Chinese Astrology Explained

Some people think that Chinese Astrology is a simple counterpart to Western astrology, but it’s just not true. Eastern astrology and the Chinese zodiac system are completely different models that are not parallel to the western system but do complement it nicely.

Chinese astrology was developed millennia ago. It is based on several principles that you have to understand not just individually, but how they interplay.


The first principle is the Yin/Yang– the half black/half white teardrops conjoined in a circle, each with a speck of the other within them. Yin is the black (the shadow; the male; the active force), and Yang is the white (the light; the female; the passive force).

Yin & Yang in Chinese Astrology

The symbol represents how seemingly contradicting forces are interconnected and interdependent in the universe. They give rise to each other in their relationship. They’re not opposing, as they may appear at first; they’re complementary– the union of opposites that come together to form a new and greater whole.

In Chinese philosophy, these two forces are always moving, always in a state of flux, and always seeking balance. This is considered to be universal law and underlies Chinese philosophy.

China’s Five Elements Philosophy (
Wu Xing )

The second principle is Wu Xing, which roughly translates to „changing states of being.” They are the five phases, or five stages: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

These are often mistakenly associated with what westerners call ‘classical elements’ (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water); but the Wu Xing is not the same thing. The classical elements are seen as the basics, or building blocks, of everything. The Wu Xing are seen as phases or transitions through which everything goes.

Source: Wikipedia

The Wu Xing is associated with specific colors, animals shapes, directions, seasons, and more. There are also five classical planets, and each of these is associated with Wu Xing: Venus-Metal; Jupiter-Wood; Mercury-Water; Mars-Fire; Saturn-Earth.

In order to explain the subtleties of personality that differentiate one person from another, it is on the refinements of the sophisticated Oriental system that we must concentrate. Most salient of these are the Elements that govern the years, the Yin-Yang polarity of each year, and the hour in which the individual is born.

According to Chinese philosophy, five Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water (in that order) form the essential building blocks of all living things.

Each Animal sign within its sixty-year framework is ruled by a different Element. Each successive appearance of the Animal sign is modified by the characteristics of the next Element in turn, which helps to distinguish one year’s nativity from another under the same Animal sign.

The Characteristics of Each of the Elements are as Follows:

ElementKey Characteristics
Generous, Considerate, Elegant, Cooperative.
Decisive, Inovative, Joyful, Lucid.
Patient, Responsible, Industrious, Prudent.
Moral, Ambitious, Energetic, Independent.
Persuasive, Diplomatic, Creative, Kind.

Each Animal year is designated either as Yin or Yang, and therefore confers either a receptive or dominating undercurrent to nature according to when an individual is born.

Since the aim is to achieve equilibrium, recognizing which force underpins our birth time will enable each one of us to find ways of avoiding excesses or shoring up a dearth of either in our lives.

The hour in which we are born adds yet another differentiating facet to our character. Like the years, the twelve double hours are also ruled by the same sequence of Animals, beginning with the Rat who rules the time between 11pm-1am.

So, an individual who is born in a Tiger year and in the hour of the Rabbit will have Tiger characteristics tempered by those of the Rabbit.

Stems and Branches

Ancient Chinese people believed there were 10 suns, which appeared in the same order over and over in a ten-day cycle. These are the names of these suns are the Celestial Stems.

In addition to 10 stems, there were 12 Earthly Branches that divided the celestial circle. This is used to keep track of time: years, months, and hours.

The combination of Stems and Branches represents a sexagenary cycle– a 60 year-long cycle. This is the Chinese lunisolar calendar.

The Chinese Zodiac

In the Chinese Zodiac, there are 12 parts represented by different animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat(Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each animal of the zodiac rules over not the month, but the year.

the animals from the chinese zodiac

Each animal has certain traits or attributions, which people born of that year are said to inherit, much like our western Sun Signs.

How do you know what your Chinese zodiac sign is? According to the Chinese horoscope 2024, we are entering the Year of the Dragon.

Putting it Together

The combination of all these different elements—Yin/Yang, Wu Xing, stem, branch, and animal, make each year a unique combination in that 60-year cycle.

In this cycle, years ending in odd numbers are Yin, and years ending in even numbers are Yang. As we go through the cycle of zodiac animals, the correspondences change slightly; thus a Rat born in one year may be a Yang Wood Rat, while in another year of the cycle it would be a Yang Metal Rat.

The difference of the Wu Xing and planet in relation to the zodiac animal gives an entirely new set of circumstances and forces to deal with in considering the forecast.

Eastern astrology is not only a very poetic system to look at but very astute. For one who learns both Eastern and Western astrology, it’s fun to do a chart for someone with each system— you’d be surprised at how, like the Yin/Yang, they complement each other’s findings!

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