Chinese Zodiac


Chinese Astrology is the divination of the future from the Chinese calendar, which is based on astronomy, and ancient Chinese philosophy. In particular, Chinese Astrology is based on the sexagenary cycle of 60 years that has been documented since the time of the Shang Dynasty at the latest. This basic cycle has been constructed from two cycles: the 10 heavenly stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms) and the 12 earthly branches, or the 12-year cycle of animals referred to as the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese animal zodiac also operates on a cycle of months or ‘moons’ and of hours of the day. The Chinese zodiac refers to a pure calendrical cycle; there are no equivalent constellations like those of the occidental zodiac. In imperial Chinese times there were astrologers who watched the sky for heavenly omens that would predict the future of the state, but this was a quite different practice of divination from the popular present-day methods.

Background of Chinese Astrology:
The ancient Chinese astronomers called the 5 major planets by the names of the element they were associated with: Venus corresponds to Metal (gold); Jupiter to Wood; Mercury to Water; Mars to Fire; Saturn to Earth. According to Chinese Astrology, a person’s destiny can be determined by the position of the major planets, along with the positions of the Sun, Moon and comets and the person’s time of birth and Zodiac Sign. The Chinese Astrology system of the twelve year cycle of animal signs was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of Suìxing (Jupiter, the Year Star). Astronomers rounded the orbit of Suixing to 12 years (from 11.86). Suixing was associated with Sheti and sometimes called Sheti. A laborious system of computing one’s fate and destiny based on one’s birthday and birth hours is still used regularly in modern day Chinese astrology to divine one’s fortune. The 28 Chinese constellations are quite different from the 88 Western constellations. In addition to astrological readings of the heavenly bodies, the stars in the sky form the basis of many fairy tales. For example, the Summer Triangle is the trio of the cowherd (Altair), the weaving maiden fairy (Vega), and the “tai bai” fairy (Deneb). The two forbidden lovers were separated by the silvery river (the Milky Way). Each year on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, the birds form a bridge across the Milky Way. The cowherd carries their two sons (the two stars on each side of Altair) across the bridge to reunite with their fairy mother. The tai bai fairy acts as the chaperone of these two immortal lovers.

The lunisolar calendar in Chinese Astrology:
The 60-year cycle consists of two separate cycles interacting with each other. The first is the cycle of ten heavenly stems, namely the Five Elements (in order Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their Yin and Yang forms. The second is the cycle of the twelve Zodiac animal signs or Earthly Branches. They are in order as follows: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar . This combination of 5 elements × 12 animals creates the 60-year cycle, which always starts with Wood Rat and ends with Water Boar. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac sign can also only occur in either yin or yang: the dragon is always yang, the snake is always yin, etc. When trying to calculate the relevant year, an easy rule to follow is that years that end in an even number are yang, those that end with an odd number are yin. The cycle proceeds as follows:

If the year ends in 0 it is Yang Metal.
If the year ends in 1 it is Yin Metal.
If the year ends in 2 it is Yang Water.
If the year ends in 3 it is Yin Water.
If the year ends in 4 it is Yang Wood.
If the year ends in 5 it is Yin Wood.
If the year ends in 6 it is Yang Fire.
If the year ends in 7 it is Yin Fire.
If the year ends in 8 it is Yang Earth.
If the year ends in 9 it is Yin Earth.

However, since the (traditional) Chinese zodiac follows the (lunisolar) Chinese calendar, the switch over date is the Chinese New Year, not January 1 as in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, a person who was born in January or early February has the sign of the previous year. For example, if a person was born in January 1970, his or her element would still be Yin Earth, not Yang Metal. Similarly, although 1990 was called the year of the horse, anyone born from January 1 to January 26, 1990 was in fact born in the Year of the Snake (the sign of the previous year), because the 1990 Year of the Horse did not begin until January 27, 1990. For this reason, many online sign calculators (and Chinese restaurant placemats) will give a person the wrong sign if he/she was born in January or early February.

The start of a new Zodiac is also celebrated on Chinese New Year along with many other customs.

Five elements in Chinese Astrology:
The Yin or Yang is broken down into Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) on top of the cycle of animals. These are modifiers and affect the characteristics of each of the 12 animal signs. Thus, each of the 12 animals are governed by an element plus a Yin Yang Direction. The Chinese conception of ‘element’ is therefore quite different to the Western one. The Western elements were seen as the basic building blocks of matter. The Chinese ‘elements’, by contrast, were seen as ever changing and moving forces or energies – one translation of xing is simply ‘the five changes’. The balance of yin and yang and the five elements in a person’s make-up has a major bearing on what is beneficial and effective for them in terms of feng shui, the Chinese form of geomancy. This is because each element is linked to a particular direction and season, and their different kinds of qì or life force.

Wood in Chinese Astrology:
The East
Azure Dragon
The Planet Jupiter
The Color Green
Liver and gallbladder
Generous, Warm, Persuasive, Co-operative, Seeks to Expand and Grow
Idealistic, Ethical, Enthusiastic, Seeks to Explore
Wood ‘Governs’ the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon

Fire in Chinese Astrology:
The South
Vermilion Bird
The Planet Mars
The Color Red
Circulatory system and Heart
Dynamic, Humanitarian, Energetic, Passionate, Enterprising, Adventurous, Restless
Competitive, Leadership Skills, Strong, Single-minded, Loves a good laugh
Fire ‘Governs’ the Snake, Horse and Sheep.

Earth in Chinese Astrology:
Three Enclosures, Change of seasons
The Yellow Dragon
The Planet Saturn
The Color Yellow
Digestive system, Spleen and stomach
Patient, Militaristic, Prudent, Stable, Reliable, Hard-working, Ambitious, Stubborn, and very energetic
Disciplined, Tenacious, Logical, Governed by Service and Duty to Others
‘Governs’ Dragon, Rat, and Ox. It is the central balance of the elements and can lend qualities to all 12 animals as well.

Metal in Chinese Astrology:
The West
White Tiger
The Planet Venus
The Color White
Respiratory system & Lungs Determined, Self-reliant, Unyielding, Strong, Tenacious, Forceful
Reserved, Needs Personal Space, Sophisticated, Seeks pleasure, caring, respectful
Metal ‘Governs’ the Monkey, Rooster, Dog.

Water in Chinese Astrology:
The North
Black Tortoise
The Planet Mercury
The Color Black
Skeletal/Excretory System and Lungs
Secretive, Charming, Intuitive, Compassionate, Sensitive, Creative
Flexible, Compliant, Eloquence, Intellectual
Water ‘Governs’ the Pig, Rat, Ox.

Element cycles in Chinese Astrology:
Interactions of Five Chinese Elements – Cycles of Balance and Cycles of Imbalance The doctrine of five phases describes two Cycles of Balance, a generating or creation cycle and an overcoming or destruction cycle of interactions between the phases.


Wood feeds Fire; Fire creates Earth (ash); Earth bears Metal; Metal collects Water and Water nourishes Wood. Overcoming:

wood parts earth; earth absorbs water; water quenches fire; fire melts metal and metal chops wood


The 12 zodiac animals in Chinese Astrology:
In Chinese astrology the zodiac of twelve animal signs represents twelve different types of personality. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the Origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so.


In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs, and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals) and hours of the day (called secret animals).

To sum it up, while a person might appear to be a dragon because they were born in the year of the dragon, they might also be a snake internally and an ox secretively. In total, this makes for 8,640 possible combinations (five elements x 12 animals in the 60 year cycle (12 x 5 = 60) , 12 months, 12 times of day) that a person might be. These are all critical for the proper use of Chinese astrology.

The months – the inner animals in Chinese Astrology:
The 12 animals are also linked to the traditional Chinese agricultural calendar, that runs alongside the better known lunar calendar. Instead of months, this calendar is divided into 24 two week segments known as Solar Terms. Each animal is linked to two of these solar terms for a period similar to the Western month. Unlike the 60 year lunar calendar, which can vary by as much as a month in relation to the Western calendar, the agricultural calendar varies by only one day, beginning on the Western February 3rd or 4th every year. Again unlike the cycle of the lunar years, which begins with the Rat, the agricultural calendar begins with the Tiger as it is the first animal of spring. An individual’s monthly animal sign is called their inner animal and is concerned with what motivates a person. Since this sign dictates the person’s love life and inner persona, it is critical to a proper understanding of the individual’s compatibility with other signs. As each sign is linked to a month of the solar year, it is thereby also linked to a season. Each of the elements are also linked to a season, and the element that shares a season with a sign is known as that sign’s fixed element. In other words, that element is believed to impart some of its characteristics to the sign concerned. The fixed element of each sign applies also to the year and hour signs, and not just the monthly sign. It is important to note that the fixed element is separate from the cycle of elements which interact with the signs in the 60 year cycle.

The hours – the secret animals in Chinese Astrology:
The Chinese zodiac is also used to label times of day, with each sign corresponding to a “large-hour”, which is a two-hour period (24 divided by 12 animals). It is therefore important to know the exact time of birth to determine it. The secret animal is thought to be a person’s truest representation, since this animal is determined by the smallest denominator: a person’s birth hour. As this sign is based on the position of the sun in the sky and not the time of your local clock, it is important to compensate of daylight savings time. However, some online systems already compensate for daylight savings time, and astrologers may compensate your time for you oblivious to the fact that you’ve compensated it yourself, leading to an inaccurate reading. The large-hour in which a person is born is their secret animal. It is a person’s own true sign which their personality is based on. Note that while this chart is quite accurate, the exact time at which each animal begins shifts by the day.

23:00 – 01:00: rat
01:00 – 03:00: ox
03:00 – 05:00: tiger
05:00 – 07:00: rabbit
07:00 – 09:00: dragon
09:00 – 11:00: snake
11:00 – 13:00: horse
13:00 – 15:00: sheep
15:00 – 17:00: monkey
17:00 – 19:00: rooster
19:00 – 21:00: dog
21:00 – 23:00: pig

Categorizations of the twelve signs in Chinese Astrology:

Power Signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Dragon, Snake, Monkey

Romance Signs: Rabbit, Horse, Sheep, Rooster, Dog, Pig

The Four Animal Trines in Chinese Astrology:

The First Trine in Chinese Astrology:
The first trine consists of the Rat, Dragon, and Monkey. These three signs are intense and powerful individuals, capable of great good or great evil. They make great leaders, but the three have different approaches. Rats and Dragons have a tendency to be quite dictatorial and autocratic, whilst Monkeys are more diplomatic. Frustrated when hampered, these signs are ruled by highly potent energy and unpredictability. They are intelligent, magnanimous, charismatic, charming, authoritative, confident, eloquent and artistic. They can also be tyrannical, bombastic, prejudiced, deceitful, imperious, ruthless, power-hungry, and megalomaniacal.

The Second Trine in Chinese Astrology:
The second trine consists of the Ox, Snake, and Rooster. These three soul mates conquer life through endurance, application, and slow accumulation of energy. Although each sign is fixed and rigid in opinions and views, they are genius in the art of meticulous planning. They are hardworking, discreet, modest, industrious, charitable, loyal, punctual, philosophical, patient, and good-hearted individuals with high moral standards. They can also be self-righteous, vain, critical, judgmental, unimaginative, narrow-minded, petty, and pessimistic.

The Third Trine in Chinese Astrology:
The third trine consists of the Tiger, Horse, and Dog. These three signs seek one another, and are like-minded in their pursuit of humanitarian causes. Each is a gifted orator and excels at verbal communication. Relationships and personal contact are of highest priority and each one seek their intimate soul mate. Idealistic and impulsive, the Tiger, Horse and Dog follow the beat of their own drummer. Defiant against injustice, these three signs wilt without large amounts of physical affection and loyal support for causes. They are productive, enthusiastic, independent, engaging, dynamic, and honourable. They can also be rash, rebellious, quarrelsome, hot-headed, reckless, anxious, moody, disagreeable, stubborn, and selfish.

The Fourth Trine in Chinese Astrology:
The fourth trine consists of the Rabbit, Sheep and Pig. The quest for these three signs is the aesthetic and beautiful in life. Their calm nature gives them great leadership abilities. They are artistic, refined, intuitive, and well-mannered. These souls love the preliminaries in love, and are fine artists in their lovemaking. The Rabbit, Sheep and Pig have been bestowed with calmer natures than the other 9 signs. These three are compassionately aware, yet detached and resigned to their condition. They seek beauty and a sensitive lover. They are caring, unique, self-sacrificing, obliging, sensible, creative, emphatic, tactful, and prudent. They can also be naive, pedantic, insecure, cunning, indecisive, and pessimistic.

Origins of the Chinese Zodiac in Chinese Astrology:
According to one legend, in the sixth century B.C. the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in creation to a race, only twelve showed up: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Lamb, Monkey, Cock, Dog, and Pig, and according to their places in the race, the Jade Emperor had given them each a number starting with the Rat who was the winner of the race. Many legends arose from the Race of the Chinese Zodiacs. One told of the reason why cats and rats shall always be enemies: He and the cat (at the time good friends) were poor swimmers, so they asked the ox if they could stay on top of his head to cross the river. Along the way he pushed the cat off of the ox’s back. And the cat, incapable of swimming, lagged behind. The rat stayed on top of the ox’s head until the ox was almost at the finish line. And as the ox was about to cross it, the rat jumped from the ox’s head and became first place. And the cat and rat have been enemies ever since.


Another legend tells that the cat had asked the rat to wake him up the day of the Race. The rat agreed, but on the said day, he did not wake the cat in his greed to win. When the cat finally woke up and got to the racing ground, he found the race to be over. The cat then swore revenge upon the rat. The legend of the Zodiac Race, of course, is by far the least credible of all explanations of the origin of the Chinese zodiac. Because the “twelve earthly branches” which correspond with the zodiac, was already in existence as early as the Zhou era, long before the advent of Buddhism.


A parallel decimal set of symbols called “ten heavenly stems”, corresponding with yin-yang dualism and the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) was in existence in the Shang dynasty as the stems were part of Shang rulers’ names. The Zodiac, or the “twelve earthly branches” is probably devised together with the ten heavenly stems. As a duodecimal numeral system, the twelve earthly branches is probably evidence for trade between early tribes that later contributed to the Chinese civilization on the one hand, and the Mesopotamian civilization, which perfected duodecimal arithmetics, on the other.


The Chinese zodiac, though not entirely identical with the Greek zodiac, nonetheless shares with it the duodecimal system and the idea of using animals as numerical symbols. This is a hint for the triangular relations between early Chinese, Mesopotamian and Greek cultures. When the Bulgars, an early Turkic tribe within the Hun tribal federation that invaded Europe at the end of the Roman Empire, brought with them the very same Chinese zodiac. This is a probability that the Chinese zodiac is of northern Chinese origin, commonly shared among Altaic and northern Chinese tribes. However, nowadays the Thai and Tibetans use the same zodiac with slight modification, probably due to millennia of contact with the Chinese civilization.

Chinese zodiac in other countries:
The Chinese zodiac signs are also used by cultures other than Chinese. For one example, they usually appear on Japanese New Year’s cards and stamps. The United States Postal Service and those of several other countries issue a “Year of the _____” postage stamp each year to honor this Chinese heritage. However, those unfamiliar with the use of the Chinese lunar calendar usually just assume that the signs switch over on Jan 1 of each year. Those who are serious about the fortune telling aspect of the signs can consult a table, such as the one above. The Chinese zodiac is also used in some other Asian countries that have been under the cultural influence of China. However, some of the animals in the Zodiac may differ by country. East Asia:
For example, the Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to Chinese zodiac except that the second animal is the water buffalo instead of the ox, the fourth animal is the cat instead of the rabbit and the eighth animal is the goat instead of the sheep. The Japanese zodiac includes the wild boar instead of the pig, and the Thai zodiac includes a naga in place of the dragon. Turkic people:
The European Huns used the Chinese Zodiac complete with “dragon”, “pig”. This common Chinese-Turkic Zodiac was in use in Balkan Bulgaria well into the Bulgars’ adoption of Slavic language and Orthodox Christianity. Following is the Hunnish or Turkic Bulgarian Pagan zodiac calendar, distinctive from the Greek zodiac but much in conformity with the Chinese one:

History Of Chinese Astrology
Chinese Astrology is more than 2,000 years old. Originally, astrology and astronomy were inseparable. Practitioners were always present as officials of the imperial court. Astrology was also used to show what would even happen to a nation. By the time of the Tand Dynasty (618-907) a whole encyclopedia had been written about how to give astrology readings for people. Astrology was always traditionally regarded very highly in China, and indeed Confucius is said to have treated astrology with respect saying: “Heaven sends down its good or evil symbols and wise men act accordingly”. The 60 year cycle combining the five elements with the twelve animal signs of the zodiac has been documented in China since at least the time of the Shang (Shing or Yin) dynasty (ca 1766BC – CA 1050BC). Oracles bones have been found dating from that period with the date according to the 60 year cycle inscribed on them, along with the name of the diviner and the topic being divined about. One of the most famous astrologers in China was Tsou Yen who lived in around 300 BC, and who wrote: “When some new dynasty is going to arise, heaven exhibits auspicious signs for the people”.


Five Elements
Each animal has a predominant natural element that rules over them. There are five elements : water, wood, fire, metal, and earth. There are no earth elements because earth occupies the center of all elements. In addition to each animal having a natural element, each individual year has a presiding element. In some years, the year element is in sympathy with the animal’s element, in other years it will work against. So in the non-sympathetic years, an animal might have to overcome more obstacles that the year encompasses.

Animal Sign Origins
The real origin of the animal signs in Chinese astrology is not clear. Legend suggests the creation is attributed to the Yellw Emperor in 2637 B.C. The Yellow Emperor is a semimythical figure. Another legend attributes Buddha c.563-c.483 B.C, with the creation of the animal cycle. Buddha had invited all the animals to visit him but only twelve turned up. To show thanks, Buddha dedicated a year to each animal throughout history. The years were allocated in the order the animals arrived.

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