Chinese astrology is based mainly on the details of the birth of a person, instead of the position of the stars at the time of birth. There are many intricate details involved in the horoscope of a person, devised over thousands of years of culture and beliefs. Many of the factors listed below interestingly also overlap with other areas, for example, the elements system is found in almost all Chinese arts, like Fengshui and Chinese martial arts. The subject in discussion is, after all, all about the culture of the Chinese, and it should not be surprising if they borrow these basics from each other.
Following are the concepts that shape Chinese Astrology
Yin / Yang
The Four Pillars of Destiny / Ba Zi
The Zodiacs / The Twelve Earthly Branches
Five Elements / The Ten Heavenly Stem
Yin / Yang
The Chinese believe that the universe is full of forces, with the yin and the yang being the most predominant and general category of all. The yin and the yang are two opposite forces found in everything, living or non-living, more specifically, they compose everything in the world, and cause everything in the universe, be it flood or drought.
The yin and yang can be thought of as two magnetic poles, two different ends, positive and negative. Yin is actually a Chinese character associated with the negative, dark, even lack in height. It is also interpreted as docile, passive, female. Yang is associated with the positive, light, and large. It is often interpreted with being active, full of energy, and male. For example, in Chinese kung fu, a strong blow contains a lot of yang energy, while yin can be used to describe agile, lithe moves, and also moves that strike at vital points. In short, yin is the opposite of yang.
This does not mean that yang is more desirable than yin. They are a balance, one cannot exist without the other. Being too shy and retired is not a good thing, but neither is being too hyperactive. Thinking of the worth of yin and yang, the word synergy comes to mind. Instead of having them clashing and getting in the way of each other, using them to their full advantages is the trick to succeeding, just like almost everything else in life.
The associations of yin to female and yang to male have its roots to the social roles assigned to the two genders four, five thousand years ago. Today, in this anti-chauvinistic world we live in, these social stereotypes have been abolished, but we still follow the assigned gender to the yin and the yang, perhaps in respect of tradition. Thus, the first thing most people consider when thinking of Chinese astrology is the gender of the person.
Everything is linked to one of the two, including the twelve animals in the zodiac (refer below). The rat is yang due to its boldness, and perhaps also because it is the first in the Chinese zodiac, due to the Chinese bias at that time. The ox is yin because it is slow and sluggish, despite its great strength. Cows and oxen are also docile, and the Chinese character for this zodiac actually means the entire species, male or female. The tiger is yang due to its ferocity and power. The rabbit is yin due to its timid nature. The dragon is yang because it is associated with a lot of positive things like wisdom and bravery. The snake is yang because of its amiable nature. The horse is yang due to its boundless energy. The goat is yang because of its altruistic nature. The monkey is yin because of its petty nature. The rooster is yang perhaps because of its importance in human lives then. The dog is yin because of its passively faithful nature. The pig is yin because its sly, sluggish nature.
The Four Pillars of Destiny / Ba Zi
The Four Pillars refer to the exact details of a person’s birth, namely the year, month, day, and time. This information subdivides the people born in the same year, as will be shown in “The Twelve Earthly Branches” section. Basically, with this information, an astrologer will be able to calculate a person’s personality, his interactions with others, and his future.
The Four Pillars are called ba zi in Chinese, literally “eight characters”, because they are usually displayed in a set of four columns of two characters each, each column displaying one of the information of a person’s birth. The characters on top are called the 10 Heavenly Stem and the characters at the bottom are called the 12 Earthly Branches. These will be explained in detail in the relevant sections. The interpretation of the ba zi vary depending on the astrologer. Basically, the Heavenly Stem and the Earthly Branches are determined first, along with yin and yang, and then these information are compared to the zodiac of year, month, day, and time in question, along with the yin or yang element predominant. If the comparison yields clashes between the person’s horoscope and that day’s zodiac, or if the day’s element is one that suppresses the person’s elements, it is deemed an unlucky day.
In terms of years, the upper pillars rotate with the lower pillars to form a 60-year cycle. This means that the 12 zodiacs and the 2 sets of elements, yin and yang and in order of production, rotate every year, resulting in a total of 60 different combinations.
Year 1: Yang Wood Rat
Year 2: Yin Wood Ox
Year 3: Yang Fire Tiger
Year 4: Yin Fire Rabbit
Year 5: Yang Earth Dragon
Year 6: Yin Earth Snake
Year 7: Yang Metal Horse
Year 8: Yin Metal Goat
Year 9: Yang Water Monkey
Year 10: Yin Water Rooster
Here the elements cycle repeat.
Year 11: Yang Wood Dog
Year 12: Yin Wood Pig
Here the zodiac cycle repeat.
Year 13: Yang Fire Rat
This continues until it reaches Year 60, which is a Water Pig year, before the 60-year cycle repeats itself all over again, beginning with the Wood Rat, and the people born here would be considered a “wood rat” person.
The Zodiacs / The Twelve Earthly Branches
The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals, the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, the pig. Chinese-English translations are sometimes ambiguous, while occasionally downright embarrassingly misleading, thus the ox may be known as the buffalo, the rabbit may be the hare and also in Vietnamese astrology, and interestingly enough, the goat may become the sheep or the ram.
Each one of the lower character in the four pillars are in correspondence to one of the animals in the zodiac. Thus there is a horoscope based on the year, the month, the day, and the hour in order of precedence. Thus, the zodiac for the hour branch is also known as the equivalent of the ascendant in Western astrology, although “ascendant” in this sense does not include the formation of the stars as in Western astrology.
The zodiacs are placed one after another for each year, i.e., after the year of the rat comes the year of the ox, followed by the year of the tiger, and so on. Thus they rotate each year. The months, days, and time are also broken down with each unit of measurement being named after the animal.
A day is broken down into 12 parts in the Chinese culture, although now with westernisation, people seldom use these “double-hours”. Each double-hour is named after an animal of the zodiac, with each double-hour that starts the cycle of the day reaching midpoint when the sun is at its nadir. Thus, the hours are as followed.
Hour of the Rat: 11pm-1am
Hour of the Ox: 1am-3am
Hour of the Tiger: 3am-5am
Hour of the Rabbit: 5am-7am
Hour of the Dragon: 7am-9am
Hour of the Snake: 9am-11am
Hour of the Horse: 11am-1pm
Hour of the Goat: 1pm-3pm
Hour of the Monkey: 3pm-5pm
Hour of the Rooster: 5pm-7pm
Hour of the Dog: 7pm-9pm
Hour of the Pig: 9pm-11pm
The Five Elements / The Ten Heavenly Stem
The elements (also known as Wu Hsing) in Chinese Astrology, or Chinese culture itself, for that matter, are different from those of Western ones. The ones in Chinese Astrology consist of wood, fire earth, metal and water. Each of the animal years is subject to an element in a cycle (see The Four Pillars of Destiny). Each element is subjected to either yin or yang influence, thus forming the Ten Heavenly Stem.
Wood is characterized by the colour green and actually represents trees and forests. Wood personality types value their moral values and have confidence in what they do, are always striving for growth, be it physically, intellectually or emotionally, have varied and diversified interest and endeavours and are usually good company.
Fire is characterized by the colour red. Fire personality type people are usually born leaders, love adventures, is passionate about whatever then do, and tend to dominate those around them. These are people who can become aggressive if they are crossed. Yet, they are still good friends due to their passionate and warm nature.
Earth is characterized by the colour yellow. Earth personality type people are mild and introverted, fair in whatever they do, but may be too serious in their outlook. They are also the good planners and organizers as their logical minds grant them foresight and good deductive powers.
Metal is characterized by the colour white. Metal people are malleable, and are usually success-driven and will not give up even after multiple failures. They may sometimes be unreasonable, but they possess the strength and energy to change in their ways.
Water is characterized by the colour blue. Water personality type people are extremely flexible, more so than metal type, and are sensitive, even to the point of being mentally fragile. However, water people can be sensitive to others to, and thus have good communications and interpersonal skills.
The elements actually have two cycles, the generative or productive cycle, and the destructive or suppressive cycle. The names of the cycles can be literal, the elements do lead to one another, and they do destroy one another.
In the generative cycle, wood produces fire, as wood is the most common source of fuel, perhaps the only one in ancient China. Fire produces earth, as ash is produced after burning and becomes part of the soil. Earth produces metal, as metallic ores are found in the earth. Metal produces water, as metal becomes liquid when heated. Water produces wood again, as it nourishes life.
In the destructive cycle, wood suppresses earth, as it drains nutrients from the soil, which was seen as having dominance over earth. Earth suppresses water, as earth and crude dams limit water bodies. There is a Chinese proverb that says that when water comes it must be stopped by earth. Water suppresses fire, as it is extinguished by water. Fire suppresses metal, as metal is melted only in extreme heat. Metal suppresses wood, as metal tools are usually the ones that kill life, whether it is a knife slaughtering an animal or an axe chopping down a tree.
Elements are affected by the two cycles in various ways. The most obvious one, and perhaps the main one, is that a person’s fortunes and misfortunes on a particular day are closely linked to the interactions between his element and the element prevalent that day or year. For example, let us say that this person was born on a fire year. If, the element in the 60-year cycle was a earth year, he would be in the generative phase of the cycles and would probably have good luck. This is sometimes known as mutual creation. If the element was wood, he would still succeed in his endeavours, as wood produces fire. This is sometimes known as mutual closeness, and can be likened to a parent-child relationship. However, if the element that day or year was water, the person would be warned by Chinese astrologers not to venture outdoors today, as water is fire’s bane in the destructive cycle. This is sometimes called mutual destruction or mutual fear. If the element that day was metal, the person would taste success that day, but probably at the expense of others. These relationships may also include tangible factors like the weather or objects around the person in Fengshui, which most practice along with Chinese astrology.
The elements influence a person’s life greatly, usually equal to or greater than the influence of the ascendant, which is the horoscope at the day and time of birth, and can be found in the ba zi. The elements are deemed so important, that sometimes, people consider elements in the names of their newborn children. Chinese names are made of two or three Chinese characters, and even more in ancient China. There are millions of different characters in the Chinese “alphabet”, which means that the names may be made up of millions and billions of combinations. Since a good majority of the Chinese characters are made up of two or more parts, and probably have many connotations, names that include characters with elements found inside are usually not hard to find. These elements are chosen to offset the failure that may occur due to the child’s element, for example, the person discussed earlier may have water in his name, as water does not affect itself, thus offsetting some of the bad luck. His parents may also choose him to have earth in his name, as earth suppresses water. In light of Fengshui, this person may also have objects which are either made of the elements desired or are of their colour, any shade of green for wood, red (colour symbolizes good luck, therefore often desired) and its close variations like purple or pink for fire, yellow, orange or gold (royal colour so double bonus) for earth, white and its various shades from light grey to cream for metal, and the various hues of blue for water.
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