Looking at the Sky: Astrology in China and the United States


“Hey baby, what’s your sign?” In Chinese flirting, this question is asked more than any other, according to Beijing-based American writer and consultant, Taylor Hartwell, who spends his downtime live streaming on Chinese live streaming app YingKe. It’s true, the zodiac reveals so much about a person in Chinese culture. It is much more than just knowing about someone’s age, it means learning about their personality, work ethic, and even dating habits.

A different kind of zodiac.


But the zodiac I’m talking about isn’t the Western one made up of scorpios and libras. In fact, the Chinese zodiac doesn’t even follow star formations like the Western one does. Instead, it follows moon patterns and is based on a 12-year cycle. Every year corresponds to a different sign named after one of twelve animals:


China: Looking to the West

Historically, Chinese astrology has held much influence in deciding factors of Chinese society minuscule as personal dating habits to significant as affecting the country’s nationwide birth rates. However, it seems nowadays, many young Chinese aren’t as concerned with the Chinese zodiac as they are with the Western zodiac. On this trend, New York Times writer Amy Qin, notes in her article;

“While concepts like the traditional Chinese zodiac are still relevant, they are often dismissed by millennials here as “the older generation’s pastime.” Western astrology, on the other hand, is seen as more fun. Much as some Westerners have embraced Eastern practices like Buddhism, young Chinese are gravitating toward Western astrology because they say it is new and exotic.”

Taylor Hartwell finds that even more young Chinese are becoming less and less interested in astrology at all! In his Radii column documenting his experience live streaming from Beijing, he surveyed his viewers on their zodiac preferences (Chinese zodiac vs Western zodiac vs no zodiac at all) and found more preferred the Western zodiac, but MOST didn’t really care about zodiac symbols at all!

United States: Nominal Interests

While it seems many young Chinese are beginning to depend on Western astrology for social interactions, young Americans are a bit more ambiguous in their tastes. It is true, there is a growing interest in Eastern spirituality among Americans. But in general, these American interests in spirituality and astrology are only ever nominal curiosities.

A study conducted by the University of Notre Dame on 3,000 U.S. teenagers found that 40% of participants stated that they maybe or definitely believed in astrology. Only 9% definitely believed in astrology. This suggests that the influence of astrology is nowhere near as strong in the United States as it is in China.

It will be quite fascinating to see where the general perceptions of Chinese and Western zodiacs will lead in the coming years. As Taylor Hartwell hints at, Chinese youth seem to be adopting an indifference to zodiac systems, perhaps mimicking their Western counterpart. Even so, the Chinese zodiac, with its deep-rooted connection to Chinese popular society will not be forgotten easily (or at all!).

ShaoLan Hsueh reminds us that despite whether you believe in the Chinese zodiac or not, or are among the young Chinese who are beginning to prefer the Western zodiac, a quarter of the world is still influenced by Chinese astrology and it’d be wise to pay attention!

A few of the visual aids used in this post were borrowed from ShaoLan Hsueh’s graphic aids used in her TED Talk on the Chinese zodiac, which can be viewed here.

Read more:

TED Ideas | The surprising influence of the Chinese zodiac

Radii China | Zhibo: Hey Baby, What’s Your Sign?

Radii China | Zhibo: Why You Should Try Chinese Livestreaming

Chineasy | Home Page

ShaoLan | Biography

New York Times | When Young Chinese Ask, ‘What’s Your Sign?’ They Don’t Mean Dragon or Rat

University of Notre Dame | National Study of Youth and Religion: Religion and the Paranormal