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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #6 (February 8, 2005), page 14 and 17.

Chinese astrology made easy

Chinese Astrology: Forecast Your Future from Your Chinese Horoscope

By Man-Ho Kwok

Tuttle Publishing, 1997

Paperback, 128 pages, $19.95

By Mike Street

Special to the Asian Reporter

For many of us, knowledge of Chinese astrology is limited to the information that can be printed on a restaurant placemat. Some of us know which animal corresponds to our year of birth, and perhaps a few characteristics that animal imparts to us. But Chinese astrology is much more complex than this, encompassing such aspects as the hour and lunar day of one’s birth, as well as influences like Earthly and Heavenly Stems or the ancient system of Three Lives divination. Some of these, especially the Three Lives system, are not well known in the West, where Chinese astrology is usually understood only as the division of birth years into the twelve animal categories. Fortunately, Man-Ho Kwok, a Taoist and Chinese calendar expert, has created Chinese Astrology, a beautiful book that explains each of the different systems and subsystems of Chinese astrology, accompanied with charts to facilitate the calculation of your astrological influences.

Chinese astrology incorporates many simple calculations based on the hour and day of one’s birth, as well as the year, and Kwok’s charts make these determinations easy, even for the most math-phobic among us. For a full divination, be prepared to write down these aspects, or face the prospect of continually flipping back to the charts at the back to remind you of, for example, your Heavenly and Earthly Roots. Kwok covers everything from aspects of one’s personality — including prospects for employment and personal compatibility — to the subtle inflections that day, hour, and lunar month have on the broader, better-known animal aspects to each year. The Three Lives system is a bonus, something not found in comparable books, and allows you to see if you were born under a fortunate star or whether a good or malevolent god might influence this year.

Part of the attraction of the book comes from its attention to the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Chinese astrology. Kwok’s introduction tells the folk tale of how the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were chosen, while photographs of beautiful animal sculptures and simple, full-color woodblock illustrations make the book feel less like a textbook and more like a conversation piece. This is, ultimately, what the book is best suited for, as it doesn’t offer the historical depth or sociological interpretation one might desire from a more academic tome. Instead, Kwok makes it easy to determine the various influences in the Chinese zodiac, with brief explanations of how they affect one’s personality and outlook. It’s easy to imagine this book at a Chinese New Year’s party or family gathering, with everyone wanting to know his or her outlook for the coming year.

In spite of its subtitle, most of the book focuses less on the predictive Western style of astrology, such as those printed in daily newspapers, and more on descriptive commentary. With the exception of the Three Lives section, the book is better at explaining what sort of person you are than it is at telling you, say, what your romantic outlook will be during the Year of the Rooster. What it does share with Western astrology — as well as many popular personality tests — are vague and sometimes contradictory descriptions that might apply to any- one. In divining the different aspects of my own horoscope, I was told that I "enjoy being in the spotlight," but later that "there is a quieter side to [my] nature," a nice way of hitting all the potential personality possibilities. The year of my birth indicates that I’m "unlikely to initiate in-depth discussion," but my lunar month says that I "enjoy ... being caught up in controversial issues." Depending on the astrological aspect I consulted, my career prospects range from writing to "practical, physical work" to working for a large corporation.

It would be easy to prize out the hits and misses of any astrological book, and anyone who maps out their life based entirely on an astrologer’s dictates surely suffers from a lack of internal direction. Nonetheless, any good book of astrology or personality tests should provide a good point of entry to self-analysis, a tool for people to study themselves and gain understanding in the process. Kwok’s engaging, appealing, and aesthetically attractive Chinese Astrology will make this analysis interesting, satisfyingly elaborate, and, above all, entertaining.

Whether or not it is wholly accurate, this book makes a fine gift for the Lunar New Year, a great addition to a holiday party, or simply a great introduction to this complex field.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon