Chinese Astrology


I get asked a lot about Chinese astrology – not least because I’ve always intended to include it within my website but haven’t yet done so. There is a good reason for this and it’s the simple fact that Chinese astrology is complex whilst web pages need to be simple and quickly assimilated. A single web page for Chinese astrology rapidly turns into several pages of fine details. It’s also very different to Western astrology, using different points of reference both astronomical and cultural. Most of us will be able to say “I’m a Dragon/Tiger/Rat etc.” and have a broad idea of the very general characteristics of that sign but few of us will have a clear understanding of their Chinese star signature and how it is determined. Here then, as we began the Year of The Rabbit (Metal, Yin), 78th Cycle (or 79th depending on which calendar version you ascribe to) is a potted summary…

Western astrology is based on a simple twelve months repeating cycle – the Zodiac. Chinese astrology has a zodiac of 12 signs – the Earthly branches – but is based on a sixty year cycle. The mechanics of this are simple enough: Chinese astrology developed in tandem with astronomy which originally recognized five major planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Astrology ascribed key elements to these planets – water (Mercury), metal (Venus), fire (Mars), wood (Jupiter), earth (Saturn). Each of the twelve signs spans a year – this was derived from the orbit of Jupiter (11.86 years) – and each sign comes in five elemental varieties (e.g. Water Rat, Metal Rat, Fire Rat, Wood Rat, Earth Rat). 5 x 12 = 60. Simples? To a degree, yes. But the sixty year cycle is also derived from two separate but interacting cycles – the Earthly branches, as mentioned above -the twelve zodiac signs rat, ox, tiger, rabbit (aka cat), dragon, snake, horse, sheep (aka ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (aka boar)- and in that order; and the ten heavenly stems – these are the five elements mentioned earlier, each in their ying and yang forms – 5×2=10. As the 12 earthly branches, which give us the animal signs, is divisible by two, each of the animal signs is either a Yin year or a Yang year and this is referred to as the sign’s polarity. Yin years end in odd numbers, Yang years in even numbers. Whilst each animal sign is either Yin or Yang (Rats are always Yang, Oxen are always Yin for example), this is tempered by the heavenly stem which adds the element. From 0 to 9, the ordering is metal, metal; water, water; wood, wood; fire, fire; earth, earth. And Yang and Yin, in that order:

0 Metal Yang
1 Metal Yin
2 Water Yang
3 Water Yin
4 Wood Yang
5 Wood Yin
6 Fire Yang
7 Fire Yin
8 Earth Yang
9 Earth Yin

Thus, years ending in 0 are Metal, Yang years, years ending in 1 are Metal Yin years – 2010 was a Yang Metal Tiger year, whilst 2011 is a Yin Metal Rabbit. It won’t be a Tiger year again until 2022 when it will be a Yang Water Tiger. Tiger is always Yang. Rabbit is always Yin and the next Rabbit year will be a Water Rabbit in 2023. It won’t be a Metal Tiger year again until 2060.

In their true order, the cycle actually begins with Metal Rat (Yang) and ends with Earth Pig (Yin). We are today 28 years into the current 60 year cycle (the 78th, or 79th cycle depending on which calendar is used). Chinese astrology uses a lunisolar calendar which begins with lichun – literally the start of spring, around 4th February, this being what we call the Chinese New Year. It’s necessary to bear in mind that someone born, for example, in January of 2011 is, for the purposes of Chinese astrology, born in a year that ends with a 0 – i.e. Metal Tiger and not Metal Rabbit. This applies, of course, to every year.

The five elements are of crucial importance in Chinese astrology, at least equal in importance to the animal sign, and the emphasis added by the Yin or Yang factor shows the importance of trinity in Chinese astrology- earth, water and the heavens. Those familiar with the I Ching will not be surprised to learn that the elements in Chinese astrology are seen as being transformative agents of change or transformative energies, not unlike the I Ching’s ‘moving lines’ concept but quite unlike Western astrology’s elements which are seen as building blocks.

Just as you realize the importance of how different a Metal Tiger might be to a Wood Tiger or a Water Tiger, a further degree of complexity comes into the picture. Placing a person within the Chinese astrological system requires a calculation involving the birth day, the birth season/month and the birth hour. In addition to the birth year, this means that a person’s star signature in Chinese astrology is made up of four signs. Three of these are the key elements for any person: –

1. The year of birth relates to a person’s family background and position in society, strongly linked with family ancestry, the grandparents which is a cultural emphasis far more marked in Chinese society. As of today (Feb 4 2011) it’s a (Metal) Rabbit year – remember, the order of the signs, as given above, is rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig. Next February then brings The Year of the Dragon.

2. The birth month or season (note that months are different under the Chinese calendar) determines the ‘inner animal’ – this indicates childhood upbringing, a transformative influence on character and behavior manifested in adult life.

Spring sees

The Tiger from February 4 to March 5, The Rabbit March 6 to April 4, and The Dragon from April 5 to May 4.

Summer sees

The Snake from May 5 to June 5, The Horse June 6 to July 6, and The Sheep from July 7 to August 6.

Autumn brings

The Monkey from August 7 to September 7, The Rooster 8 September to October 7, The Dog 8 October to 7 November.

Winter sees

The Pig from November 7 until 6 December, The Rat 7 December to January 5th and The Ox from January 6th to February 3rd.

3. The hour of birth determines a person’s ‘secret animal’ – the true person within often only revealed under stress:

11 p.m. – 1 a.m. Rat,

1 a.m. – 3 a.m. Ox,

3 a.m. – 5 a.m. Tiger,

5 a.m. – 7 a.m. Rabbit,

7 a.m. – 9 a.m. Dragon,

9 a.m. – 11 a.m. Snake,

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Horse,

1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Sheep,

3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Monkey,

5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Rooster,

7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Dog,

9 p.m. – 11 p.m. Pig

The day of birth also has some bearing – each animal sign rules one day but that works on the 5 elements x 12 signs basis, each elementary type of animal, and this makes a 60 days basis and things do get complicated… this is more a feature of day to day horoscopic forecasting than birth-charting and it goes beyond the scope of this article.

Intriguingly though, just as the two astrology’s seem to be at their most diverse, essential similarities become apparent. Western subjects often focus on the Sun sign without considering the importance, significance and contribution of the Moon sign and the Ascendant in the birth chart. Good western astrology also breaks each sun sign down into four ‘sub signs’ and can be further focused for fine detail by looking at the actual day itself.

Chinese astrology focuses on temperament and character and the interplays and stresses between these two facets, the first being that of predisposition, inclination and tendency whilst the second being that of actual behavior, habits and learned (current) disposition. It attempts to identify the natural, innate person as opposed to the personality which has been mutated and transformed by life experience, to find nature before nurture and to help us understand our lives by looking at them backwards, as Kierkegaard suggested, whilst living them forwards.

Are you confused about the meanings of Chinese astrology? Would you like to know more about this 5000 year old art?

Chinese astrology is based on the lunar calendar. As with astrology from other cultures, a horoscope is created using the position of the stars and planets for each of the twelve signs of the zodiac based on the year of birth.

The Twelve Chinese Signs


Rats are charming and attractive to the opposite sex. But despite outside appearances, they are restless and this sometimes comes across as aggressiveness. Rats are great with money, and love to pounce on an opportunity. They are also very generous to their friends. They love people and large gatherings and always have others around. They also run in many intimate circles and like to be involved in everything they can, leading them to sometimes attempt to do too much. They are good writers and speakers, and success comes easily to them.


Oxen are calm on the surface, but have hidden tempers. They are hard workers and are determined to the point of stubbornness. However, this makes them one of the most dependable signs. They are trustworthy, and easily move up at the office. If they don’t watch out, they may not have much of a social life. They are not very adept at mind games, and can sometimes be led astray in romance. But once they find someone, they are steadfast and loyal.


Tigers are energetic and unpredictable. Their wild side leads them to be the center of attention. They speak their mind and are always looking for the new party or next great idea. They are also very involved in giving their time and money to the causes they are passionate about. They are generous and honest. However, they are also rebels. They seek ideals and will rebel against a society they perceive as being in the wrong. They are emotional and impulsive, prone to romance as well as jealousy.


Rabbits are gracious and gentle. They adore quiet and peacefulness, and prefer a good book to a night on the town. Their sensitivity can lead to moodiness, but normally rabbits are great at keeping the peace. While they are quiet on the surface, rabbits are good at finding deals. They are sweet and can talk people into being on their side of an issue without argument. While they are cautious, they can also be friendly and inviting once they feel safe.


Dragons have fire. They are full of life, and want to live life to the fullest. They are perfectionists and are extremely demanding of both themselves and others. They intimidate those who disagree with them, although they are very loyal to their friends. They can be stubborn, but they will let you know how they feel. They believe themselves to be B and loveable, and they strive to motivate everyone to live up to their standards.


Snakes are mysterious, often charming the opposite sex. They are graceful, and tend towards all things grand and cultural. They are privatetend to look inward for their self-esteem, and are superstitious about everything. They are not penny-pinchers, but always have money on hand. Snakes are jealous when they find a lover, and will turn cold almost on a whim.


Horses are generally friendly. They love being the center of attention, and will keep others enthralled by their quick wit. However, they have malleable alliances, and will have many short-lived romances and friendships. They enjoy the change, and lead lives full of adventure. They don’t like being tied down, and love working out and spending time outdoors. They don’t like sticking to a plan, and will often take on too much. They can be impatient with others whom they perceive as moving too slowly.


Sheep are peaceful people. They empathize with others’ pain, and are easy to talk to. They don’t like to rush, and will break if pressured. They do not like harsh words, and love to be led gently. While they are passive, they are also patient, and generally they eventually get their way. They always remember their friends and families and give thoughtful gifts. They often worry about what others think, and tend too spend too much.


Monkeys are intuitive and clever. They are hands-on problem solvers, and a great deal of self-confidence. They enjoy succeeding at difficult tasks, and don’t need to be talked into attempting one. The source of their success is their great memory. They are hard workers, and don’t care what others think of them. They don’t usually have many friends, although their success does attract people to them.


Roosters are romantics. They are perfectionists and dreamers at the same time. Quick to see detail, they always love a challenge, especially if at first glance it looks impossible. They take great pride in knowing all the details of a subject that interests them, and are thus great debaters. However, they will never admit to being wrong. They also tend to step in and try to solve others’ problems, whether or not they have been invited to do so. They like to always stay busy, and will work for whatever they have their eye on.


Dogs are friendly and are always up front about their feelings. They are very family-oriented and are extremely loyal to their friends. They will fight for a cause they feel is just. They are not comfortable around extravagant wealth, and prefer a loving home regardless of social status. Once you befriend a dog, they will be by your side for life. They are monogamous, and tend to choose their lovers wisely. They work hard and play hard, and know when it is appropriate to be doing one or the other. They are good providers to those they love.


Pigs love a social life. They have many friends, and tend to stay out of heated discussions and all kinds of debates. It’s not that they don’t have an opinion; they simply love to party and don’t want to risk ruining the fun. They are good listeners, but are sometimes gullible and can be taken advantage of easily. This can sometimes hurt them in relationships. They are trustworthy and dependable, and stick by their friends. They are generous to those they care about.

The Five Elements

There is another layer to Chinese astrology that is less well known than the Chinese signs. Chinese astrologers use a 60 year cycle, made up of five sets of the twelve signs. The five repetitions of the signs each correspond to a different element, adding more intricacy to the animal.

The five elements are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. In Chinese astrology, the elements are part of a cycle; one is not higher or better than another. In fact, they have a cyclical relationship, both in positive and negative ways, so that:

Water makes Wood
Wood makes Fire
Fire makes Earth
Earth makes Metal
Metal makes Water


Water destroys Fire
Fire destroys Metal
Metal destroys Wood
Wood destroys Earth
Earth destroys Water

In addition, they can be openly aggressive and hostile:

Water resists Fire
Fire resists Metal
Metal resists Wood
Wood resists Earth
Earth resists Water

So now you know the basics of Chinese Astrology. Enjoy exploring your Chinese sign!

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