Chinese Star Signs Q & A (including how to work out your Chinese Animal Sign)


Chinese Animal Signs : are the basis of Chinese astrology.  Below you will find a number of common questions and answers relating to these animal signs.  The following text also gives an indication of how the Chinese animal sign of an individual can be worked out.

When and where did Chinese Astrology originate?

Chinese astrology originated in ancient China and is at least 2000 years old.  By AD 618-907, during the time of the Tang dynasty, a whole encyclopedia had been written about the art of Chinese astrology and the practice of delivering personal astrological readings.

Why was Chinese Astrology and the Chinese animal signs developed?

In the first instance Chinese astrology was used as a means of foretelling the future of a nation.  Practitioners of astronomy and astrology were often present as advisers at the Imperial Court.  However by the beginning of the Christian era the system had been more highly developed to incorporate a means of giving the individual a reading.

Is Chinese Astrology still practiced today and if so where?

Today Chinese astrology makes for an interesting alternative to Western Astrology and the art is still widely practiced today in China and a number of other Asian countries such as Japan and Vietnam.  As a result of this widespread geographical use Chinese astrology is often referred to as Oriental Astrology.

What is the main purpose of Chinese Astrology today?

Chinese astrology is used today to help people interpret and understand their lives.  It offers a means of finding out about an individual's personality traits and the type of friends and partners who may or may not be suited to them.  It can also give an indication of what generally might be in store for the year ahead depending upon the Chinese animal ruling that year.

What is the basis of Chinese Astrology?

Chinese astrology is based around twelve symbolic animals, which in turn have one of four natural elements, one of five dominant elements (planetary based) and either yin or yang ascribed to them.

Is Chinese astrology like Western astrology?

There are certainly a few similarities, for example Chinese astrology has 12 symbolic (animal) signs and Western astrology also has 12 symbolic (star) signs.  In both Chinese and Western astrology these signs each have one of four natural elements which represent general characteristics relating to them; for example the Chinese sign of the rat is a water sign and the Western sign Cancer is also a water sign.  The four Chinese natural elements are: water, metal, fire and wood, and with a slight difference the four Western natural elements are: fire, earth, air and water

Chinese astrology, however goes on to expand upon this and each symbolic animal is also ascribed a dominant element as well as a natural element.  Four of the dominant elements are the same as the natural elements, i.e. water, metal, fire, wood.  However there is an additional one earth, thus making five dominant elements on top of the four natural elements.

Possibly one of the major differences between Chinese and Western Astrology is that most things are worked out simply from the year of birth of an individual; as opposed to Western astrology which relies on the relative positions of stars and planets.  Also in Chinese astrology an animal sign is assigned to a whole year instead of the Western star sign which relates to a month within the year.  The Chinese signs are also assigned Yin or Yang and this has a positive or negative bearing on each one of the five elements allocated to that sign.

Can Chinese astrology be used in conjunction with, or used to complement Western astrology?

Yes, the personality traits assigned to a Chinese animal sign can be combined with those of a Western star sign to obtain a greater insight into the personality and character of an individual.  You could have for example a 'Taurus Goat', a Scorpio Horse or a Sagittarius Rabbit and so on.

What are the twelve signs in Chinese astrology and where did they originate?

Each sign in Chinese astrology is an animal. There are twelve in total and they always appear in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar.

The origin of the twelve animal signs is the stuff of legend.  There is one legend which suggests that a "semi-mythical" figure called "The Yellow Emperor" created the signs around 2637 BC.  Another legend has it that the Buddha (c. 563-483 BC) invited all of the animals to visit him, but only 12 bothered to turn up.  As a token of his appreciation he assigned each animal a year which would be dedicated to that animal alone for posterity.  The order in which the animals arrived was said to dictate the allocation of the years and their order within the twelve year cycle.  Hence the animals always appear in the same order.

Are the planets used at all in Chinese astrology?

Yes, they do play a part, but only a small one, unlike Western astrology which relies heavily upon the movement of the planets and the stars.  In ancient China the astronomers of old could only observe five planets which became they linked to the five dominant elements in Chinese astrology.  The five elements and their planets are as follows: 

Water (ruled by Mercury)
Metal (ruled by Venus)
Fire (ruled by Mars)
Wood (ruled by Jupiter)
Earth (ruled by Saturn)

Again, as already mentioned, depending upon whether or not an animal sign is Yin or Yang, will have a bearing on whether the effects of the element work to positive or negative effect in an individual.

It is also very important to note that the Chinese calendar is based upon the lunar year (orbits of the moon around the earth), whereas the Western calendar is based upon the solar year (orbits around the sun).  This results in the two calendars not corresponding exactly, it is therefore imperative to ensure that if the birthday of an individual falls in January or February extra care needs to be taken when calculating an animal sign. It is important not to fall into the Chinese year before as the personality traits would then be wrong for that individual.

What exactly is required to calculate an individual's Chinese animal sign?

To obtain your animal sign and its additional components you require the following information:

Your date of birth, (including the year), if possible the hour of your birth to the nearest couple of hours and finally some Chinese animal sign tables (these tell you which animal belongs to which year, making it possible to locate the animal that belongs to the year of your birth).

What can this information yield? 

By providing the above information the following can be obtained:

*  The animal sign of the individual and the personality traits associated with it.
*  The natural element that pertains to the individual's animal sign and the additional info this gives.
*  The dominant element that pertains to the individual's animal sign and the additional info this gives.
*  The Yin or Yang of the individual's animal sign (whether or not the element traits play a negative or positive role in the life of the individual).
*  The individual's inner companion (another animal sign and its traits which serve as a balancing force or voice of conscience to the traits of the individual's animal sign).

Exactly what can be found out about an individual by the culmination of all of the above information?

A general forecast for the coming year ahead can be obtained, this depends upon the animal ruling that year.  
*  On an individual more personal level insights can be obtained into the personality and character of the individual.
*  Insights can be learned about the type of relationship will be had with other individuals.

How do you find out your Chinese Animal sign and can you give an example of how the whole thing works in practice?

Following is an example of how the system works.  It is listed in easy to follow steps, starting with the calculation of an animal sign for a given year of birth.  The birthday used in the following example is 28 October 1967 with a birth hour of 10am.

1).  The first step is to find out which Chinese animal represented the year 1967.  By looking this date up in the Chinese sign tables it is possible to see that 1967 was ruled by the year of the Sheep (sometimes referred to as the goat).

2).  The second step is to find out the natural element which belongs to that animal sign, namely in our case the Sheep.  Below is some information which can help to locate this.  It can be seen from the table below that the year of the Sheep has the natural element of fire.

The elements and their signs are as follows:

- Boar (sometimes referred to as the pig), Rat, Ox.

Wood - Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon.

Fire - Snake, Horse, Sheep.

Metal - Monkey, Rooster, Dog.

3).  The third step is to work out which one of the five dominant elements apply.  The dominant element can be looked up in Chinese sign tables.   It can be seen from these tables that 1967 was the year of the Sheep, but it was also the year of the Sheep with a natural element of Fire (this does not change as seen above) and a dominant element of Fire.   Expressed thus far the year 1967 translates into The Sheep - Fire animal of Fire.

4).  The fourth step is to use the hour of birth to calculate the inner companion of the 1967 year of the Sheep.  In order to do this the hour of birth is required.  In the example we said that the birth hour was 10am.  The following information shows which animal rules which hours, so from this following information the inner companion to someone born at 10am in the year of the Sheep can be found. The time 10am falls between 09am and 11am and by following that time it can be seen that the inner companion on this occasion is the Snake.  As such the personality traits of the Snake will have an internal balancing effect upon the traits of the Sheep.  The inner companion therefore gives just that little bit more of an insight into the individual.

11pm - 01am Rat
01am - 03am Ox
03am - 05am Tiger
05am - 07am Rabbit
07am - 09am Dragon
09am - 11am Snake
11am - 01pm Horse
01pm - 03pm Sheep
03pm - 05pm Monkey
05pm - 07pm Rooster
07pm - 09pm Dog
09pm - 11pm Boar

5).  The fifth and final step is to determine whether an individual's sign is one of Yin or Yang.  The Yin or Yang of an animal just like the natural element does not change.  Following are the Chinese animal signs and their Yin or Yang.  It can be seen from following info that the Sheep is a Yin animal therefore the elemental qualities of that sign namely Fire, will express themselves negatively.  

Rat -Yang
Ox - Yin
Tiger - Yang
Rabbit - Yin
Dragon - Yang
Snake - Yin
Horse - Yang
Sheep - Yin
Monkey - Yang
Rooster - Yin
Dog - Yang
Boar - Yin

The 1967 birth year with a hour of birth of 10am can now be expressed in its entirety as:
The Sheep - Yin Fire animal of Fire (with an inner companion The

How are the personality traits of an individual worked out from all of this?

There are a couple of ways in which you can find out about an individual based upon their Chinese animal sign.  The first and simplest way is to buy a good book Chinese astrology book that contains not only the necessary animal sign tables and additional information, but one which clearly states the type of traits for any combination of animal sign.

The other method is to try to work out the whole thing from scratch, you will probably still require some kind of reference to the different personality traits linked to each animal sign, yin or yang , natural element, dominant element and inner companion.  For example:
Some of the personality traits of our Sheep sign are: creativity, eccentricity, imagination, vulnerability, peace loving and naivety.  The Sheep sign is always allocated the natural element of fire and from our previous example, the year 1967 also has the dominant element of fire.  Some of the fire traits are: cheerfulness, destructiveness, passion, cruelty, honour and impatience.  We also know that the animal sign of the Sheep is a Yin animal and thus all of the element traits will express themselves negatively, so as well as being creative, eccentric and imaginative as is inferred by the animal sign a Yin fire Sheep of fire would also display: destructiveness, cruelty and impatience.  To find out how more extreme traits would be balanced is to look to the inner companion.  In our previous Sheep example the inner companion (working from a time of birth of 10am), was a Snake.  From here the personality traits of the Snake would be examined to see how they might balance out those of the Yin fire Sheep of fire.

Where is the best place to find out about Chinese astrology?

Just as with Western astrology there are a number of good books which have been written about the subject, containing all of the information you require to do a personality reading.  These are available from most good book stores.  For those on a tight budget and with internet access there are a number of good websites out there, including this one

Is is possible to calculate manually without looking up in a table your Chinese animal sign and its dominant element?

Yes, it is possible, however care is needed if your birthday falls in January or February as the Chinese lunar year does not correspond exactly to the Western Solar year.  Otherwise to manually work out your animal sign you need to know the following:

The animal signs always follow the same set pattern, namely: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar.  Therefore if we know that the year of the rat was in 1901 (as it was) then the next year of the rat would not come round again for another 12 years, making the next year of the rat 1913 and the next year of the rat after that 1925 and so on.  From here if 1901 was the year of the rat then we know that because the signs always follow the same order, then 1902 would be the year of the ox.  Twelve years on from that would make 1914 an ox year and twelve years on again would make 1926 an ox year and so on.  From here if 1901 was the year of the rat and  1902 the year of the ox, then 1903 would be the year of the tiger making 1915 the next tiger year and twelve years on again 1927 the next one, and so on.  you would continue this pattern all the way up until the whole table was worked out until the present day and into the future.

The dominant element however rotates on a five year cycle as there are only five elements so from here it is possible to see that as every year is ruled by one of the 12 animal signs it is possible to calculate that each combination of animal and element occurs only once every 50 years (12 x 5 = 60).  Using our example of the fire sheep we know that the first fire sheep last century was in 1907, the next one was as in our example 1967 and the next fire sheep will not now occur until the year 2027.

How does Western astrology feature in all of this?

Using the previous Sheep example, someone born on 28 October 1967 does not just fall under the sign of the sheep, they also fall under the Western zodiac sign of a Scorpio.  By marrying up the two signs a Scorpio - Sheep is formed which in turn will possess its own unique set of traits and characteristics.  These can then be added together to gain a more in depth analysis of an individual's character.

What was last year's Chinese animal sign and what is it this year and what can we expect from it?

Last year was the year of the water sheep 01 Feb 2003 to 21 Jan 2004.  The forecast for that year was as follows: 

A year that will be a time for caring, bringing out creative talent, imagination and emotion, whilst remaining, calm, smooth and slow.  "Harmony with moderation" are the key words with a warning about the danger of negativity.

The above FAQ's were written by and copyright of Karyn Easton. 


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