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How Did Ancient Chinese People give Horoscope Sign Explanations?


Actually I am not going to provide any horoscope sign explanations service here. Instead, I want to give a general introduction to the concepts and methods of Chinese astrology compatibility analysis.

Most western people's knowledge on Chinese Astrology is about the twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs corresponding to one's year of birth. People of each Zodiac Sign have some particular type of character. These character summaries are quite right generally.

Actually Chinese astrology has much more contents than the Chinese Zodiac Signs. In ancient time, Chinese government published Emperor's Calendar (Yellow Calendar), in which there were predictions about each day was favorable to what kind of things and unfavorable to what kind of things. So astrology was a common knowledge in the mainstream society and an integral part of people's daily life in ancient China.

Origin of Chinese Astrology

Chinese astrology is actually not invented by any person in Chinese history, but has been inherited from prehistoric culture. Chinese prehistoric culture before the Big Flood was a very developed semi-divine culture, in which gods were living in the world and teaching culture to humans directly.

The Big Flood recorded in Bible was a global flood, during which some Chinese people living at Kunlun Mountain survived. They inherited the prehistoric culture of China, which included Chinese astrology.

Top Astrologers in Ancient China

The most well-achieved astrologers in Chinese history are several great prophets. They were so capable astrologers that they were able to foretell the history of the whole Chinese nation. The most renowned astrologers are:

ProphetLiving TimeProphecy
Zhu-ge Liang181-234,(Three States)Divining Before a Horse ("Ma Qian Ke")
Yuan Tian-gang and Li Chun-feng602 - 670,(Tang Dynasty)Diagrams of Pushing the Back ("Tui Bei Tu")
Shao Yong1011-1077, (Song Dynasty)Plum Blossom Poems ("Mei Hua Shi")
Liu Bo-wen1311-1375,(Ming Dynasty)Songs of Baked Cake ("Shao Bing Ge")

They relied on supernormal abilities to make predictions. The prophecies written by them, which are about the governors of China of different periods, have proved to be very accurate.

Tui Bei Tu ┬ĘC 21 Plums

For example, "Diagrams of Pushing the Back" has sixty diagrams. Each diagram has one verse and one poem with it. The second diagram is as illustrated in the right picture. There are 21 plums on a plate. And the fourth plum does not have any handle on it. One sentence of the verse with homophone says, "one fruit, one person". One sentence of the poem with homophone says, "29 is multiplied by 10."

The explanation is that this is a prediction about the whole fate of Tang Dynasty. Tang Dynasty lasted for 290 year and there were 21 emperors altogether. Particularly, the fourth Emperor was a woman!

The "Eight Characters of Birth Time" or "Four Pillars of Destiny"

The Stem-Branch description of year, month, date and hour has two Chinese characters each, so altogether eight characters can describe a person's birth time. They are called "Ba-Zi" in Chinese, which means "Eight Characters". It is also called "Si-Zhu", which means "Four Pillars" with each two characters being one "Pillar".

The Theory of Five Elements penetrates and rules not only visible matters and human life but also space and time. Therefore, the Eight Characters of one's birth time carry the full information about a person's composition of Five Elements. By analyzing this information, we can tell the fate and the running process of the person's whole life.

In ancient China, it was one of the necessary steps for the matchmakers to exchange the Eight Characters of the man and the woman being matched so that the family of both sides could analyze whether the couple would be compatible to each other.

Horoscope Sign Explanations based on "Four Pillars of Destiny"

The structure of one's Four Pillars is illustrated as follows.

Four Pillars Structure

As indicated in the above diagram, the Date Stem represents Myself. So the process of fortune-telling based upon Four Pillars is just to analyze the relationship between other parts of the Four Pillars and the Date Stem.

The relationship between other Elements and myself will include

  • Element that creates myself;
  • Element that myself creates;
  • Element that inhibits myself;
  • Element that myself inhibits, which corresponds to wealth;

The pivot of the Four Pillars fortune-telling is to find out the "Utility God" (用神,"Yong Shen") of this person. The Utility God is the specific Element among Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Soil that helps to balance the composition of Five Elements in one's Four Pillars of Destiny. When predicting about one's luck in each year, family members, character and career, they are all measured against the Utility God.

A basic standard is to pick Utility God is to use the Element that can restrain Myself if the Myself Element is strong, or that can support Myself if the Myself Element is weak. However, there are many variations. It may not be straightforward sometimes.

After one's Utility God is identfied, the yearly flow of one's luck over the whole life can be predicted by measuring one's Utility God against each year's Five Element. The Five Element composition of each year can be found through the "Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches" representation of the year. Ultimatly, Chinese Astrology compatibility analysis is based upon the creation/inhibition relationship between the Five Elements.

According to "Qian-li Ming Gao", there are eight steps to do a fortune-telling basing on Four Pillars of Destiny.

  1. Find out the strong/weak of Date Stem.
  2. Identify the category basing upon the Month Branch.
  3. Find out the Utility God basing upon restraining the strong or support the weak.
  4. Predict the like/dislike basing upon Utility God.
  5. Predict the annual luck.
  6. Deduct the situation of family members.
  7. Analyze the person's character.
  8. Analyze the person's luck in career.

I do not think fortune-telling software or online fortune-telling service is a good way for fortune telling. It may work in giving very general information. When it comes to concrete things, the variations are just unlimited and cannot be covered well by computer programs.

The Fortune-telling based upon Four Pillars of Destiny is a true science. It is verifiable. You can verify your prediction methods via the cases of people you know. It the conclusion does not accord to fact, you may need to adjust your prediction method.

Further readings

I feel that this science of fortune-telling is more complex and dynamic than any of the subject that I have studied in college. Its theory system is huge. Here I only give some brief introduction from the perspective of cultural exchange. You can read further my other pages on Yellow Calendar, Comparison of Chinese Horoscope with Western Horoscope, Chinese Numerology and Classical Chinese Books on Fourtune-telling.

If you are very interested and want to do in-depth research, I would suggest that you may learn some Chinese language, which will open a huge repository of knowledge treasures for you.

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