological cycles have a beginning. They usually commence from some memorable event in the history of the people employing it. Ulugh Beg in his treatise on the well known chronological epochs speaks of those of the Arabs, the Greeks, the Persians, the Seljuks, the Chinese and Uigurs. 10 The Arabs date their epoch from the Hegira, the flight of Muhammed, the Greeks from the death of Alexander, the Persians from the reign of Yezdejerd, the Seljuks from the sultan Melikshāh Arslān Seljūq, the Chinese --- says Ulugh Beg --- from the creation of the world, in reality from the year 2637 B.C. when the sexagesimal cycle is said to have been invented by Ta Nao the minister of Huang Ti. Only in regard to the cycle of the Twelve Animals of the Uigurs Ulugh Beg states that "with the afore-mentioned duodenary cycle the Turks deal in a shorter way. But the length of their epoch is unknown to me." 11 This cannot mean anything else than that Ulugh Beg was in the dark as to the commencement of the cycle, for else he would have known its length. Ulugh Beg was himself a Turkish prince and a great scholar. 12If anybody among his contrymen had been informed about this fact, he would have known it. But the Turks were not cognizant of the beginning of their own cycle or its principle. From this we infer that the cycle was not of Turkish invention, but, imported from alroad. The Turks adopted it without knowing why it was applied to the years and the twelve double hours of the day. It never quite lost its foreign character.
The Chinese have always been very slow in borrowing from other nations especially from those less civilised. Primâ facie it is much more likely that the Turks borrowed the cycle of the Twelve Animals from the Chinese than vice versa. Moreover, the combination of a number of animals with cyclical signs is quite in accordance with the Chinese way of thinking. They have symbolised the Four Quadrants or Four Palaces ### into which they divide the vault of heaven, by four animals:---the green dragon, the black tortoise, the scarlet bird, and the white tiger, and among the numerous categories joined to the Five Elements we found the Five Sacrificial Animals ###:---the ox, the goat, the pig, the dog, the cock (cf. p. 440), one less than the Six Animals mentioned above, which comprise the horse. The Twelve Animals of the cycle either may have only a symbolical and allegorical meaning, such as are usual in divination, or they may have been another old Zodiac of which no traces are left in literature. This view has been held by several scholars who saw in these animals old designations of the signs of the ecliptic. Ideler objects that then it would be incomprehensible how from these signs a cycle of years could have been evolved. 13 By no means, the cycle of Jupiter explains it most satisfactorily. Under this supposition the ancient Chinese would have been in possession of four cycles serving to denote the hours of the day by the course of the sun, to mark the months by the course of the moon, and to designate the years by the course of Jupiter. The sun passes through each sign of these cycles in two hours, the moon in a month, and Jupiter in a year. One cycle is that of the Twelve Divisions of the Ecliptic ### especially in vogue during the Chou dynasty, the second that of Shê-t`i-ko ### mostly used in the Han time, the third the duodenary cycle now universally used, and the fourth the cycle of the Twelve Animals perhaps the oldest of all. There may be small differences between these cycles, in so far as they were referred to the heavenly equator, the ecliptic, or the horizon, but this requires further investigations by some one well versed in astronomy.
With regard to the Turkish list of the Twelve Animals we have to make the following remarks:
The Chinese Tiger is replaced by the Panther or the Cheetah, the hunting leopard = pârs [TYPE URDU!] or bârs. Now, if the Chinese had borrowed the list from the Turks, there is no reason why they should have changed the panther into the tiger, both animals being equally well known to them. Contrariwise, the tiger is very little known in Central Asia where the Turks were originally settled, though occasionally a tiger is found even there. But its home is the warmer south, India and the southern China. Consequently it would be but natural that the Turks should have replaced the tiger by the panther or cheetah better known to them, and in that case the cycle of the Twelve Animals would be of Chinese origin. Even with the panther the ancient Turks must not have been thoroughly acquainted, for their word pârs seems to be borrowed from the Persian and be the same as the Greek πάϱδος and the English pard.
Vámbéry calls attention to the fact that for all the ideas referring to the higher North and its attributes, such as winter, cold, wind, snow-shoes, elk the Turks have genuine words, whereas for animals coming from the south like the goat, the panther, and others they use Persian words. By etymology he finds the regions near the sources and the upper courses of the Angara, the Jenissei, Ob, and Irtish to be the primitive seats of the Turks. 14
Again, in the list of the Twelve Animals we have the Monkey, in Turkish bičin or pîčîn. There are no monkeys on the table-lands of Central Asia and, if the cycle were of Turkish invention, they would most likely not have chosen an animal alien to their own country. Being a southern animal, the monkey, likewise, was given a Persian name, for according to Klaproth pîčîn would be the Persian pûjînah [TYPE URDU!] 15
Chavannes meets these objections against the Turkish origin of the cycle by the supposition that it was invented by Turkish tribes in Gandhâra and Cashmere, referring to the Indoscythian king Kanishka of the first century of our era (p. 122). But, as we have seen, the cycle must have been known to the Chinese before this time already. Moreover, it is very doubtful whether the Indoscythians really were Turks. The language of their descendants, the Tochari, recently discovered and deciphered rather points to an Aryan people. 16 Chavannes seems to think of the Çakas as well, who are said to have conquered the south in the 2nd century B.C. They may have been Turks, although this is not beyond doubt, 17 but if Chavannes supposes that the cycle of animals was known to the Turks more than 8 centuries before its first mention in the inscriptions of the Orkhon, we may make the same conjecture for the Chinese, going back 8 centuries from Wang Ch`ung's time, our earliest authority on the cycle in China. That would bring us back to the 8th century B.C., a time for which the Çakas are out of the question.
But the animal which in my opinion turns the balance to the Chinese side is the Dragon. The ancient Turks neither had the idea of this fabulous animal so intimately interwoven with Chinese mythology nor a name for it, and therefore simply adopted the Chinese name. All authorities are agreed to see in lui or lu the Chinese lung ###. 18 The Turks of Constantinople like the Persians replace the dragon by the crocodile neheng [TYPE URDU!], and other Turkish dialects, by fish baligh [TYPE URDU!]. The Chinese dragon is a saurian somewhat resembling a crocodile, living in the water, but also able to fly and to ride on the clouds. The fact that the Turks borrowed from the Chinese the notion as well as the name of the dragon, an animal which plays no rôle in their life except in the cycle, this fact makes it highly probable that the Turks took the word from the Chinese while adopting the whole cycle of animals.
Ulugh Beg in his chronological work describes 5 different systems, one of them is that of the Chinese and Uigurs. The latter were, as is well known, the most civilised of the Eastern Turks. This Chinese-Uigur chronology is completely Chinese, the cycle of the Twelve Animals forms part of it, consequently the Uigurs must have borrowed it from the Chinese, as they adopted the whole chronological system.
As a peculiarity of the Chinese and Uigur astronomers Ulugh Beg mentions that they count their civil day from midnight to midnight, 19 whereas the Arabs, Persians, and Europeans calculate differently. Moreover, the Chinese and Uigur astronomers divide their civil day into twelve parts each of which they call chāgh [TYPE URDU!], and to each chāgh they give a special name according to a series. 20 Then follow side by side the duodenary cycle and the cycle of the Twelve Animals.
Chāgh originally means a time, a period, in this special sense a double-hour, exactly corresponding to the Chinese shih ###.
The astronomers again divide each chāgh into eight parts which they call keh.21
This, of course, is the Chinese ko ###, a quarter of an hour.
The wise men of China and Turkestan have established a cycle consisting of twelve signs for the days and the years like the parts of day and night, and have given it the names before mentioned 22i. e., those of the duodenary cycle and the cycle of the Twelve animals. Consequently these cycles were not only used for the notation of the double hours, but for that of the days and the years as well, and also for the months as Albiruni informs us. 23 In addition, Ulugh Beg proceeds, the Chinese have a cycle of ten combined with the former to a cycle of sixty, but the Turks merely use the duodenary cycle.
This shows that the cycle of the Twelve animals was a true chronological series exactly fulfilling the functions of the Chinese duodenary cycle.
If we had no other evidence, the adoption of the Chinese names for double-hour and quarter of an hour, to which must be added the expression "intercalary" shûn [TYPE URDU!] = jun ### e. g. māh shūn [TYPE URDU!] "intercalary month" and sāl shūn [TYPE URDU!] "intercalary year," would prove that the Turks owe their chronology to the Chinese, and in this chronology just the cycle takes a prominent place.
From a study of the Turkish inscriptions Hirth (p. 126) comes to the conclusion that the calendar of the ancient Turks coincides with the Chinese and consequently, we continue, must be derived from it.
How the Turks received the Chinese calendar we learn from the Sui-shu ###, the official history of the Sui dynasty, when the Turks became first better known to the Chinese. Under the reign of the founder of this dynasty Kao Tsu the intercourse with the Turks must have been very lively, for during his first years they are very frequently mentioned, several times during the same year:
581 A.D. in the 8th month the Turkish kagan A Po sent an envoy and tribute. In the 9th month the Turkish kagan Sha-po-lio did the same. 24
582 A.D. in the 4th month the great general Han Sêng Shou defeated the Turks on the Chi-tou mountain, and the minister Li Ch`ung vanquished them on the Ho-pei mountain. In the 5th month the Turks passed through the Great Wall. In the 6th month the minister Li Ch`ung defeated the Turks at Ma-yi25 in Shansi.
583 A.D. in the 2nd month the Turks committed robberies at the frontier. In the 4th month the Prince of Wei, Shuang, vanquished the Turks at Po-tou. In the same month the Turks sent an envoy and appeared at court. In the 5th month again the generalissimo Li Huang routed the Turks at Mo-na tu-k`ou, and in the same month the commander-in-chief Tou Jung Ting defeated the Turks together with the T`u-yü-hun at Liang-chou in Kansu. In the 6th month the Turks sent envoys and sued for peace. 26
584 A.D.in the 1st month a new calendar was published. In the 2nd month the Turkish Suni tribe, more than ten thousand people, male and female, arrived and offered their submission, and the Turkish kagan A-shi-na Tien with all his people did the same about the same time. In the 4th month the envoys of the Turks, the Koreans, and the T`u-yü-hun were entertained at a banquet in the Ta-hsing hall. 27
585 A.D. in the 5th month the great general Yuan Chi was sent as envoy to the Turkish kagan A-po. In the 7th month Sha-po-lio sent a letter to the emperor in which he styled himself a minister, and in the following month he sent his son Ku-han-chên t`ê lo to court. 28 The text of the letter of the kagan has been preserved. The emperor was highly gratified by it. In his reply he said that although China entertained friendly relations with the Turks, heretofore they were two States, now there being a sovereign and a minister they were united into one. How he appreciated the new friendship appears from the fact that he had it announced in the temple to Heaven and promulgated throughout the empire. As a special honour to the kagan he resolved that in future edicts his name should not be mentioned, as the personal name of the emperor is avoided in official papers. The wife of the kagan, the kagatun,29 was a Chinese princess of the house of the Northern Chou, called Chien-chin kung-chu.30 She was received by the emperor into his own family and given the imperial family name of the Sui, Yang,31 and her title was changed into Ta-yi kung-chu.32 The son of the kagan, Ku-han-chên, was appointed a duke of the empire with the title Chu-kuo fêng-an kuo-kung.33 He was feasted in the inner palace, presented to the empress, and granted rich presents in recognition of his efforts for cementing the friendship with China. The kagan, on his side, sent the yearly tribute by his son. He asked to be allowed to hunt upon Chinese territory in a certain district. Not only was this privilege granted him, but the emperor sent him wine and food for the hunt. On one day the kagan killed eighteen stags with his own hand and presented their tails and tongs as trophies to the emperor. 34 After all there was an intimate friendship between the two nations for the time being. Under these circumstances we are not surprised to read that in:
586 A.D. in the 1st month the calendar was communicated to the Turks.35
The T`ung-chien kang-mu chap. 36 p. 9 remarks that this was the first instance of China issuing her calendar to foreign barbarians. 36 From that time the Chinese have always regarded the acceptance of their calendar as a sign of submission.
The cycle of the Twelve Animals forms part of the official calendar. So we find in the calendar for 1904 at the end the preceding 120 years, all with their cyclical signs and corresponding animals, and the number of years elapsed up to 1904. Every one may look up in this list the year of his birth with all necessary particulars e.g.:
Kuang-hsü 30th year, chia-ch`ên, fire, one year, dragon, male 6th mansion, female 9th. 37
Kuang-hsü 29th year, kuei-mao, metal, two years, hare, male 7th mansion, female 8th, 5th intercalary month, 38 & c.
I suppose that the calendar of the Sui dynasty was similarly arranged and that at all events the Twelve Animals were mentioned, which for every one are of great importance, being believed to influence his destiny. Then in 586 A.D. the Turks would have received the cycle of the Twelve Animals with the Chinese calendar.
It is possible that the ancestors of the Turks obtained a knowledge of Chinese chronology at a much earlier date, for we learn from the Shi-chi chap. 26 p. 3 v. that "after Yu and Li the house of Chou begin declining: ---ministers of tributary States controlled the government, the astronomers did not record the seasons, and the sovereigns did not announce the first day of the month. Therefore the descendants of the astronomers39dispersed, some in China, others among the I and Ti." 40 From these mathematicians or astronomers the northern barbarians may have learned something about the Chinese calendar, in the 8th or 7th century B.C. and perhaps at that time already they became acquainted with the cycle of animals which subsequently became the basis of their own chronology.
That the other neighbours of the Chinese all derived the cycle of animals from China can easily be shown by the way in which they adopted the denary cycle of the Ten Stems:
The Manchus use the cycle of animals instead of the duodenary cycle like the Turks, and for the Ten Stems they make use of the Five Colours in their correct sequence, doubling each colour:---green, greenish; red, reddish; yellow, yellowish; white, whitish; and black, blackish. By the combination of these two cycles they form the sexagenary cycle. So they call the 11th year the green dog and the 25th, the yellow mouse. 41
The Mongols either use the Chinese Ten Stems as denary cycle, having translated them phonetically, or the Five Chinese Elements, adding either the word male or female---the Chinese yin and yang of course---or the Five Colours with a male or a female suffix. 42
The Tibetans do the same, but do not employ the Five Colours. 43
The Japanese have recourse to the two Chinese cycles written with Chinese characters, but for the denary cycle they also may use the Five Elements which by the division into male and female are brought to the number of ten. 44
Now, what historical evidence is there proving that the Chinese received the cycle of the Twelve Animals or other astronomical knowledge from the Turks? None. A Turkish inscription of the year 692 A.D. is the first monument dated by means of the cycle, whereas in Chinese literature we find it universally known in the 1st century A.D. The ancient Turks were uncivilised and could not write; the culture which they afterwards possessed they had acquired from their neighbours. Consequently they have no ancient literature, and we cannot expect any information on the origin of the soi-disant Turkish cycle from this side.
The only argument of E. Chavannes in support of the Turkish origin of the cycle which has some weight is that the cycle of animals has been much more in vogue among the Turks and Mongols than among the Chinese, being the base of chronology of the former. It must have been invented by them, being much more inherent to their mind than to that of the Chinese who never quite assimilated it, and therefore, says Chavannes, must have borroved it from the Turks. 45De Saussure has well answered this objection. 46 The Chinese duodenary cycle was too abstruse for those people which, therefore, adopted it under its more popular form, the cycle of the Twelve Animals, which after all is nothing else than a category corresponding to the twelve cyclical signs. With the twelve animals they could connect some ideas, with the technical signs not. It is for the same reason that the Manchus, Mongols, and Tibetans replaced the denary cycle by the Five Colours or the Five Elements divided into male and female, yin and yang. It cannot be said that the Chinese have never assimilated the twelve animals so as to use them in chronology, because they did not require them for that purpose, having three other cycles at their disposal. They always used them and still use them in divination, as they do most of those categories attached to the Five Elements.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|