For those with an open mind toward astrology, human society seems pretty simple. As long as they know someone’s birthday, they can become experts on anyone: For example, Sagittarius is an adventurer, Pisces a dreamer or healer, and a Capricorn is a variable workaholic.
Horoscopes are staple reading material online. Posts on Tongdao Dashu, a Weibo account dedicated to the 12 zodiac signs, gets thousands of shares each, and the account has gained nearly 15 million followers since its creation in 2013. In 2016, the company behind this account sold 72.5 percent of its stake at a jaw-dropping value of over 200 million RMB, which probably gives some clue to how popular astrology in China is.
But even those who are aware that there are more than just a dozen personality types in the world can’t get enough of astrology talk. That’s because, in many cases, the zodiac signs can be useful tools for socializing. Consider meeting a stranger for the first time: You don’t want to get too personal, nor ask clichéd questions about the weather, so a conversation about their star sign can help break the ice.
A: What’s your star sign?
Nǐ shì shénme xīngzuò de?
B: I’m a Taurus.
Wǒ shì Jīnniú Zuò.
A: I heard that Tauruses are very good at managing financial matters. Is that true?
Tīngshuō Jīnniú Zuò de rén dōu hěn shàncháng lǐcái. Shì zhēnde ma?
B: Not me. I always lose money in investments.
Wǒ jiù bù shàncháng. Wǒ tóuzī zǒng shì péiqián.
Talking about star signs might even be a shortcut to best-friendship:
A: You are a Gemini? That’s great!
Nǐ shì Shuāngzǐ Zuò? Tài hǎo le!
A: I’m a Sagittarius. It’s said a Sagittarius always gets along with a Gemini.
Wǒ shì Shèshǒu Zuò. Jùshuō Shèshǒu Zuò hé Shuāngzǐ Zuò hédelái.
On the other hand, when a social interaction turns sour, astrology can be used to excuse one’s less-than-positive traits—“it’s not my fault, the stars made me this way!”
A: Come on! You have been looking through the menu for ages! Can’t you order quicker?
Bàituō! Nǐ kàn càidān dōu kàn le yī gè shìjì le! Néng kuài diǎnr diǎncān ma?
B: As a Libra, I was born with difficulty making up my mind.
Zuòwéi Tiānchèng Zuò, wǒ tiānshēng xuǎnzé kùnnan.
It’s even applicable to the workplace:
A: You’ve asked me to modify a design draft over 10 times! You’re so picky!
Nǐ dōu ràng wǒ gǎile shí biàn shèjì cǎogǎo le! Nǐ zhēnshi tài tiāotì le!
B: Sorry. I am a Virgo, therefore a perfectionist.
Bàoqiàn, wǒ shì Chǔnǚ Zuò, wánměizhǔyìzhě.
The stars can also help shut down annoying questions or proposals:
A: Why aren’t you married yet? You know, I can fix you up with somebody nice.
Nǐ zěnme hái méi jiéhūn? Qíshí wǒ kěyǐ gěi nǐ jièshào gè hǎoduìxiàng.
B: Thanks, but the true love of an Aquarius is freedom.
Xièxie, dànshì Shuǐpíng Zuò de zhēn’ài shì zìyóu.
Skepticism about astrology never vanishes. In case it’s not obvious, there is no scientific basis behind these stellar stereotypes; but even so, when conversing with the gullible, it’s easy to manipulate one’s signs to suit one’s own interests.
Try saying this in a job interview:
I am a Capricorn, so I am always hardworking.
Wǒ shì Mójié Zuò, suǒyǐ wǒ gōngzuò yīxiàng fēicháng nǔlì.
Or on a first date, when discussing compatibility:
A: Family always comes first for us Cancers.
Duì wǒmen Jùxiè Zuò lái shuō, jiātíng yǒngyuǎn shì dì yī wèi de.
B: Well, I’m a Sagittarius. Though I wouldn’t call myself a playboy, I’m not really into a monotonous life.
Zuòwéi Shèshǒu Zuò, suīrán wǒ búshì suǒwèi de huāhuā gōngzǐ, dàn wǒ quèshí bú tài xǐhuan nàzhǒng yì chéng bú biàn de shēnghuó.
When turning down an unwanted suitor, astrology is once again useful. Though it sounds extreme to reject someone based simply on their star sign, many people feel it’s kinder than giving out the real reason:
You are a good person, but an Aries and I are totally incompatible.
Nǐ rén hěn hǎo, dànshì wǒ gēn Báiyáng Zuò wánquán chǔbulái.
Usually, people can take a hint, but sometimes one may encounter really serious astrology experts who won’t easily buy your astral mumbo-jumbo—that’s OK, though, because the stars are nothing if not always ambiguous:
A: I don’t think Aquariuses are all that free-spirited. Many of them really respect rules, and value order.
Wǒ rènwéi Shuǐpíng Zuò bù dōu nàme zìyóu sǎnmàn. Tāmen dāngzhōng hěnduō rén dōu zūnzhòng guīzé, chóngshàng zhìxù.
B: That’s true, because the sun sign doesn’t determine everything. People are also influenced by their moon and rising signs.
Quèshí rúcǐ, yīnwèi tàiyáng xīngzuò bìng bùnéng juédìng yīqiè. Tāmen hái shòu yuèliàng xīngzuò hé shàngshēng xīngzuò de yǐngxiǎng.
The trickiest group to deal with is the astrology haters, who may have been the unfortunate victims of bias, and even discrimination, due to their signs: a Virgo turned down for a job, after being labeled an intractable paranoid and control freak; a Gemini suspected of cheating on their spouse; a Scorpio scorned as a cold-blooded grudge holder; a Taurus called an emotionless miser…
When meeting someone who gets sniffy about any constellation-based talk, it’s good to prepare a path of retreat:
A: Astrology is complete nonsense! I am a Leo, but when have I ever been arrogant, bossy, or self-centered?
Xīngzuò wánquán jiùshì wújī zhī tán! Wǒ shì Shīzi Zuò, dàn wǒ shénme shíhòu àomàn zìdà, yízhǐ qìshǐ, yǐ zìwǒ wéi zhōngxīn le?
B: Sure, I’m a Pisces, but I don’t spend all my time daydreaming, either! It’s just for fun, no one takes it seriously.
Shì a, wǒ shì Shuāngyú Zuò, yě méi chéngtiān chénmí yú huànxiǎng a! Bùguò dàjiā jiùshì shuōzhe wán de, méi rén dàngzhēn.
One term, though, seems safe to use: 水逆 (shuǐnì), short for 水星逆行 (Shuǐxīng nìxíng, Mercury in retrograde.) Feel free to blame 水逆 for anything unpleasant, since it’s the common enemy of all the signs.
A: It was the worst week of my life. Everything went wrong!
Zhè shì wǒ zuì dǎoméi de yì zhōu le! Shénme dōu bú shùn!
B: It must be caused by Mercury’s retrograde. But this will end soon.
Kěndìng shì Shuǐnì yǐnqǐ de. Dànshì Shuǐnì hěnkuài jiùyào jiéshù le.
And on social media, here’s a phrase sure to uplift your friends and yourself:
Mercury’s retrograde begone!
A simple call to the stars can dispel bad luck and make or break your entire social life—like magic! Or maybe it’s a sign…
“Astro Babble” is a story from our issue, “Modern Family”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.