Chinese and Western Zodiacs Are Similar, but Also Strikingly Different

While not a scientifically rooted discipline, astrology is a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon in both East and West

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Jesse Pottinger
10 months ago 2 mins read

Humankind has looked to the stars for answers since the dawn of civilization. In search of cosmic truth, various zodiac systems developed in different cultures and time periods — from Egypt to India, from Mesoamerica to Greece to China.

Before the advent of science, cultures the world over turned to the heavens, where the movement of stars and planets remains (seemingly) consistent, to unravel mysteries on Earth.

And ancient people everywhere shared some basic understanding of our terrestrial reality based on patterns above — the relationship between the moon and tides, the height of the sun in different seasons, the life-giving power of rainclouds, the ability to navigate using the North Star, and more.

When we look back to the formation of zodiac systems, one thing fundamentally unites us as humans and distinguishes us from our fellow species: the desire for meaning — the desire to know the why of our existence.

While not a scientifically rooted discipline, astrology is a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon in both East and West, with participation in the field ranging from the lighthearted reading of horoscopes to the near-religiously dedicated.

Today, basic knowledge of both Western and Chinese astrology is common among Westerners, and the celestially curious populace is increasingly looking East for knowledge based on China’s 12 zodiac animals (Shengxiao, or ‘born resembling’). Meanwhile, people in China are also interested in Western astrology, and the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.


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Today, February 1, 2022, marks the Year of the Water Tiger, a combination of animal and element last seen in 1962. Tigers are courageous, assertive, and make natural leaders, and those born in a Water Tiger year are said to have strong family ties and deep personal relationships.

The Tiger is the third animal in the Chinese zodiac, which is ordered as follows: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Each is positioned based on the animal’s place in a mythical race held by the Jade Emperor. As the legend goes, the cunning Rat came in first by hitching a ride on the Ox, while the Pig, which came in last, stopped for a snack en route to the finish line.

Check out the video below, courtesy of our friends at the 1990 Institute, to learn more about these two zodiac systems — their similarities and differences, and how their interpretations compare when examined side by side.

For those not in the know, the 1990 Institute is a non-profit organization that strives to improve mutual understanding and create a positive environment for US-China relations and Asian Americans. It aims to achieve its goals through educational programming and the mobilization of collaborative leadership networks.

The institute’s YouTube channel is loaded with tons of unique China-related content, and we encourage curious minds to take a look.

From everyone at RADII and the 1990 Institute: Have a fantastic start to the Year of the Water Tiger, wherever you are!

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Cover image via the 1990 Institute

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