What Is Chinese Astrology? A Guide to the Chinese Zodiac and its Signs

All the basics of Chinese astrology explained, including how it came into being, how it works, and tables to help you find your main sign and your companion.

Source

The Origins of Chinese Astrology

According to Legend

The myth and mystery surrounding Chinese astrology make its wisdom difficult to appreciate, but myth is part of its tradition. The fanciful legend of the Buddha and the 12 animals, for example, describes how Chinese astrology came into being.

The Legend of the Buddha and the 12 Animals

Once upon a time, the Buddha invited every animal of the Earth to take part in a festival to celebrate the New Year, but only 12 arrived. To show his gratitude, the Buddha granted each of these noble creatures the honor of ruling the planets for one year in every 12. Each would influence the character of people born during its reigning year.

The Buddha decided the animals would rule in the order they arrived at the festival. First to turn up was the Rat,who takes first place in the astrological cycle. Last was the Pig, who takes twelfth place.

Another tale claims that the 12 animals are those who visited the Buddha on his deathbed.

To show his gratitude, the Buddha granted each of the noble creatures who attended the festival the honor of ruling the planets for one year in every 12.
To show his gratitude, the Buddha granted each of the noble creatures who attended the festival the honor of ruling the planets for one year in every 12. | Source

According to History

The Chinese began to study the galaxy about 5000 years ago. It was the astronomers of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) who discovered 12 constellations occurring in a 12 year cycle that they believed influenced human character and destiny.

Each constellation is represented by an animal of similar traits to those born under it, hence the 12 animal signs—also known as the "12 Earthly Branches." The 12 zodiac signs, combined with element, principle, and companion, define every possible character type.

Find Your Sign of the Chinese Zodiac

Use the following table, which shows year, element and principle, to find your sign in the Chinese Zodiac. Note that Chinese astrology complies with the lunar solar calendar where a year begins in January or February.

Birth Year
Sign
Element
Principle
Feb. 06 1932 - Jan. 25 1933
Monkey
Water
Yang
Jan. 26 1933 - Feb. 13 1934
Rooster
Water
Yin
Feb.14 1934 - Feb. 03 1935
Dog
Wood
Yang
Feb. 04 1935 - Jan. 23 1936
Pig
Wood
Yin
Jan. 24 1936 - Feb. 10 1937
Rat
Fire
Yang
Feb. 11 1937 - Jan. 30 1938
Ox
Fire
Yin
Jan. 31 1938 - Feb.18 1939
Tiger
Earth
Yang
Feb. 19 1939 - Feb. 07 1940
Rabbit
Earth
Yin
Feb. 08 1940 - Jan. 26 1941
Dragon
Metal
yang
Jan. 27 1941 - Feb. 14 1942
Snake
Metal
Yin
Feb. 15 1942 - Feb. 04 1943
Horse
Water
Yang
Feb. 05 1943 - Jan. 04 1944
Sheep
Water
Yin
Jan. 05 1944 - Feb. 12 1945
Monkey
Wood
Yang
Feb. 13 1945 - Feb. 01 1946
Rooster
Wood
Yin
Feb. 02 1946 - Jan. 21 1947
Dog
Fire
Yang
Jan. 22 1947 - Feb. 09 1948
Pig
Fire
Yin
Feb. 10 1948 - Jan. 28 1949
Rat
Earth
Yang
Jan. 29 1949 - Feb. 16 1950
Ox
Earth
Yin
Feb. 17 1950 - Feb. 05 1951
Tiger
Metal
Yang
Feb. 06 1951 - Jan. 25 1952
Rabbit
Metal
Yin
Jan. 26 1952 - Feb. 13 1953
Dragon
Water
Yang
Feb. 14 1953 - Feb. 02 1954
Snake
Water
Yin
Feb. 03 1954 - Jan. 23 1955
Horse
Wood
Yang
Jan. 24 1955 - Feb. 11 1956
Sheep
Wood
Yin
Feb. 12 1956 - Jan. 30 1957
Monkey
Fire
Yang
Jan. 31 1957 - Feb. 17 1958
Rooster
Fire
Yin
Feb. 18 1958 - Feb. 07 1959
Dog
Earth
Yang
Feb. 08 1959 - Jan. 27 1960
Pig
Earth
Yin
Jan. 28 1960 - Feb. 14 1961
Rat
Metal
Yang
Feb. 15 1961 - Feb. 04 1962
Ox
Metal
Yin
Feb. 05 1962 - Jan. 24 1963
Tiger
Water
Yang
Jan. 25 1963 - Feb. 12 1964
Rabbit
Water
Yin
Feb. 13 1964 - Feb. 12 1965
Dragon
Wood
Yang
Feb. 13 1965 - Jan. 20 1966
Snake
Wood
Yin
Jan. 21 1966 - Feb. 08 1967
Horse
Fire
Yang
Feb. 09 1967 - Jan. 29 1968
Sheep
Fire
Yin
Jan. 30 1968 - Feb. 16 1969
Monkey
Earth
Yang
Feb. 17 1969 - Feb. 05 1970
Rooster
Earth
Yin
Feb. 06 1970 - Jan. 26 1971
Dog
Metal
Yang
Jan. 27 1971 - Feb. 14 1972
Pig
Metal
Yin
Feb. 15 1972 - Feb. 02 1973
Rat
Water
Yang
Feb. 03 1973 - Jan. 22 1974
Ox
Water
Yin
Jan. 23 1974 - Feb. 10 1975
Tiger
Wood
Yang
Feb. 11 1975 - Jan. 30 1976
Rabbit
Wood
Yin
Jan. 31 1976 - Feb. 17 1977
Dragon
Fire
Yang
Feb. 18 1977 - Feb. 06 1978
Snake
Fire
Yin
Feb. 07 1978 - Jan. 27 1979
Horse
Earth
Yang
Jan. 28 1979 - Feb. 15 1980
Sheep
Earth
Yin
Feb. 16 1980 - Feb. 04 1981
Monkey
Metal
yang
Feb. 05 1981 - Jan. 24 1982
Rooster
Metal
Yin
Jan. 25 1982 - Feb. 12 1983
Dog
Water
Yang
Feb. 13 1983 - Feb. 01 1984
Pig
Water
Yin
Feb. 02 1984 - Feb. 19 1985
Rat
Wood
Yang
Feb. 20 1985 - Feb. 08 1986
Ox
Wood
Yin
Feb. 09 1986 - Jan. 28 1987
Tiger
Fire
Yang
Jan. 29 1987 - Feb. 16 1988
Rabbit
Fire
Yin
Feb. 17 1988 - Feb. 02 1989
Dragon
Earth
Yang
Feb. 03 1989 - Jan. 26 1990
Snake
Earth
Yin
Jan. 27 1990 - Feb. 14. 1991
Horse
Metal
Yang
Feb. 15 1991 - Feb. 03 1992
Sheep
Metal
Yin
Feb. 04 1992 - Jan. 22 1993
Monkey
Water
Yang
Jan. 23 1993 - Feb. 09 1994
Rooster
Water
Yin
Feb. 10 1994 - Jan. 10 1995
Dog
Wood
Yang
Jan. 11 1995 - Jan. 18 1996
Pig
Wood
Yin
Jan. 19 1996 - Feb. 06 1997
Rat
Fire
Yang
Feb. 07 1997 - Jan. 01 1998
Ox
Fire
Yin

Basic Character Traits of Each Sign

The Rat

Rats are Intelligent, alert, quick-witted, resourceful, charismatic and sociable. But they tend to be greedy and, in spite of a gregarious nature, value material possessions above personal relationships.

The Ox

Oxen are obstinate, hard-working, and very determined, and are the ones who typically make it from dishwasher to millionaire.

The Tiger

Tigers are unpredictable and wild. They love their freedom and revel in the excitement of the dangerous and unknown.

The Rabbit

Rabbits are homely, peace-loving, and prone to being bullied. But they are also very good at manipulating others.

The Dragon

Dragons destroy anything that stands in their way, making them the most feared and respected of the zodiac signs. Regarded by the Chinese as the lucky sign, those born under it can expect a long and prosperous life.

The Snake

Snakes are refined, aloof, fastidious and lazy. Because they rarely reveal their true nature, getting to know one properly is near impossible.

The Horse

Horses love the new and unknown and loathe monotony, which is why they switch career, location and partner more regularly than most people. They love to surround themselves with friends and acquaintances, and never stop talking.

The Sheep

Sheep are shy, sensitive and concerned for the welfare of others. Nursing and social work are excellent career choices for Sheep. Being shy, they are only communicative and outgoing with people they know well.

The Monkey

Monkeys are domineering, aggressive and bossy. They are also the cleverest of the zodiac signs, and good at anything they turn their hand to.

The Rooster

Roosters are very protective towards their family; so much so that their fussing sometimes aspires to pathological proportions. They take life very seriously, and mull and brood over every triviality.

The Dog

Dogs are loyal, cheerful and frivolous. Although hardworking, they also enjoy plenty of recreation.

The Pig

In spite of a tough and determined nature, Pigs tend to be shy and timid. As a result, they are renowned for being too afraid to say what they really want, but, nevertheless, always getting it.

The Dragon is the most feared and respected of the Chinese zodiac signs.
The Dragon is the most feared and respected of the Chinese zodiac signs. | Source

The Elements Explained

How the Elements Work

In Chinese astrology, the five elements describe relationships and compatibility.

Because they are all dependent upon one another, all five elements must be present in any system (including human society) to make it work. Here is an example:

  • Wood fuels fire
  • Fire creates earth (ashes)
  • Earth bears metal
  • Metal carries water (pipes)
  • Water feeds wood (trees)

You might be able to think up more examples, which could start you off on a philosophical merry-go-round.

Why the Elements Are Influential

According to Chinese thought, each planet symbolically resembles an element. This is where the elements influence the course a year will take and the character of those born during that year (see table above):

  • Wood (Jupiter) symbolizes creativity, growth, and hope.
  • Fire (Mars) symbolizes energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, and knowledge.
  • Earth (Saturn) symbolizes peace, stability, and endurance.
  • Metal (Venus) symbolizes success, commerce, and finances.
  • Water (Mercury) symbolizes communication and mobility.

The Principles of Yin and Yang Explained

The zodiac signs are ordered into two groups: Yin and Yang.

Yin is negative and feminine. Those born into the Yin group are reserved and rarely make good leaders.

Yang is positive and masculine, bringing forth assertiveness and self-confidence.

The Chinese zodiac signs are ordered into the principles of Yin and Yang.
The Chinese zodiac signs are ordered into the principles of Yin and Yang. | Source

Companion Signs and Ruling Hours Explained

The companion sign of Chinese astrology has a similar function to the ascendant sign of Western astrology, which is often referred to as the "rising sign." Like its Western counterpart, the determining factor is the hour of birth (see table below).

  • Individuality It would be naïve to believe that people born in a certain year all bear the same character traits. Apart from the main birth sign, the companion sign also influences character.
    • Example: A person born in 1950 (year of the Tiger) at 8 a.m. (ruling hour of the Dragon) would be a Tiger influenced by the Dragon.
  • Perception We are often perceived by others according to our companion sign rather than our main sign. Knowing our companion sign can give clues that help solve social problems like loneliness.
    • Example: A gregarious Rat born in the hour of the aloof Snake might appear to others as the standoffish type who'd rather be left alone. This leaves the Rat lonely and frustrated. But once the problem is recognized, the Rat could undergo therapy (like Edward Bach’s flower remedy system) and turn the undesired Snake trait to its advantage.
  • Ruling Hours The signs collect cosmic energy during the hour they rule.
    • Example: A person born in 1964 (year of the Dragon) collects cosmic energy between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.—the ruling hour of the Dragon.

Table of Companion Signs & Ruling Hours

Use the following table to determine your companion sign and ruling hour.

Time of Birth/Ruling Hour
Companion Sign
11 p.m. - 01 a.m.
Rat
01 a.m. - 03 a.m.
Ox
03 a.m. - 05 a.m.
Tiger
05 a.m. - 07 a.m.
Rabbit
07 a.m. - 09 a.m.
Dragon
09 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Snake
11 a.m. - 01 p.m.
Horse
01 p.m. - 03 p.m.
Sheep
03 p.m. - 05 p.m.
Monkey
05 p.m. - 07 p.m.
Rooster
07 p.m. - 09 p.m.
Dog
09 p.m - 11 p.m.
Pig

Have Fun!

Now you know a little about how Chinese astrology works, try it out to see what it reveals about you and your friends. Have fun!

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