Chinese Zodiac [Ba Zi and Tzu Wei Tou Shu Astrology]



Definition: [Zodiacs] What we in the West usually call the "Chinese Zodiac" is a zodiac only in the sense that it is a 'Circle of the Animals'. It is a yearly sign system and does not correspond to a solar zodiac wheel as in the Western tradition. Neither do the animals of the "zodiac" correspond to any heavenly constellations.

Further details of the dates of this year cycle can be found below in the information on Ba Zi astrology.

Whilst the idea that an astrology can be based on the Chinese year sign [Ba Zi astrology] is increasingly common in the West, the development of Chinese astrology is far more complex.

The Chinese do possess a zodiac system in some ways similar to the West, but it is based on the Moon rather than the Sun. It is known as the Tzu Wei Tou Shu, the Pole Star Astrology System.

The Ancient Chinese identified some 28 "Xiu", or lunar stations/mansions, each based on an asterism, divided into four cardinal directions (and seasons): The Azure Dragon of the East (Spring); The Vermillion Bird of the South (Summer); The White Tiger of the West (Fall); "Genbu", The Black Tortoise of the North (Winter).

There was also a fifth direction, "towards the centre", associated with the North Pole Star, which was considered the closest point to heaven. This lead the Chinese to consider that the wheel of the circumpolar constellations was of great importance and they used these and ecliptic asterisms to define the lunar mansions.

A Japanese star chart of 1699 showing lunar stations.


A sketch of a portion of an Edo era Japanese star chart by Harumi Yasui, dated 1699.

The key star for each Moon station is circled in red. The key star for Station 1 is Spica, "The Ear of Wheat", Alpha Virginis, in Virgo, in the Western [Greek] constellation system. The vertical lines on the chart mark the start of the stations. It is apparent from the diagram that the stations vary in size. Presumably this is to accommodate the various sizes of asterisms seen by the Chinese along the ecliptic. However, there are always seven stations in each of the four heavenly regions. The Lunar stations are the closest equivalent to a zodiac wheel to be found in Chinese astrology.

Tzu Wei Tou Shu astrology is based on the movement of the Sun, Moon and five planets [Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, just as in the pre-telescope Western astrology] as seen against the background of these lunar stations. Its history is just as ancient as the Western Zodiac Wheels. Traditionally, the system is supposed to date back four and a half millennia, to the reign of the probably mythical Yellow Emperor, Huáng Dì. "Oracle bones" have survived from the Shang dynasty [ca. 1200-1045 BC], half a millennium before the lives of either Confucius (551-479 BC), or the Buddha [ca. 563 - ca 483 BC], which show this type of astrological divination being practiced. A set of astrological predictions are present in the Shih Chih ["Historical Record"] of the historian Sun-Ma Chien dating from the 1st century BC. By the time of the Han dynasty [206 BC - AD 220] solar and lunar eclipses, as well as planetary conjunctions, were part of the predictive astrological framework, though the Movement of the Ages was beginning to cause as many problems for Chinese astrology as it has done for the Western tradition.

A printed version of a Chinese constellation star map, 1819 AD.


Chinese Star-map, 1819. Print on thin paper of map showing Chinese names of stars and constellations made by John Reeves esq, Canton.

The Calendar Years of the Ba Zi Chinese "Zodiac": The Ba Zi is the Chinese system currently being popularized in the West. For quick reference, to find your Chinese year animal you can use the table given below. Look up your birth year in the right hand column to find your animal.

Chinese Sign
Year of Birth
RAT:  1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008.
OX:  1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009.
TIGER:  1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010.
RABBIT:  1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011.
DRAGON:   1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012.
SNAKE:  1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013.
HORSE:  1918, 1930, 1942, 1954,1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014.
GOAT:  1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015.
MONKEY:  1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016.
ROOSTER:  1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017.
DOG:  1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018.
1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019.

Where do the Twelve Yearly Animals Originate From?: From Buddhism. Traditionally, they are the twelve animals that responded when the Buddha called to them to hear him preach the Dharma [the Law]. The other animals, unsure of the purpose of the invitation did not turn up. The legend goes that the list of the animals is the order in which the animals arrived, the Buddha having ordained that each subsequent year, from then on, would be named for an animal.

The 60 Year Chinese Calendar and the Branches: The Chinese Calendar is a combined lunar/solar one, i.e. it is based on the cycles of the Moon and the Sun. Therefore, the beginning of the Chinese year does not keep exactly in step with the solar calendar used in the West: it can fall on any date between January 21st and February 21st in the Western calendar. Its date is based on second New Moon after the Winter Solstice, as seen from China, along with several other factors.

Unlike many other calendars, the Chinese calendar is not infinite but repeats every 60 years. This repetition is a combination of the 10 “heavenly stems”, tiān gān, [which correspond to one of five elements repeating in Yang/Yin pairs: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water] and the 12 “earthly branches”, dì zhī which correspond to the Buddhist animals. The 12 earthly branches [Rat through to Pig] repeat five times through the 60 year cycle, and the heavenly stems six times in the form of five pairs of Yang/Yin element doublets, also known as "Elder Brother" and "Younger Brother". An element only matches with an earthly branch once in the sixty year cycle e.g. 1928: Earth Dragon; 1940: Metal Dragon; 1952: Water Dragon; 1964: Wood Dragon; 1976: Fire Dragon. The twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac are also used in the Japanese and Korean systems. However there are some variations as to the animals used, for example in the Vietnamese version the 4th earthly branch is a Cat not a Rabbit, and some systems replace the Ox with the Buffalo. Full Ba Zi applies this complete system to four segments of time: the year, month, day and hour of birth. These are called the "Four Pillars of Wisdom."

The heavenly branches each have special associations. Wood is associated with fur and bamboo, Fire with burning wood and lamp flame, Earth with hill and plain, Metal with weapons and kettle and Water with waves and streams. Yang is associated in Taoist duality with hot, dry, and male; Yin with cool, wet, and female.

The current Chinese calendar cycle started on 2nd February 1984. Coming dates for the Chinese New Year are: Jan 22 2004, Feb 9 2005, Jan 29 2006, Feb 18 2007. Below is a table of the dates of the Chinese New Year from 1920, just before the start of the most recent complete cycle, to 2007 the 24th year of the current cycle.

Chinese New Year, Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches:

Year in the 
Sixty Year Cycle
Chinese New Year Day 
Day Month Year
 Twelve Earthly Branches
The Animal Name
 of Stem
   Ten Heavenly Stems
 Associated Element
57 02/20/1920 Monkey Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
58 02/08/1921 Rooster Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
59 01/28/1922 Dog Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
60 02/16/1923 Pig Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
01 02/05/1924 Rat Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
02 01/24/1925 Ox Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
03 02/13/1926 Tiger Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
04 02/02/1927 Rabbit Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
05 01/23/1928 Dragon Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
06 02/10/1929 Snake Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
07 01/30/1930 Horse Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
08 02/17/1931 Goat Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
09 02/06/1932 Monkey Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
10 01/26/1933 Rooster Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
11 02/14/1934 Dog Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
12 02/04/1935 Pig Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
13 01/24/1936 Rat Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
14 02/11/1937 Ox Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
15 01/31/1938 Tiger Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
16 02/19/1939 Rabbit Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
17 02/08/1940 Dragon Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
18 01/27/1941 Snake Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
19 02/15/1942 Horse Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
20 02/05/1943 Goat Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
21 01/25/1944 Monkey Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
22 02/13/1945 Rooster Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
23 02/02/1946 Dog Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
24 01/22/1947 Pig Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
25 02/10/1948 Rat Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
26 01/29/1949 Ox Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
27 02/17/1950 Tiger Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
28 02/06/1951 Rabbit Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
29 01/27/1952 Dragon Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
30 02/14/1953 Snake Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
31 02/03/1954 Horse Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
32 01/24/1955 Goat Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
33 02/12/1956 Monkey Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
34 01/31/1957 Rooster Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
35 02/18/1958 Dog Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
36 02/08/1959 Pig Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
37 01/28/1960 Rat Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
38 02/15/1961 Ox Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
39 02/05/1962 Tiger Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
40 01/25/1963 Rabbit Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
41 02/13/1964 Dragon Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
42 02/02/1965 Snake Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
43 01/21/1966 Horse Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
44 02/09/1967 Goat Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
45 01/30/1968 Monkey Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
46 02/17/1969 Rooster Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
47 02/06/1970 Dog Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
48 01/27/1971 Pig Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
49 02/15/1972 Rat Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
50 02/03/1973 Ox Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
51 01/23/1974 Tiger Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
52 02/11/1975 Rabbit Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
53 01/31/1976 Dragon Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
54 02/18/1977 Snake Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
55 02/07/1978 Horse Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
56 01/28/1979 Goat Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
57 02/16/1980 Monkey Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
58 02/05/1981 Rooster Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
59 01/25/1982 Dog Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
60 02/13/1983 Pig Yang [Elder Brother]   Water

The Current Sixty Year Cycle   
Year in the 
Sixty Year Cycle
Chinese New Year Day 
Day Month Year
 Twelve Earthly Branches
The Animal Name
 of Stem
   Ten Heavenly Stems
 Associated Element
01 02/02/1984 Rat Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
02 02/20/1985 Ox Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
03 02/09/1986 Tiger Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
04 01/29/1987 Rabbit Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
05 02/17/1988 Dragon Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
06 02/06/1989 Snake Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
07 01/27/1990 Horse Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
08 02/15/1991 Goat Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
09 02/04/1992 Monkey Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
10 01/23/1993 Rooster Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
11 02/10/1994 Dog Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
12 01/31/1995 Pig Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
13 02/19/1996 Rat Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
14 02/07/1997 Ox Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire
15 01/28/1998 Tiger Yang [Elder Brother]   Earth
16 02/16/1999 Rabbit Yin [Younger Brother]   Earth
17 02/05/2000 Dragon Yang [Elder Brother]   Metal
18 01/24/2001 Snake Yin [Younger Brother]   Metal
19 02/12/2002 Horse Yang [Elder Brother]   Water
20 02/01/2003 Goat Yin [Younger Brother]   Water
21 01/22/2004 Monkey Yang [Elder Brother]   Wood
22 02/09/2005 Rooster Yin [Younger Brother]   Wood
23 01/29/2006 Dog Yang [Elder Brother]   Fire
24 02/18/2007 Pig Yin [Younger Brother]   Fire

The Zodiac and Astrology:

01:  What is a Zodiac? What are Zodiac Wheels?
02:  Galactic Zodiac
03:  Real Solar Zodiac and Zodiac Charts
04:  Tropical Zodiac
05:  Sidereal Zodiac [Vedic Zodiac]
06:  Comparison of Tropical and Sidereal Solar Zodiacs
07:  Examples of Tropical and Sidereal Zodiac Wheels for Prince William's Horoscope
08:  Planetary Zodiac
09:  Lunar Zodiac and Lunar Mansions
10:  Chinese Zodiac
11:  Celtic Zodiac
12:  The Non-Zodiac Stars and Constellations

© Dr Shepherd Simpson, Astrological Historian


Historical Astrology

See the new Astrological Index for the meaning of other astrological words and phrases

Galactic Zodiac