Chinese astrology is based on the traditional astronomy and calendars. The development of Chinese astrology is tied to that of astronomy, which came to flourish during the Han Dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD).
Chinese astrology has a close relation with Chinese philosophy (theory of the three harmony: heaven, earth, and water), and uses the principles of yin and yang and concepts that are not found in Western astrology, such as the wu xing teachings, the 10 Celestial stems, the 12 Earthly Branches, the lunisolar calendar (moon calendar and sun calendar), and the time calculation after year, month, day, and shichen (時辰).
Chinese astrology was elaborated during the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC) and flourished during the Han Dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD). During the Han period, the familiar elements of traditional Chinese culture—the Yin-Yang philosophy, the theory of the 5 elements, the concepts of Heaven and Earth, and Confucian morality—were brought together to formalize the philosophical principles of Chinese medicine and divination, astrology and alchemy.
According to Chinese astrology, a person's destiny can be determined by the position of the major planets at the person's birth along with the positions of the Sun, Moon, comets, the person's time of birth, and zodiac Sign. The system of the twelve-year cycle of animal signs was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter (the Year Star; simplified Chinese: 岁星; traditional Chinese: 歳星; pinyin: Suìxīng). Following the orbit of Jupiter around the sun, Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections, and rounded it to 12 years (from 11.86). Jupiter is associated with the constellation Sheti (simplified Chinese: 摄提; traditional Chinese: 攝提- Boötes) and is sometimes called Sheti.
A system of computing one's fate and destiny based on one's birthday, birth season, and birth hours, known as Zi Wei Dou Shu (simplified Chinese: 紫微斗数; traditional Chinese: 紫微斗數; pinyin: zǐwēidǒushù), or Purple Star Astrology, is still used regularly in modern-day Chinese astrology to divine one's fortune. The 28 Chinese constellations, Xiu (Chinese: 宿; pinyin: xìu), are quite different from Western constellations. For example, the Big Bear (Ursa Major) is known as Dou (Chinese: 斗; pinyin: dǒu); the belt of Orion is known as Shen (simplified Chinese: 参; traditional Chinese: 參; pinyin: shēn), or the "Happiness, Fortune, Longevity" trio of demigods. The seven northern constellations are referred to as Xuan Wu (Chinese: 玄武; pinyin: xuánwǔ). Xuan Wu is also known as the spirit of the northern sky or the spirit of Water in Taoism belief.
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 weaving maiden 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.
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The 60-year cycle consists of two separate cycles interacting with each other. The first is the cycle of ten heavenly stems, namely the Five Elements (in order Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their Yin and Yang forms.
The second is the cycle of the twelve zodiac animal signs (生肖 shēngxiào) or Earthly Branches. They are in order as follows: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. In Vietnam the Rabbit is replaced by the cat.
This combination creates the 60-year cycle due to the fewest number of years (least common multiple) it would take to get from Yang Wood Rat to its next iteration, which always starts with Yang Wood Rat and ends with Yin Water Pig. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac sign can occur only as either Yin or Yang: the Dragon is always yang, the Snake is always yin, etc. The current cycle began in 1984 (as shown in "Table of the sixty-year calendar" below).
When trying to traverse the lunisolar calendar, an easy rule to follow is that years that end in an even number are yang, those that end with an odd number are yin. The cycle proceeds as follows:
However, since the (traditional) Chinese zodiac follows the (lunisolar) Chinese calendar, the switch-over date is the Chinese New Year, not January 1 as in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, a person who was born in January or early February may have the sign of the previous year. For example, if a person was born in January 1970, his or her element would still be Yin Earth, not Yang Metal. Similarly, although 1990 was called the year of the Horse, anyone born from January 1 to January 26, 1990, was in fact born in the Year of the Snake (the sign of the previous year), because the 1990 Year of the Horse did not begin until January 27, 1990. For this reason, many online sign calculators (and Chinese restaurant place mats) may give a person the wrong sign if he/she was born in January or early February.
The start of a new zodiac is also celebrated on Chinese New Year along with many other customs.
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The following table shows the 60-year cycle matched up to the Western calendar for the years 1924–2043 (see sexagenary cycle article for years 1804–1923). This is only applied to Chinese Lunar calendar. The sexagenary cycle begins at lichun 'about February 4' according to some astrological sources.
|1||Feb 05 1924–Jan 23 1925||Yang Wood||甲||子||Rat||Feb 02 1984–Jan 21 1985|
|2||Jan 24 1925–Feb 12 1926||Yin Wood||乙||丑||Ox||Jan 22 1985–Feb 08 1986|
|3||Feb 13 1926–Feb 01 1927||Yang Fire||丙||寅||Tiger||Feb 09 1986–Jan 28 1987|
|4||Feb 02 1927–Jan 22 1928||Yin Fire||丁||卯||Rabbit||Jan 29 1987–Feb 16 1988|
|5||Jan 23 1928–Feb 09 1929||Yang Earth||戊||辰||Dragon||Feb 17 1988–Feb 05 1989|
|6||Feb 10 1929–Jan 29 1930||Yin Earth||己||巳||Snake||Feb 06 1989–Jan 26 1990|
|7||Jan 30 1930–Feb 16 1931||Yang Metal||庚||午||Horse||Jan 27 1990–Feb 14 1991|
|8||Feb 17 1931–Feb 05 1932||Yin Metal||辛||未||Goat||Feb 15 1991–Feb 03 1992|
|9||Feb 06 1932–Jan 25 1933||Yang Water||壬||申||Monkey||Feb 04 1992–Jan 22 1993|
|10||Jan 26 1933–Feb 13 1934||Yin Water||癸||酉||Rooster||Jan 23 1993– Feb 09 1994|
|11||Feb 14 1934–Feb 03 1935||Yang Wood||甲||戌||Dog||Feb 10 1994–Jan 30 1995|
|12||Feb 04 1935–Jan 23 1936||Yin Wood||乙||亥||Pig||Jan 31 1995–Feb 18 1996|
|13||Jan 24 1936–Feb 10 1937||Yang Fire||丙||子||Rat||Feb 19 1996–Feb 06 1997|
|14||Feb 11 1937–Jan 30 1938||Yin Fire||丁||丑||Ox||Feb 07 1997–Jan 27 1998|
|15||Jan 31 1938–Feb 18 1939||Yang Earth||戊||寅||Tiger||Jan 28 1998–Feb 15 1999|
|16||Feb 19 1939–Feb 07 1940||Yin Earth||己||卯||Rabbit||Feb 16 1999–Feb 04 2000|
|17||Feb 08 1940–Jan 26 1941||Yang Metal||庚||辰||Dragon||Feb 05 2000–Jan 23 2001|
|18||Jan 27 1941–Feb 14 1942||Yin Metal||辛||巳||Snake||Jan 24 2001–Feb 11 2002|
|19||Feb 15 1942–Feb 04 1943||Yang Water||壬||午||Horse||Feb 12 2002–Jan 31 2003|
|20||Feb 05 1943–Jan 24 1944||Yin Water||癸||未||Goat||Feb 01 2003–Jan 21 2004|
|21||Jan 25 1944–Feb 12 1945||Yang Wood||甲||申||Monkey||Jan 22 2004–Feb 08 2005|
|22||Feb 13 1945–Feb 01 1946||Yin Wood||乙||酉||Rooster||Feb 09 2005–Jan 28 2006|
|23||Feb 02 1946–Jan 21 1947||Yang Fire||丙||戌||Dog||Jan 29 2006–Feb 17 2007|
|24||Jan 22 1947–Feb 09 1948||Yin Fire||丁||亥||Pig||Feb 18 2007–Feb 06 2008|
|25||Feb 10 1948–Jan 28 1949||Yang Earth||戊||子||Rat||Feb 07 2008–Jan 25 2009|
|26||Jan 29 1949–Feb 16 1950||Yin Earth||己||丑||Ox||Jan 26 2009–Feb 13 2010|
|27||Feb 17 1950–Feb 05 1951||Yang Metal||庚||寅||Tiger||Feb 14 2010–Feb 02 2011|
|28||Feb 06 1951–Jan 26 1952||Yin Metal||辛||卯||Rabbit||Feb 03 2011–Jan 22 2012|
|29||Jan 27 1952–Feb 13 1953||Yang Water||壬||辰||Dragon||Jan 23 2012–Feb 09 2013|
|30||Feb 14 1953–Feb 02 1954||Yin Water||癸||巳||Snake||Feb 10 2013–Jan 30 2014|
|31||Feb 03 1954–Jan 23 1955||Yang Wood||甲||午||Horse||Jan 31 2014–Feb 18 2015|
|32||Jan 24 1955–Feb 11 1956||Yin Wood||乙||未||Goat||Feb 19 2015–Feb 07 2016|
|33||Feb 12 1956–Jan 30 1957||Yang Fire||丙||申||Monkey||Feb 08 2016–Jan 27 2017|
|34||Jan 31 1957–Feb 17 1958||Yin Fire||丁||酉||Rooster||Jan 28 2017–Feb 15 2018|
|35||Feb 18 1958–Feb 07 1959||Yang Earth||戊||戌||Dog||Feb 16 2018–Feb 04 2019|
|36||Feb 08 1959–Jan 27 1960||Yin Earth||己||亥||Pig||Feb 05 2019–Jan 24 2020|
|37||Jan 28 1960–Feb 14 1961||Yang Metal||庚||子||Rat||Jan 25 2020–Feb. 11 2021|
|38||Feb 15 1961–Feb 04 1962||Yin Metal||辛||丑||Ox||Feb 12 2021–Jan 31 2022|
|39||Feb 05 1962–Jan 24 1963||Yang Water||壬||寅||Tiger||Feb 01 2022–Jan 21 2023|
|40||Jan 25 1963–Feb 12 1964||Yin Water||癸||卯||Rabbit||Jan 22 2023–Feb 09 2024|
|41||Feb 13 1964–Feb 01 1965||Yang Wood||甲||辰||Dragon||Feb 10 2024–Jan 28 2025|
|42||Feb 02 1965–Jan 20 1966||Yin Wood||乙||巳||Snake||Jan 29 2025–Feb 16 2026|
|43||Jan 21 1966–Feb 08 1967||Yang Fire||丙||午||Horse||Feb 17 2026–Feb 05 2027|
|44||Feb 09 1967–Jan 29 1968||Yin Fire||丁||未||Goat||Feb 06 2027–Jan 25 2028|
|45||Jan 30 1968–Feb 16 1969||Yang Earth||戊||申||Monkey||Jan 26 2028–Feb 12 2029|
|46||Feb 17 1969–Feb 05 1970||Yin Earth||己||酉||Rooster||Feb 13 2029–Feb 02 2030|
|47||Feb 06 1970–Jan 26 1971||Yang Metal||庚||戌||Dog||Feb 03 2030–Jan 22 2031|
|48||Jan 27 1971–Feb 14 1972||Yin Metal||辛||亥||Pig||Jan 23 2031–Feb 10 2032|
|49||Feb 15 1972–Feb 02 1973||Yang Water||壬||子||Rat||Feb 11 2032–Jan 30 2033|
|50||Feb 03 1973–Jan 22 1974||Yin Water||癸||丑||Ox||Jan 31 2033–Feb 18 2034|
|51||Jan 23 1974–Feb 10 1975||Yang Wood||甲||寅||Tiger||Feb 19 2034–Feb 07 2035|
|52||Feb 11 1975–Jan 30 1976||Yin Wood||乙||卯||Rabbit||Feb 08 2035–Jan 27 2036|
|53||Jan 31 1976–Feb 17 1977||Yang Fire||丙||辰||Dragon||Jan 28 2036–Feb 14 2037|
|54||Feb 18 1977–Feb 06 1978||Yin Fire||丁||巳||Snake||Feb 15 2037–Feb 03 2038|
|55||Feb 07 1978–Jan 27 1979||Yang Earth||戊||午||Horse||Feb 04 2038–Jan 23 2039|
|56||Jan 28 1979–Feb 15 1980||Yin Earth||己||未||Goat||Jan 24 2039–Feb 11 2040|
|57||Feb 16 1980–Feb 04 1981||Yang Metal||庚||申||Monkey||Feb 12 2040–Jan 31 2041|
|58||Feb 05 1981–Jan 24 1982||Yin Metal||辛||酉||Rooster||Feb 01 2041–Jan 21 2042|
|59||Jan 25 1982–Feb 12 1983||Yang Water||壬||戌||Dog||Jan 22 2042–Feb 09 2043|
|60||Feb 13 1983–Feb 01 1984||Yin Water||癸||亥||Pig||Feb 10 2043–Jan 29 2044|
Although it is usually translated as 'element' the Chinese word xing literally means something like 'changing states of being', 'permutations' or 'metamorphoses of being'. In fact, Sinologists cannot agree on one single translation. The Chinese conception of 'element' is therefore quite different from the Western one. The Western elements were seen as the basic building blocks of matter. The Chinese 'elements', by contrast, were seen as ever changing and translation of xing is simply 'the five changes'.
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