The ancient Chinese astronomers called the five major planets by the
names of the Five Elements. Venus is Metal (gold); Jupiter is Wood;
Mercury is Water; Mars is Fire; Saturn is Earth. The position of the
five planets, the sun, the moon and comets in the sky and the Chinese
zodiac sign at the time a person was born determine the destiny of a
person's life according to the Chinese astrology. A laborious system
of computing one's fate and destiny based on one birthday and birth
hours (known as Zi Wei Dou Shu) is still used regularly in modern day
Chinese astrology. The twenty-eight Chinese constellations are quite
different from the eighty-eight Western constellations. For example,
the big dipper is known as dou; the belt of Orion is known as shen, or
the "Happiness, Fortune, Longevity" trio of demigods. The seven
northern constellations are referred to as xúanwǔ, Xuan Wu is also
known as the spirit of the northern sky or the spirit of Water in
In addition to astrological readings of the heavenly bodies, the stars
in the sky form the basis of many fairy tales. For example, the Summer
Triangle is the trio of the cowherd (Altair), the spinster maid fairy
(Vega) and the "tai bai" fairy (Deneb). The two forbidden lovers were
separated by the silvery river (the Milky Way). Each year on the
seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, the birds
form a bridge across the Milky Way. The cowherd carries their two sons
(the two stars on each side of Altair) across the bridge to reunite
with their fairy mother. The tai bai fairy acts as the chaperone of
these two immortal lovers. See Qi Xi for more versions of this story.
The twelve zodiac animal signs are, in order, the mouse, ox (buffalo),
tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (or goat), monkey, rooster,
dog, and pig. There are many legends to explain the beginning of the
zodiac (see Origins of the Chinese Zodiac). One of the most popular
reads, in summarized form, as follows:
The rat was given the task to invite the animals to report to the Jade
Emperor to be selected for the zodiac signs. The cat was a good friend
of the rat, but the rat forgot to invite him. So the cat vowed to be
the rat's natural enemy for ages to come.
Another popular legend has it that a race was used to decide the
animals to report to the Jade Emperor:
All the animals lined up on the bank of a river and were given the
task of getting to the opposite shore. Their order in the calendar
would be set by the order in which the animals managed to reach the
other side. The cat wondered how he would get across if he was afraid
of water. At the same time, the ox wondered how he would cross with
his poor eyesight. The calculating rat suggested that he and the cat
jump onto the ox's back and guide him across. The ox was steady and
hard-working so that he did not notice a commotion on his back. In the
meanwhile, the rat snuck up behind the unsuspecting cat and shoved him
into the water. Just as the ox came ashore, the rat jumped off and
finished the race first. The lazy pig came to the far shore in twelfth
place. And so the rat got the first year named after him, the ox got
the second year, and the pig ended up as the last year in the cycle.
The cat finished too late (thirteenth) to win any place in the
calendar, and vowed to be the enemy of the rat forevermore.
Some versions of the tale say that the cattle nominated a water
buffalo to represent them because he was more proficient at water. The
trade was acceptable because both animals are members of the family of
Another expands the race; the route ran through a forest, over ranges
of plains and grasslands, and along a stream, before finally crossing
a lake to the destination town.
Yet another variation tells of two different races. The first involved
all the animals, in two divisions to avoid the fast animals dominating
the top, and the top six in each division would "make the cut" for a
second round, which would then determine the order of placement of the
animals in the zodiac. This format is rather like the one that the
National Football League uses to determine its playoff teams (six from
There is also a cycle of the
Chinese Astrology Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal
(Gold), Water) on top of the cycle of animals. A person's year sign
can be a gold dragon, a wood rooster etc. In ancient match-making
practice in China, couples were brought together according to their
compatible signs. For example, it is believed that dog and dog don't
get along, but dog and pig do; a water dog supports a wood pig but
dominates a fire pig in their relationship because water benefits
wood, but controls fire according to the Chinese five elements'
The elements are also associated with colors, the traditional
correspondence being green to Wood, red to Fire, brown to Earth, white
to Metal, and black to Water. Some websites denote the years by the
color and zodiac sign (as opposed to animal sign and element).
Chinese astrology is the divination of the future from the Chinese
calendar, which is based on astronomy, and ancient Chinese philosophy.
In particular, it is based on the sexagenary cycle of 60 years that
has been documented since at least the time of the Shang Dynasty. This
basic cycle has been constructed from two cycles: the 10 heavenly
stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms) and the 12
earthly branches, or the 12-year cycle of animals referred to as the
Chinese zodiac. The Chinese animal zodiac also operates on a cycle of
months or 'moons' and of hours of the day.
The Chinese zodiac refers to a pure calendrical cycle; there are no
equivalent constellations like those of the occidental zodiac. In
imperial times there were astrologers who watched the sky for heavenly
omens that would predict the future of the state, but this was a quite
different practice of divination from the popular present-day methods.
In Chinese astrology the zodiac of twelve animal signs represents
twelve different types of personality. The zodiac traditionally begins
with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the Origins
of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so (see below). The
following are the twelve zodiac signs in order and their
1. Rat (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water): Forthright,
disciplined, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, hardworking,
industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, shrewd. Can be
manipulative, cruel, dictatorial, rigid, selfish, obstinate, critical,
over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming, sturdy.
2. Ox (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water): Dependable, calm,
methodical, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, steady,
modest, logical, resolute, tenacious. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded,
materialistic, rigid, demanding.
3. Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Unpredictable,
rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive,
vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous.
Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate,
4. Rabbit (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Gracious, kind,
sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious,
artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, astute, compassionate,
flexible. Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent,
5. Dragon (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Magnanimous, stately,
vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified,
zealous, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, ambitious, generous,
loyal. Can be arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, eccentric,
grandiloquent and extremely bombastic, prejudiced, dogmatic,
over-bearing, violent, impetuous, brash.
6. Snake (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Deep thinker, wise,
mystic, graceful, soft-spoken, sensual, creative, prudent, shrewd,
ambitious, elegant, cautious, responsible, calm, strong, constant,
purposeful. Can be loner, bad communicator, possessive, hedonistic,
self-doubting, distrustful, mendacious.
7. Horse (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Cheerful, popular,
quick-witted, changeable, earthy, perceptive, talkative, agile
mentally and physically, magnetic, intelligent, astute, flexible,
open-minded. Can be fickle, anxious, rude, gullible, stubborn, lack
stability and perseverance.
8. Sheep (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Righteous, sincere,
sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, creative, gentle,
compassionate, understanding, mothering, determined, peaceful,
generous, seeks security. Can be moody, indecisive, over-passive,
worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer.
9. Monkey (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Inventor, motivator,
improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem
solver, self-assured, sociable, polite, dignified, competitive,
objective, factual, intellectual. Can be egotistical, vain, selfish,
cunning, jealous, suspicious.
10. Rooster (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Acute, neat,
meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical,
perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible. Can
be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive,
11. Dog (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Honest, intelligent,
straightforward, loyal, sense of justice and fair play, attractive,
amiable, unpretentious, sociable, open-minded, idealistic, moralistic,
practical, affectionate, dogged. Can be cynical, lazy, cold,
judgmental, pessimistic, worrier, stubborn, quarrelsome.
12. Pig (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water): Honest, simple,
gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working,
trusting, sincere, calm, understanding, thoughtful, scrupulous,
passionate, intelligent. Can be naive, over-reliant, self-indulgent,
gullible, fatalistic, materialistic.
In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what
others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a
common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only
signs, and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely
on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month
(called inner animals) and hours of the day (called secret animals).
To sum it up, while a person might appear to be a dragon because they
were born in the year of the dragon, they might also be a snake
internally and an ox secretively. In total, this makes for 8,640
possible combinations (five elements x 12 animals in the 60 year cycle
(12 x 5 = 60) , 12 months, 12 times of day) that a person might be.
These are all considered critical for the proper use of Chinese