INTRODUCTION: How to Determine Your Sign
Next to the Dragon, the Monkey is possibly the easiest sign in Chinese astrology for newcomers to relate to, because the Chinese view of the animal’s nature is exactly the same as everyone else’s. Entertaining, mischievous, clever and irresponsible, the Monkey is the joker in the pack of Chinese star signs. Unlike the majestic Dragon, warlike Tiger or proud Horse, the Monkey enjoys being the cause of laughter and entertainment. Foolish Monkeys are prone to fits of exaggerated self-importance, it’s true, get fed up with being court jesters and want to take the throne for themselves – but this is an occasional aberration that is usually entertaining and rarely does any lasting harm.
The Monkey’s place in traditional Chinese culture is illustrated by a selection of myths, legends, poems and sayings that have all fed into the astrological symbol through China’s long history. These are fascinating in themselves purely for the insight they give into that country’s unique character, but they also flesh out the archetype of the trickster Monkey as used in astrology. For those new to the subject we include an easy guide to working out their own birth profiles, including year, month and hour signs, so readers can see for themselves what Chinese astrology has to say about them and their relations to others.
The beauty of Chinese astrology is its relative simplicity. All you need is an imaginative grasp of the twelve signs and how they interact and the general picture soon becomes clear. There is no need for tricky calculations and years of study to draw up and interpret a birth chart. It can be taken a lot further and massive almanacs are published annually in Chinese that do exactly that, but the broad outlines are clear without going to anything like those lengths, enabling anyone to test it out for themselves.
Wherever possible sources have been named in the text and can be found in translations of the Chinese classics. The folktales are harder to attribute because many slightly different versions have gone into each telling, but most still circulate today in traditional areas of China where such things are remembered. The spelling we have used is mostly modern Pin Yin apart from a few already familiar names like Genghis Khan and Confucius.
DETERMINING YOUR BIRTH SIGN
The overwhelming simplicity of Chinese astrology is that everyone in a year shares the same sign. Most people can learn this just by checking the astrological sign of their birth year. The only problem is that the Chinese New Year varies, like Easter, from year to year, being signalled by the second new moon after the shortest day of the year.
So if you were born in January or February and your birthday comes before the Chinese New Year, you count as belonging to the previous year. If, for example, you were born any time in January 1970, your Chinese birth year is in fact 1969. Check the table below for Chinese year signs and New Year dates, but the Monkey is your sign if you were born between the following dates:
20 February 1920 – 7 February 1921
There is a bit more to Chinese astrology than simply one's year sign, of course. There are also month, day and hour signs that define an individual's personal characteristics, and later in the book we go into the influence of these in some detail. But the Chinese consider the year sign to be the most significant factor, so here you have it.
To find yours, simply pop your birth year into the box below. The only problem is if you were born in January or February. If so and your birthday comes before the Chinese New Year, you count as belonging to the previous year. So if, say, you were born any time in January 1980, your Chinese birth year is in fact 1979. Check the table below for Chinese New Year dates.
Please enter your birthyear in full, such as - 1974
To the newcomer it might seem strange that in Chinese astrology everyone born in a particular year shares the same sign, because where then is the scope for individuality? But the system is not quite as sweeping as it seems. There is plenty of scope for individuality by taking into account your month, day and hour signs, as we shall see later; it’s just that the Chinese believe the year has more astrological influence on a person than anything else.
It’s not hard to see some truth in this even outside astrology. In any discussion among people of different generations there is a natural tendency for sides to form according to age. People’s views are affected enormously by the climate of the times in which they grow up. Each generation has a perspective shaped by its own experience and set of standards – shaped also by its reaction to and against the generations either side of it. Chinese astrology just takes this further by saying that each year will affect those born within it in a particular way that is decided by the character of that year, a character that is defined by a symbol.
The year sign in Chinese astrology is said to be a person’s ‘yang’ or outgoing aspect. It governs the way they behave and interact with others throughout their lives. Their month sign designates their yin aspect, or inner, private person. This is directly equivalent to the month signs of Western astrology and is where individuality begins to enter the Chinese picture.
Luckily the symbols used for the months are exactly the same as those for the years. This may seem confusing at first, having, say a Monkey for your year sign and a Tiger for the month. But the beauty of the system is not having to grasp a different set of symbols for each level. You will see how to relate the year and month signs later but for now just bear in mind the distinction we’ve made – your year sign is your outgoing or sociable aspect – your month sign represents your private, family self.
Many Westerners even prefer to take their month sign as their ‘true’ Chinese horoscope sign, and they are perfectly entitled to do so if they feel more comfortable with it. There is nothing in Chinese astrology to forbid it – and possibly it better suits the more individualistic temper of the West – but the Chinese might say you are missing the main picture, which is how your life is shaped overall by the year of your birth.
Most people can find their Chinese month sign simply by glancing at the equivalents above. However, the correspondence does vary quite a bit from year to year. If the Chinese New Year falls about the third week of January in your birth year then there is no problem at all. But if comes in the middle of February the two systems are about three weeks adrift and you need to do a simple calculation.
To check your month sign, look up the date of the Chinese New Year preceding your birthday in the table at the end of the chapter. The Chinese months begin pretty much on the same date of each following month by the Western calendar; beginning with the month of the Tiger and ending with the month of the Ox, which varies in length depending on the start of the next New Year.
This is not perfectly accurate but it works for most people and the thing to bear in mind is that, just as in Western astrology, people born on the cusp between one sign and another will embody aspects of both. The cut-off is not as sharp as people like to imagine. However, if you want to be perfectly sure, check the date of the new moon in your birth month because every Chinese month begins with a new moon.
For example: in 1980 the Chinese New Year fell on 16 February. So the month of the Tiger ran from 16 February to 16 March, the Hare until 16 April, the Dragon until 16 May, the Snake until 16 June, and so on. If you were born on 24 April that year, your month sign would be the Dragon. 1980 was a Year of the Monkey, therefore, in Chinese astrology you are a Dragon-Monkey. In personal relationships you behave as a Dragon while to the wider world you are a Monkey. Surprising as it may seem, these signs happen to be very compatible so the chances are that you are someone who is very comfortable with the times in which you live, though not as comfortable perhaps as someone who has the same sign for both year and month. The Dragon-Monkey combination works because the Dragon’s ambitions are disguised by a friendly face and attract less jealousy than, say, a double Dragon would.
The day of your birth also has a character but the calculations are too impractical to go into here, considering the relatively small impact it has on your profile. The hour of birth, however, is just as significant and very easy to assign if you happen to know your time of birth.
The two factors we have so far, the year and month signs, are enough to tell a great deal about a person, but the sign associated with the hour of birth can give the key to understanding a character. Often called the ‘Secret’ or ‘Hidden Sign’, it reveals how we feel in our innermost selves, which is often very different to the face we put on even for our friends and family.
The Chinese day, like the year, is divided into twelve periods governed by the astrological signs, each two-hour period having a Yang and a Yin half. If you know your time of birth, check the table below to see what your hour sign it is.
Taking once again the example of 24 April 1980: if you were born at 4.30pm this would mean that your inner sign is a Yin Monkey, perfectly matching your year. But if you were born the night before at 3.30am, your hour sign would be the Tiger, which could create interesting tensions because the Tiger and Monkey are natural enemies.
Following the procedure outlined above will give you a profile of yourself in Chinese astrological terms. But what does it all mean? Well, that should become clear later, but first let’s see what Chinese history, mythology and folklore have to say about the Monkey because these have all helped shape the archetype of the Monkey used in astrology.
HOW THE NEW YEAR FESTIVAL BEGAN
New Year is the most popular feast in the Chinese calendar and is marked by the second new moon after the shortest day of the year. Legend tells that the celebration all began this way.
Far in the distant past China was threatened every year by the Nien or Nian monster that rose out of the sea and devoured every living thing it could get its claws into. With its single horn, great bulging eyes and fangs like rows of clashing scimitars, no creature on earth could stand against it. All they could do was run for the hills when it came.
One year, rumour spread that the Nien monster was on its way and everyone scattered to the hills as usual. All save an old lady who remained in her cottage to tend her sick husband. As she was steaming a possible last supper of dumplings for them both, an old beggar came to the door asking for food. The lady welcomed him into her kitchen and when he had eaten his fill the beggar asked why she had not left like the rest of the village. She explained about her sick husband and the beggar, after giving it some thought, said:
‘Madam, in return for your generous hospitality I’ll tell you something that no-one else seems to know. It’s no mystery when the Nien monster comes – it’s on the second new moon after the shortest day of each year, which happens to be tonight. What’s more, I’ll show you how to scare the creature away so no-one need ever be afraid of it again.’
Borrowing a bale of bright red cloth from the lady, the tramp went into the yard facing the sea and decorated the house and garden with long, fluttering ribbons. Then he lit a big fire, stood a cauldron over it and collected bamboos that he cut into short lengths. (These were the earliest firecrackers in China, before the invention of gunpowder. When thrown into a hot cauldron the sticks explode with deafening cracks amplified by the container.) Then the beggar settled down to wait.
Soon the Nien monster came roaring up out of the waves, ravenous after its year in the deep. When it was almost upon them the beggar threw an armful of bamboos into the cauldron, grabbed some flaming logs from the fire and hurled them up into the monster’s face. Behind him the crackers exploded like thunder and the fire lit a thousand rippling streamers that made the whole place seem on fire. The monster, so used to the cold, gloomy depths was astonished, then alarmed, then as the beggar’s flaming brands stung its cold skin, in sudden fear of its life. With a roar it turned tail and fled back into the ocean.
As the beggar celebrated with the old couple afterwards he revealed that he was in fact an Immortal who had taken pity on their plight; and ever since the Nien monster has been kept at bay with firecrackers and red ribbons at New Year, and dumplings are eaten in memory of the old couple. As for the Nien monster, well who knows what became of it but ‘nien’ (or 'nian', the modern pronunciation) has come to mean ‘year’.