Arch Chinese lists the meanings of 子 as

son, seed, egg, child, small thing, noun suffix(zi5), midnight, Kangxi radical number 39, 1st terrestrial branch

The meanings of child, egg, diminutive noun suffix etc. are clearly related, but I find it hard to remember that this also means midnight (in particular in the Korean 자정/子正).

How does 子 come to mean 'midnight'? Is it related to the fact that it also stands for '1st terrestrial branch'?

  • 1
    旧时计时单位时辰,一天被分成12个时辰,12个时辰对应12个地支。第一个时辰是23:00~01:00,也叫子时。 – tsh Mar 2 '19 at 7:48
  • 1
    Hi @tsh - I'm afraid I don't actually read Chinese - my interest in the characters is through learning Korean. – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 2 '19 at 8:05
  • 3
    时辰 is an old time unit, 1时辰=2hours. A day is divided into 12 时辰 and we use 12地支(Earthly Branches) to name them. The first 时辰 in a day is from 23:00 to 01:00, which is called 子时. – tsh Mar 2 '19 at 8:28
  • Thanks. Sounds like that could be an answer to this question, unless you think there's already a duplicate answer on the site somewhere. – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 2 '19 at 9:03

It is indeed related to the terrestrial (earthly) branches, and in a 24-hour day,「子時」represents the time of day between 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM.「子正」, as noted in the question, specifically represents midnight (12:00 AM).

Unfortunately, there is no convenient mnemonic or etymology that you can use to make a connection between「子」and midnight, but I doubt that midnight shows up very often anyway as a meaning (unless you're into traditional Korean timekeeping?).

  • I guess you could even say that 子 doesn't really "mean midnight", it's just a somewhat lazy/abbreviated way of explaining the notion behind 子时、子正 – Fons MA Jan 29 at 7:36

Maybe you should find some comparative charts of Chinese Zodiac/Earthly Branches to help you to remember them: enter image description here

  • 4
    It fits rather well into modern-day alcohol-induced-clubbing-weekend culture that the hours between 1 and 3 in the morning should be the ugly hours (in the PRC, at least). Though I guess for most, the real ugliness tends to be the following morning… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 2 '19 at 11:47
  • In Traditional Chinese Character, the earthly brach 丑 and 醜 (ugly) are two different characters... – Kholkhol Mar 2 '19 at 15:41
  • 2
    Hence why I said “in the PRC”, where simplified characters are used. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 2 '19 at 15:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.