Introduction to Chinese Astrology

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Chinese Astrology is similar, but more complicated than Western Astrology, although the two share the idea of having twelve icons to denote the different houses. Chinese astrology is based on years – the icons (animals only in the case of Chinese astrology) only change once per year.

Chinese astrology however goes deeper than the western astrology because the Chinese system further divides the year into months, days and hours. Most western documentation regarding Chinese astrology does not go beyond the years.

The months signify a person’s ‘inner animal’, the days signify a person’s ‘true animal’ and the hour within which a person was born signifies a person’s ‘secret animal’. This leads to much more complex interactions and personalities.

Therefore, a person born in the Year of The Pig may appear as a pig, they may think of themselves as an Ox internally, be a Dragon truly and secretly be a Goat. You can see from this how complex this could be become!

With that in mind, to get a true idea of your Chinese zodiac nature you’re going to need the date and time of your birth to truly figure out who you are by way of the Chinese Zodiac.

These interactions are then further compounded by the effect of Yin and Yang and the earth branch under which you were born (which consists of earth, fire, water, metal or wood).

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The Chinese Zodiac Signs

As previously mentioned, the Chinese Zodiac signs consist of twelve animals which are;

  • Rat
  • Ox
  • Tiger
  • Rabbit
  • Dragon
  • Snake
  • Horse
  • Goat
  • Monkey
  • Rooster
  • Dog
  • Pig

The signs represented by the year alone depict how others see you or how you present yourself to the world. This is how you project yourself on the world, it is not necessarily how you in fact are, as this is decided by the day and hour of your birth, not just the year.

This makes a certain amount of sense when you consider the millions of people who are born within the very same year. Those millions of people of course, are not all the same. But the interaction between the month, day and hour animals is what forms the complex human psyche – according to Chinese astrology.

The internal conflicts which arise between these different animals – the perceived animal of the year, the inner animal of the month, the true animal of the day and the secret animal of the hour – is what the Chinese call the Tai Sui or Kai Sui.

Origins of the Chinese Zodiac

Like many of the mystical arts, the Chinese Zodiac has many stories relating to its origin. One of the most commonly accepted stories for the origin of the Chinese zodiac is that of the The Great Race.

The story goes that the Jade Emperor decided that the years on the calendar should be named after the strongest animals on the planet and to determine which these were he decided to set them the task to reach him. The first 12 to arrive would have the year named after him.

The race required that the animals would have to cross a river. Both the cat and the rat were rather bad at swimming, but they were both quite smart so they decided to hitch a ride on the back of the Ox. The Ox, who was allegedly both kind and naive at the same time, agreed to carry them.

When they had almost reached the other side, the rat turned on the cat and pushed him into the river, sending him away downstream and he was never seen again. The rat jumped off the Ox when they reached the other side and scurried to the Emperor. This made the rat the first animal to reach him and thus the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac.

The Ox came second, followed by the Tiger. The Tiger was bigger and generally faster than the Ox but obviously not such a strong swimmer as he explained to the Emperor that the strong current had made it harder for him to swim.

Rabbit came next, explaining that in order to cross the river he had not swum at all but had hopped from one stone to another although apparently he had almost lost the race completely, only surviving by a bit of luck when he grabbed on to a passing log that happened to wash him ashore. Fortunately he was quite fast at running and made fourth.

The Dragon, perhaps surprisingly, was fifth. The Dragon should of course have been first, being strong and able to fly it should have beaten all of them home. The Dragon explained that in fact it would have been first but on the way it saw a village and had to bring rain for the villagers for their crops. On its way to the finish it saw from above a helpless looking Rabbit clinging to a log and so it gave the log a puff of air to push it towards the shore and help save the Rabbit. This is probably one of the biggest reasons that Chinese Dragons are considered to be nice, helpful creatures whereas the Western Dragon is generally portrayed as a big scary fire-breathing animal to be feared.

As the Dragon was explaining to (and impressing) the Emperor, a galloping sound could be heard. The arrival of the Horse was near, but just as he was about to reach the Emperor, the Snake, who had been hiding in the horse’s hoof, dropped out and scared the Horse. This made the horse jump back and the Snake made the sixth returnee, with the Horse making seventh.

After some time, the Goat, Monkey and Rooster came along next, with the Rooster finding a raft to use to cross and employing the services of the Monkey and Goat to pull him across and seperate the weeds from their path.

The Jade Emperor was pleased with their ability to work as a team and awarded the Goat as the Eighth animal of the Zodiac with the Monkey ninth and the Rooster tenth.

Two more were left to find… The eleventh was the Dog who being a strong swimmer and fast enough on land should have arrived much earlier but being a dog he decided it was more fun to stay and play in the water and almost didn’t make it.

Only 11 had made it and the Emperor was considering closing the race with only 11 finalists. But just as he was about to, he heard an “oink” sound which of course was the Pig. The Pig explained that on the way he had felt hungry and had stopped for something to eat. Unfortunately after eating he had then fallen asleep and so almost didn’t make it at all.

It is said that the cat eventually drowned in the river and its descendants therefore still bear a grudge to rats to this day, hence why cats hunt rats and mice.

The Chinese Zodiac – An Alternative Story

A buddhist legend claims that Gautama Buddha summoned all of the animals of the Earth to come and see him before he departed from earth on his final day but only 12 actually arrived. These 12, as a gift for their service and remembrance to him were named as the animals of the Chinese zodiac. It is believed that they are ordered the same way as they arrived before him.

These 12 animals were introduced into the Chinese zodiac by the early Chinese civilisation and it is in fact impossible to trace the exact origins. The story provides a fascinating fairy tale but is unlikely to be rooted in much truth. Most historians believe that the reason the cat isn’t in the zodiac isn’t because of any nefarious practise by the rat at all, but in fact due to the fact that the cat hadn’t been introduced to China when the zodiac was designed.

The Chinese Astrological Year

The year represents information about the person’s family background and environment during upbringing along with their relationship with their grandparents.

Since there are twelve Chinese zodiac signs, the signs repeat every twelve years. But, perhaps rather confusingly for Westerners the Chinese year doesn’t fall on the same date every western year. This is because the Chinese year is based on exact astronomical observations relating to the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon.

An ordinary Chinese year has 12 months while a leap year has 13 months. A normal Chinese year has either 353, 354 or 355 days whereas a Chinese Leap Year has 383, 384 or 385 days. Confused yet?

This can make it awkward to determine your Chinese Zodiac sign, because the Western date on which the zodiac sign is determined to start will be different each year – although generally they are around late January, early February. Care must be taken though to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that 2019 is the year of the Pig. For most of the year it is, but prior to Tuesday 5th February it would have been the Dog. This won’t affect you if you’re born after February though.

Chinese years also aren’t counted sequentially from an epoch such as the Gregorian calendar does (this calendar uses the birth of Jesus as an epoch from which to begin counting the year number). Chinese years follow a 60 year cycle, which is repeated after 60 years. The years have names instead of numbers and are named by combining the Celestial Stem with the Terrestrial Branch.

Explaining this, however, is far beyond the scope of an introduction to Chinese Astrology and will be explained in a future post on the site. Suffice to say for now, that they differ quite markedly from the Gregorian calendar and calculating them is something of an art!

Roughly speaking the following Zodiac Animals correspond to the following years;

  • Rat – 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
  • Ox – 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
  • Tiger – 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
  • Rabbit – 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
  • Dragon – 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
  • Snake – 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
  • Horse – 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
  • Goat – 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
  • Monkey 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
  • Rooster- 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
  • Dog – 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
  • Pig – 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

Chinese Zodiac Compatibility

In this article we’ll not go into whether each zodiac sign is compatible with another or how compatible they are when it comes to love or working relationships. But the Chinese believe that the nature of the animals involved means that some zodiac signs will get on better with others, while some zodiac signs simply won’t get along at all.

Final Thoughts (for now)

The Chinese believe that the zodiac can tell a great deal of information about a person, including their origins and personalities. They use this information to determine the compatibility of people with their job, their partner, their work colleagues and those around them

When including the birth date, day and time components, it is believed that one can predict your fortune from such information. Much of this will be based on interpreting the individuals character and therefore likelihood of success and in which areas.

But such predictions should be taken as a generalisation only as the future is not set in stone and only you can make your own fortune. Having said that, if the traits fit and you recognise these traits in yourself, that can perhaps be useful information in a journey of self discovery to help you improve your chances of fortune.