The roots of Chinese astrology go back thousands of years. Needless to
say in the course of millennia a number of different systems have been
There are two main types, those that rely on birth data
alone, and those that use birth data but rely primarily on positioning
of stars and planets. Most use the lunar calendar (see appendix 1 for
more info on the Chinese calendar) which bases its calculations on the
cycles of the moon. That is why Chinese New Year falls on a different
date every year. Some Chinese systems use the solar year as Western
astrology does. Both, however, make use of Chinese five element theory.
five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, always being
given in that order. It is said to be a productive cycle, that is Wood
produces Fire; Fire produces Earth; Earth produces Metal, Metal
produces Water, and Water produces Wood, thus continuing the cycle. The
balance of these elements and their positioning in a Chinese chart
enable the astrologer to tell many things about a person’s personality
As with Western astrology, Chinese astrology has 12
primary signs, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep,
Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. There are variations in the names. Some
people, for example, use Buffalo for Ox or Boar for Pig.
interesting to think about why Chinese astrologers have used these
particular animal names. Unfortunately, Chinese astrology is so old
that we just don’t have any ancient texts describing the process. Most
likely it was done empirically, that is, astrologers looked at human
behavior, came up with twelve types (to match their 12 year calendar
cycle) and thought about which animal best exemplified each. Chinese
animal stereotypes sometimes approximate Western, e.g., the loyal Dog.
For the Chinese, however, Rat and Snake do not have the negative
connotations characteristic of Western perceptions. In fact, they are
two of the most prestigious signs.
Already it can be seen there
are both similarities (both have 12 basic signs) and differences (solar
and lunar calendar) between Chinese and Western astrology. It is
important to understand them to avoid confusion.
astrologers base their calculations on the moon and its cycles, that
is, on the lunar year. Western astrologers base theirs on the solar
year. Thus, Western signs are called sun signs. In Western astrology
the month sign, for example, Leo, is the primary influence, while in
Chinese astrology it is the year sign. Chinese astrology also has month
signs. Chinese months are not named (just numbered) and use the same
names as year signs. So, there is such a thing as a Wood Sheep year and
a Wood Sheep month.
Western signs are usually designated by one
word, for example, Aquarius, and change from month to month. Chinese
signs are designated by two Chinese characters and change from year to
year. One character designates the year’s element and the other its
animal sign, for example, Earth Tiger.
The Chinese have used
both decimal based calendars as in the West as well as a twelve year
based calendar. The two are both used simultaneously by Chinese
astrologers, thus resulting in the compound signs.
Chinese astrology has four signs, one for the year, the month, the day
and the hour of birth. In texts these are often referred to as “the
four pillars.” This may sound different, but even here there is a
similarity with Western astrology. That system, for example, uses hour
signs as well, calling them “ascendants.”
If it’s starting to
sound like Chinese astrology is complicated, that’s because it is. When
you put together the 12 animal signs with the five elements, you get 60
total signs. Then you have to consider that each person has four of
these. The practical effect of this is you could be in a high school
graduating class of over 8,000 people, all born in the same year, yet
no two having exactly the same “four pillars” chart. And, we haven’t
even talked about star charts, which use additional factors. Each of us
truly is an individual, as no two people on the planet born in the same
year have the same Chinese star chart.
There is one more very
important thing to know about Chinese astrology. Chinese astrologers
are not strict determinists. In other words they do not believe a
person’s fate is sealed in stone at the moment of birth. What they do
believe is that a person’s time and place of birth set parameters,
boundaries within which a person has more or less freedom. What happens
within these boundaries is influenced not only by “free will” but also
by external factors such as financial status of the family, the
culture, and the local economy.
In one way this is just common
sense, not unlike what people in the West already believe. If your
adult height is five feet one inch, you’re not likely to be a
professional basketball player. If your IQ is less than 100, you’re not
likely to be a chemical engineer.
There is of course a whole
body of Chinese philosophy and culture underlying the precepts and
findings of Chinese astrology. The subject of Chinese studies, as
fascinating as it is however, is well beyond the scope of this basic
introduction.One point worth mentioning, though, is that balance plays
a central role in Chinese thought. Even this idea has Western
counterparts, Aristotle’s “golden mean” for example. In Chinese thought
a star athlete who flunks Algebra is still weak. True strength comes
from balance. A strong chart will be balanced in terms of both signs
and elements. Ideally a person will have, for example, a mix of strong
and gentle signs as well as of elements. And, if a person has a variety
of signs as opposed to, say, two Monkey and two Pig signs, so much the
better. That means the person has a wider range of capabilities.
of the above discussion has been about personality and abilities.
Originally, however, the primary purpose of Chinese astrology was
fortune telling. The focus is usually on what will happen to people in
various stages of their lives/a specific duration of time or on what
people should do on a particular day or in a certain month or year.