Chinese Astrology

By Hayley White

Most of us are familiar with the Chinese zodiac. Known as Sheng Xiao or Shu Xiang, it is made up of twelve archetypes, symbolised by twelve animals: The Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Legend has it that the Buddha called for all animals to visit him before leaving the Earth, but only twelve came to farewell him. As a reward, he named one year after each animal, in the order in which they appeared. It is said that one’s birth year’s animal’s characteristics are hidden in your heart (Lau, 1979).

Compared to Western astrology which follows planets and constellations, Chinese astrology follows the lunar cycles. Therefore the Chinese zodiac runs yearly rather than monthly, with the Chinese year beginning on a different date which varies from year to year. This date falls within the period between the 21st of January and the 20th of

By Hayley White

Most of us are familiar with the Chinese zodiac. Known as Sheng Xiao or Shu Xiang, it is made up of twelve archetypes, symbolised by twelve animals: The Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Legend has it that the Buddha called for all animals to visit him before leaving the Earth, but only twelve came to farewell him. As a reward, he named one year after each animal, in the order in which they appeared. It is said that one’s birth year’s animal’s characteristics are hidden in your heart (Lau, 1979).

Compared to Western astrology which follows planets and constellations, Chinese astrology follows the lunar cycles. Therefore the Chinese zodiac runs yearly rather than monthly, with the Chinese year beginning on a different date which varies from year to year. This date falls within the period between the 21st of January and the 20th of February, and is related to the first day of spring (February 4 or 5) in the Gregorian calendar (Lau, 1979), as the start of spring heralds the new lunar year.

There are a lot of other Eastern cultures who also use Chinese astrology. Even here in New Zealand we acknowledge the Chinese zodiac, and host Lantern festivals to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The zodiac usually appears on Korean and Japanese New Year cards and stamps. Some zodiac signs are represented by different animals; for example the Japanese zodiac swaps the Goat with a Sheep and the Malay zodiac replaces the Pig with a Tortoise. Zodiac animals play a big part in traditional Eastern astrology, but what many do not know is that Eastern astrology goes much deeper than that.

The Eastern zodiac is possibly one of the oldest known horoscope systems in the world. Ancient writings dated as early as fourth millennium B.C. have been found well-preserved in monasteries in Tibet, China, and Southeast Asia, proving the existence of some form of Chinese astrology (Wu, 2005). Spiritual teachers maintained the security and well-being of the population by maintaining records of agriculture, seasons, astronomy, and physical cycles. They also developed theories on human nature and behaviour.

Chinese culture believes that everyone has a certain Ming, or destiny. This is said to be their life purpose and reason for existence. The Chinese also believe in fate and luck. Danny Thorn, a New Zealand astrologer who has been studying the subject for nearly 20 years says Eastern philosophy is divided into three types of luck:

Tien chai, which literally means Heaven’s Luck, Ren Chai which is Man’s Luck, and Ti Chai which is Earth Luck, or Feng Shui. This is what they call the three lucks.”

Tien Chai is our fate, our destiny, and the spiritual roadmap of our life which is immutable. Ren Chai is our destiny, the choices we make and how we live our own lives in the day-to-day. Ti Chai is what we know as Feng Shui, or the manipulation of our luck through rearranging our environment. So rather than planetary alignments forming the foundation for Western astrology, Chinese astrology uses ‘spiritual quantum physics’ in the sense that all the choices we make have a logical consequence (Wu, 2005).

Ba Zi (Eight characters), or the Four Pillars of Destiny, is a Chinese concept that believes a person’s destiny or fate is linked to the year, month, day, and hour of someone’s birth through the sexagenary cycle. According to legend, the Gan-Zhi sexagenary cycle, or the Stem-Branch calendar, was created by Ta Nao, a minister of Yellow Emperor Huang Ti. It explored the rule changes between the sky and the Earth, as well as the changes between the four seasons. Ta Nao then found the ten Heavenly Stems and twelve Earthly Branches which form the variety of combinations representing a sexagenary cycle.

The twelve Earthly Branches are more commonly known as the twelve zodiac animals. The ten Heavenly Stems are derived from a mix between the five elements, known as Wu Xing – Water, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Wood – and their Yin-Yang relationships – Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, and so on. One year can be represented by a combination of one Heavenly Stem and one Earthly Branch. Each sexagenary cycle repeats every 60 years; for example if someone was born in 1999, they were born in the Yin Earth year of the Yin Wood Rabbit, but this combination would not come around again for another 60 years.

“So, it’s looking at those combinations and trying to figure out: ‘What is the starting position for a life? And what are the influences?” Danny states.

Chinese zodiac symbols, their fixed element, and years:

  • Rat (quick-witted, charming, persuasive), Water: 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
  • Ox (patient, kind, conservative), Earth: 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
  • Tiger (courageous, intense, emotional), Wood: 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
  • Rabbit (compassionate, sincere, popular), Wood: 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
  • Dragon (fearless, energetic, warm-hearted), Earth: 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
  • Snake (introverted, generous, smart), Fire: 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
  • Horse (independent, impatient, traveler), Fire: 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
  • Goat (shy, kind, peace-loving), Earth: 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
  • Monkey (fun, energetic, active), Metal: 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
  • Rooster (observant, practical, hard-working), Metal: 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
  • Dog (faithful, generous, diligent), Earth: 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
  • Pig (loving, tolerant, honest), Water: 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

 

Danny states that when a Chinese child is born, it is quite common for its grandparents to find out about their grandchild’s destiny. They will visit a Feng Shui master who will draw up a Ba Zi birth chart, explaining what will happen during the course of the child’s life.

Other important events in one’s life may be reason to do the same: “If they’re going to get married or buy a house; if they’re going to start a business, apply for a job, move countries or go for a trip they will consult with the Feng Shui master to get good dates. If they’re gonna get married, they want to know whether or not the two people involved are well matched,” he adds.

These predictions, which some consider to be superstition, still have a lot of influence over Chinese culture and society. Even though it was outlawed by the Communist party, Danny says there has been a considerable resurgence in interest towards Chinese astrology, and remarks that the tradition has remained business as usual in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore as it’s “core to traditional Chinese culture.”

Zodiac Chinese symbols
Photo: WoelfinSaphira, Pixabay

Sources: 1. Chinese Astrology 2. Chinese zodiac: Find your zodiac sign, personality, fortune 3. Heavenly stems and earthly branches of Chinese calendar 4. Chinese astrology: Exploring the eastern zodiac.