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Chinese astrology (as it is known today) is the divination of the future from the Chinese calendar, particularly its 12-year cycle of animals, referred to as the Chinese Zodiac. This fortune-telling system is derived from the principle characteristics of the system: the Zodiac, the five elements of Chinese thought, calendrical cycles based on astronomy, and ancient Chinese religion.
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 than the popular present-day methods.
The ancient Chinese astronomers called the five major planets by the names of the element they were associated with: Venus corresponds to Metal (gold); Jupiter to Wood; Mercury to Water; Mars to Fire; Saturn to Earth. It is said that the position of these planets, along with the positions of the Sun, Moon, any comets in the sky as well as time of birth and Zodiac Sign can determine a person's destiny according to Chinese Astrology.
A laborious system of computing one's fate and destiny based on one's birthday and birth hours (known as Zi Wei Dou Shu 紫微斗數 zǐwēidǒushù) is still used regularly in modern day Chinese astrology to divine one's fortune. The twenty-eight Chinese constellations (宿 xìu) are quite different from the eighty-eight Western constellations. For example, the Big Bear (Ursa Major) is known as 斗 dǒu; the belt of Orion is known as 參 shen, or the "Happiness, Fortune, Longevity" trio of demigods. The seven northern constellations are referred to as xúanwǔ (玄武). 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. See Qi Xi for more versions of this story.
The cycles of years that are in use nowadays are derived from the age-old sexagenary cycle of 60 days that has been documented at least since the time of the Shang Dynasty. This basic cycle has been constructed from two cycles: the 10 heavenly stems and the 12 earthly branches, and this has later been applied to years instead of days.
- If the year ends in 0 it is Yang Metal.
- If the year ends in 1 it is Yin Metal.
- If the year ends in 2 it is Yang Water.
- If the year ends in 3 it is Yin Water.
- If the year ends in 4 it is Yang Wood.
- If the year ends in 5 it is Yin Wood.
- If the year ends in 6 it is Yang Fire.
- If the year ends in 7 it is Yin Fire.
- If the Year ends in 8 it is Yang Earth.
- If the year ends in 9 it is Yin Earth.
Note however, that the cycle follows the same Chinese Lunar calendar as the Animal signs, not the Western year. So, for example, if a person was born in January 1970, his or her element would still be Yin Earth, not Yang Metal. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac sign can only occur in either yin or yang: the dragon is always yang, the snake is always yin, etc. This combination creates a 60-year cycle, starting with Wood Rat and ending with Water Pig. The current cycle began in the year 1984 (as shown in "Table of the lunar calendar and zodiac" below).
 Five elements
The Yin or Yang is broken down into Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) on top of the cycle of animals. These are modifiers and afflict the characteristics of each of the 12 animal signs. Each element has features that apply to both years and the animals. Each of the 12 animals are governed by an element plus a Yin Yang Direction. They are divided into 4 groups.
The balance of yin and yang and the five elements in a person's make-up has a major bearing on what is beneficial and effective for them in terms of feng shui, the Chinese form of geomancy. This is because each element is linked to a particular direction and season, and their different kinds of qì or life force.
- The West
- The Planet Venus
- The Color White
- Respiratory system & Lungs
- Determined, Self-reliant
- Unyielding, Strong
- Persistent, Forceful
- Sophistication, Enjoys comforts, pleasure
- Reserved, Needs Personal Space
Governs Rooster and Dog. These three signs form the Chinese Autumn season, between 7 or 8 of August and 6 or 7 of November, approximately. The major "gods" (heavenly stems) of these signs are geng (yang Metal), xin (yin Metal) and wei (yang Earth) respectively.
- The East
- The Planet Jupiter
- The Color Green
- Liver and gallbladder
- Generous, Warm
- Persuasive, Co-operative
- Seeks to Expand and Grow
- Idealistic, Ethical
- Enthusiastic, Seeks to Explore
'Governs' Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon
- The North
- The Planet Mercury
- The Color Black
- Skeletal/Excretory System & Lungs
- Diplomatic, Charming
- Intuitive, Compassionate
- Communication, Intellectual
- Sensitivity, Creative
- Flexible, Compliant
'Governs' Pig, Rat, Ox
- The South
- The Planet Mars
- The Color Red
- Circulatory system & Heart
- Dynamic, Energetic
- Passion, Enterprise
- Adventurous, Restless
- Competitive, Leadership Skills
- Strong, Single-minded
'Governs' Snake, Horse, goat
- Three Enclosures, Change of seasons
- The Planet Saturn
- The Color Yellow
- Digestive system, Spleen and stomach
- Patient, Prudent
- Stable, Reliable
- Hard-working, Ambitious
- Disciplined, Logical
- Service and Duty to Others
'Governs' Dragon, Dog, Rat, and Ox. It is the central balance of the elements and can lend qualities to all 12 animals as well.
Some websites denote the years by the colour and zodiac sign as opposed to animal sign and element.
 The twelve animals
Each individual personality is associated with an animal which represents it. This is where many Chinese Astrology descriptions in western society draw solely from. Each year in the 60 year cycle contains twelve animals, each with five possible elements, which distinctively vary the base animal's personality which equals to 90 possible combinations.
Legend describes the order of the zodiac to be determined through a race, in which the rat cheated by standing on the ox's head and jumping when they reached the finish line.
 The twelve zodiac animals with their respective elements
Beautiful dawn - lights up the shore for me.
There is nothing else in the world,
I'd rather wake up and see (with you).
Beautiful dawn - I'm just chasing time again.
Thought I would die a lonely man, in endless night.
But now I'm high; running wild among all the stars above.
Sometimes it's hard to believe you remember me.
Beautiful dawn - melt with the stars again.
Do you remember the day when my journey began?
Will you remember the end (of time)?
Beautiful dawn - You're just blowing my mind again.
Thought I was born to endless night, until you shine.
High; running wild among all the stars above.
Sometimes it's hard to believe you remember me.
Will you be my shoulder when I'm grey and older?
Promise me tomorrow starts with you,
Getting high; running wild among all the stars above.
Sometimes it's hard to believe you remember me