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8 Differences Between Your Chinese Zodiac Sign & Your Sun Sign

Both offer unique insights into your life.

by Steph Montgomery
Originally Published: 

If you've only ever read about your Chinese zodiac sign every time Lunar New Year rolls around or when you visit a Chinese restaurant and there are those mass-produced placemats, you might not know that Chinese astrology has actually been around for thousands of years. It's an important element of not just Chinese culture, but other cultures around Asia, as well, in slight variations, governing views on how one should optimally interact with the world, traditional Eastern medicine, and Feng Shui. And when it comes to the Chinese zodiac vs. the Western zodiac, the two actually have quite a few similarities and differences that make them insightful.

At a basic level, you might think Chinese and Western (Sun) astrology seem pretty similar. Like the Sun zodiac, the Chinese zodiac — Sheng Xiao — includes 12 signs, which are each represented by an animal — Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep (sometimes also called Goat or Ram), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. But rather than being based on your month of birth, your Chinese zodiac sign is based on your year of birth on the Chinese calendar, and predicts everything from your personality to how well you get along with other people and what your best work style is, among other things.

Unlike Western astrology, however, your Chinese horoscope is not set in stone. Rather, it's up to you to use its insights to change your future luck for the better. For more on your Chinese zodiac sign, and how it differs from your Sun sign, read on.

Chinese astrology is much older

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Chinese astrology came from the ancient traditions of Babylon and Sumeria, and dates back more than 5,000 years, according to the Feng Shui Institute. Whereas the American Federation of Astrologers explains that the Western zodiac, as we know it, actually also started with the Babylonians, but it wasn’t adopted by Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle until the fourth century B.C.

Both involve the planets

Originally, the Chinese zodiac was made by studying the orbit of Jupiter, which takes 12 years, hence 12 different positions in the sky on a circular axis. “Jupiter is considered a divinity in Chinese cosmology, called the Great Duke Jupiter or Tai Sui,” Laurent Langlais, an astrologer and Feng Shui master, tells Romper. “Where Jupiter ‘sits’ in regard to the Earth’s axis for a given year is the location of the Chinese zodiac sign of the year and also the location of the energy of this year.”

Western astrology, on the other hand, deals with the position of the stars and planets relative to the earth. It is based on the horoscope, a map (more commonly referred to as a chart) of the heavens at a particular moment. Each planet in the Western zodiac also represents different drives or impulses in the human psyche and rules over two signs.

They have different core foundations

The Chinese zodiac signs come from the Legend of the Great Race, a myth from ancient China. So it goes that emperor made a decree that the first 12 animals to finish this race would have a calendar year named after them. “All animals of the kingdom were invited to participate in this event, which happened by chance during the emperor’s birthday,” Chinese astrologer Burcu Erim Dural previously told Romper. “In order to win in the Zodiac Years and gain a permanent place, animals need to cross a fast streamed river and reach the designated point on the shore.” The order that they finished determined the order of the cycle.

In the Western zodiac, the 12 Sun signs are based on the position of constellations relative to Earth, and the symbols for each sign come from the shape those constellations resemble. Additionally, the names we use for them today come from Greek mythology, but those constellations were recognized by people far earlier than ancient Greece, just with names in a different older language.

Chinese astrology was reserved for the royals

The American Federation of Astrologers explains that in the West, astrology was initially used by farmers to predict things such as the weather forecast and annual harvest yields. It wasn't until much later that the science of the zodiac was adopted by kings to aid in royal decision making. In contrast, the Feng Shui Institute notes that Chinese astrology was historically used solely by the emperor to help him rule effectively by warding off bad luck and embracing things that lead to success.

They are based on different calendars


Though both astrological systems deal with groups of 12 signs, the timing of it all is totally different. The Chinese zodiac comes from the Chinese lunisolar (moon and sun) calendar, as well as a 60-year (sexagenary) cycle in which each year is assigned specific elemental and zodiacal qualities, according to Langlais. The Western zodiac, on the other hand, focuses on the planet Earth’s trip around the sun — aka the Gregorian calendar that the Western world uses today.

Chinese astrology is more fluid

Similarly to Western astrology, Chinese astrology is based on elements. In the Western zodiac there are four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. In the Chinese zodiac, there are five: Jin (metal), Mu (wood), Shui (water), Huo (fire), and Tu (earth), as Langlais explains.

Rather than those elements staying static in Chinese astrology, though, they change, following a cycle of creation and control. For example, wood fuels fire, but water can put out fire. Likewise, your life changes and is impacted by everything in the world around you. “For example, the shapes of mountains and the placement of rivers and oceans for a given city become auspicious or challenging depending of the time period we are in,” Langlais says. “Each year brings a specific Chi [universal energy] and determines good and bad sectors and direction for the Feng Shui of that year.”

They’re multilayered in different ways

These days many people know that Western astrology involves more than just the Sun sign of your natal chart, which is what people refer to when that say things like, “I’m a Cancer.” It also takes into account the placements of the other planets. For example, Moon signs and Rising/Ascendant signs also play a big role in your personality. There are other factors impacting the Western zodiac, too, such as houses and midheavens, making everyone’s chart incredibly complex. “There are many astrological factors that contribute to a person’s behavior (not to mention non-astrological factors, too) and like everything else, our behavior should be viewed as more than black and white,” Erin River Sunday, lead astrologer at Birthdate Co., previously told Romper.

Similarly, your Chinese astrological profile can be made up of a huge combination of factors, including your birth year, month, time, and so on. "The most surprising aspect of Chinese astrology is that your Chinese sign is not your whole chart and personality," Langlais says. "Each of us also has animals and energies for their month, day, and hour of birth. Each birth chart, therefore, has four animals that can combine and react to others and to each year."

One explains while the other advises

Whereas Western astrology can help you navigate the changes in the constellations by telling you what to expect in terms of how people may act and why you might feel a certain way, Chinese astrology aims to spread knowledge about time and space in order to actively combat bad luck and energies. According to Langlais, it’s believed that in understanding more about your Chinese zodiac sign and horoscope, you can actually forecast problems in the coming month or year and improve your life, rather than submitting to what fate has in store.

For example, Chinese astrologers believe that your year of birth is a big deal — not just a predictor of your personality, but a tool you can use to change your future. Your Ben Ming Nian (birth year) in Chinese astrology comes around every 12 years, bringing with it some seriously bad luck — think Mercury in retrograde for an entire year. To ward off that bad luck, people wear red and send red gifts to their family and friends, as red is considered a lucky cultural color.

Overall, both the Chinese zodiac and the Western zodiac offer unique insights into our lives and personalities based on our positions in time — and in the case of Chinese astrology, space, too. Though they overlap in some ways, they are each so different with their own intricacies that it’s impossible to know which might technically be more accurate. If anything, using both together could help you understand yourself and the world even more.


Laurent Langlais, astrologer and Feng Shui master

Burcu Erim Dural, Chinese astrologer

Erin River Sunday, lead astrologer at Birthdate Co.

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