Though it seems quaint to think it, horoscopes are an increasingly common conversation topic for young people in China.
The popularity of the 12 Western zodiac signs can be seen in the increasing number of companies in the country basing their business models on horoscope entertainment.
Take Tong Dao Da Shu, for example. The company was set up in 2015 and produces merchandise, comics and shows about 12 cartoon characters that are based on the zodiac signs.
A year after it was launched, Tong Dao Da Shu was sold to Chinese company Meisheng Cultural for over 200 million yuan (over S$41 million). The first outlet of its zodiac-themed tea shop chain will open in July in Shanghai, and a similarly themed Japanese restaurant will open in Shiyan in Hubei province at the end of this year.
The Tong Dao Da Shu founders were inspired by a comics series of the same name, first published in 2014 on China’s microblogging site Weibo . In it, personality flaws specific to particular horoscope signs are mocked. One viral comic strip features two Libra characters, indecisive by nature, who dither over what to eat for so long that they starve to death.
Tong Dao Da Shu’s chairman and chief executive, Lu Di, says the company was the first in the country to capitalise on horoscopes as a form of entertainment.
Hello Star, launched in 2016 and produced by Tong Dao Da Shu, is a weekly television show in which celebrities talk about their horoscopes and their favourite zodiac personality types. Daily variety show Hello! , a collaboration between Tong Dao Da Shu and Tencent Video, was launched in 2020. In it, stars discuss relationships, jobs and other topics from the angle of horoscopes.
Lu says most viewers are women aged 19 to 29. “They have to make a lot of choices at different stages of their lives, on their occupation, their partner and whether to have a baby. Horoscopes that reflect people’s character traits can serve as a guide for them when making decisions,” she says.
With more than 100 staff, Tong Dao Da Shu has collaborated with 200 brands, including Adidas and BMW.
Taiwanese astrologer Sophia Tsao Liying, an MBA graduate from the National Chengchi University in Taipei and an accredited psychological consultant in mainland China, says more businesses have incorporated horoscopes into their offerings.
She cites education providers that teach parents how to plan their children’s upbringing according to their zodiac signs, and jewellery brands such as Chow Tai Fook that match clients of different horoscopes with their corresponding stones.
“Parents should not expect their children to excel academically if their astrology birth chart shows them to be more artistically inclined,” Tsao says. “Last year, I collaborated with Taipei 101 Mall in a promotional campaign where VIP shoppers learned what colour of clothes to wear for their zodiac signs.”
Horoscopes originated in the ancient Babylonian empire. The earliest records of them in China were found in translated Buddhist sutras from the Sui dynasty (581-619). Engravings of horoscope signs such as Capricorn and Taurus were found in a grotto famous for its cave art in the Mogao Caves complex in Dunhuang, in Gansu province in northwest China.
Famous figures in Chinese history have studied horoscopes. Kang Youwei, a prominent political thinker and reformer of the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912), wrote a book on astrology called Zhu Tian Jiang . He matched the 12 zodiac signs in Buddhist sutras with a Western horoscope and amended the Chinese translations – still used to this day.
Tong Dao Da Shu’s Lu says the famous Song dynasty poet and artist Su Shi loved to complain about his horoscope. “He blamed his bad luck in life on the fact he was a Capricorn,” she says. “There’s a long tradition in China to use horoscopes to talk about people’s personality traits. Nowadays, it has become a popular social interaction tool.”
Beijing-based Newmoon Astro Culture trains students to become professional astrologers and is accredited by the London School of Astrology. It offers more than 10 courses, the most popular of which takes three years and costs 30,000 yuan to complete.
The school’s founder, former banker Stellar Chan, says more than 1,000 people have taken a course there since it was established in 2015. The school, which employs four full-time teachers, also runs a WeChat forum where articles about horoscopes and astrology are published daily.
At its most basic, a person’s zodiac sign is determined based on the position of the sun when they are born, but the school’s teachings go beyond that, she says. Chan, who charges 1,200 yuan per hour for a consultation, says: “We study 10 celestial bodies, each having 12 zodiac signs and 12 astrological houses. So there are 1,440 combinations.”
She says astrology can be applied to various fields including finance and medicine. “We have done human resources training for firms,” she says. “Leo, Sagittarius and Aries are stronger in sales work, but not in back office duties.
”We have also trained sales staff to identify customers’ horoscopes and pitch corresponding types of products. In medicine, for example, people can plan when to exercise to lose weight according to celestial phenomena.”
Chan says Chinese people love horoscopes, as they serve as a good psychological map to understand themselves and the people around them.
“It’s not about divination, which is superstition,” she says. “It’s like a mirror that tells you who you are. After understanding yourself, you can change your mindset or actions to make your life better. A man’s fate is shaped by his personality. While horoscopes cannot predict your future, they let you take better control of your life and change your destiny.”
Tsao, who trained at the American Federation of Astrologers and has worked as a full-time astrologer since 2009, has consulted a personality guide to her horoscope sign (Aries) since she was a child, which she says has given her a clear direction in life.
“An Aries is passionate and can overcome all kinds of difficulties,” she says. “Knowing about this gives me the courage to pursue what I want in life.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.