Last time I talked about “Half-pillar” and “1-Pillar astrology”. This message is the final part of the series and hopefully will answer the question: should we have MORE or LESS pillars?


Knowledge of 4P is a prerequisite to other branches of Chinese metaphysics, including TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). It is hard to escape away from it if you are into the Chinese Metaphysics.

4-Pillars refers to one’s birthday and time.
There are

Year pillar: represents grandparents/ ancestors
Month pillar: represents parents/siblings
Day pillar: represent self/ spouse
Hour pillar: represent children/ subordinates

Each pillar is represented by a jia-zi or binomials. For example, current year’s jia-zi is ding-hai (fire-pig). The first word “ding” is the stem and the second word “hai” is the branch (I assume you have some basic knowledge of 4P and will not elaborate the basics here).

The most problematic pillar is the hour pillar. Some people do not record or simply forget the hour of birth. There is also a tendency to report a later time than the actual birth time due to excitement or distraction in cleaning up the newborn and mother.

Then the issue of day-light saving time muddies the issue even further.

If the birth time is at the borderline of a Chinese hour (equals to 2 modern hours) or the borderline of two days, the margin of error is even bigger. If the birth time is in between the switching time between 2 solar months, three pillars out of 4 will be incorrect!

The basic 4P chart shows the “promises” or “potentials” of a person– it can be “good’ or “bad” (in terms of good fortune). But it is not final. The final outcome depends on the 10-year luck (10YL) and annual luck (AL) pillars.

Fortunes, misfortunes or major events happen when there are interactions (in terms of nurturing/controlling cycles) between the pillars.

10YL and AL are like two extra chances for you to grab some good luck. Conversely, 10YL and AL can also spoil the good fortune in your original 4P chart.

There is a saying, “Good Yun (luck pillars) is better than good Meng (4P chart)”. It implies good luck periods are more important than a good 4P chart.

In other words, 4-Pillars Astrology actually uses more than 4 pillars. It also uses 10YL and AL pillars. This is a total of SIX pillars (not to mention sometimes we use annual month pillar and even annual day/hour pillars. Then there will be a potential of 9 pillars!)

Some “smart” people try to add another pillar to the 4-Pillar system. The common one is to further differentiated the hour pillar into subdivisions of 10 minutes, 15 minutes and so on, to create a “minute” pillar out of it.

As mentioned before, the hour pillar is problematic due to human reporting errors. Adding another pillar to the system based on a problematic pillar is likely to compound the problem.

Of course, if the hour reported is correct, then there might be some utilization of this “minute pillar”. But it will take a long time to prove it.

One may “outsmarts” the “5-Pillar” crowds by adding the sixth pillar— the “seconds pillar” (and eventually “nano-seconds” pillar if you want to be the King of the 4P Hill.)

However, in science, precision or “parsimony” is preferred. The more variables you add into a model, the less it explains.

An ancient method of adding an “informal pillar” without really adding one is roughly separating the Chinese hour (equal to 2 modern hours) into 3 chunks– beginning, middle and the end. Then assign different outcomes or events accordingly. For example, a famous 4P story about the first emperor of Ming Dynasty, who had worried that people with the same 4P as his might take over his empire. He had located them and was about to chop their heads off.

He had found two other persons with the same 4P as him. One is a very rich merchant in the capital. Another one is a beggar. The emperor was born in the “head” (beginning) of the rooster hour. The rich merchant was born in the body (middle) of the rooster hour and the beggar was born in the ass (end) of the rooster hour.

So, do you think the emperor kill these two fellows?

Another approach is to “draw a gua” (a Yi-jing or Plum Flower or Liu-Ren divination) after doing a 4P reading for further confirmation or predictions. But this becomes mixing another method with 4P analysis (and you pay additional tuition to learn it!)

There are teachers or professional 4P readers secretly add this “gua method” when they read or teach 4P without telling his students or clients. So their students will always wonder, “How does the master do it?” They may think that they are stupid or just need to take more 4P classes with this master.

There are another method to get more “mileage” out of the 4P system by converting the pillars to nayin elements and compare nurturing/controlling relationship relative to the day pillar nayin.

Another similar method is converting the pillars into hexagrams and beating on it further.


As you can see 4-Pillars is actually a 6-pillars system. It gives you 6×6 possible combinations. If you add the 5th pillar. It becomes 7×7 combinations. But if your 5th pillar is based on the hour pillar, it probably creates more problems than it intended to solve.

It is not difficult to add more pillars– minute pillar and down to nano-second pillar. You need to decide if it worths the trouble involved.

Half-pillar astrology is too simplistic with only 12 possible types and can’t explain or predict much.

One-pillar astrology has good potential, but it requires more “brain horse-power” and knowledge on the user.

Standard 4-Pillars has been around over a thousand years and have more literatures and empirical cases available for studying.

Any new “invention” in 4P normally takes hundreds of years to be proven. For example, in the 1960’s, some 4P masters in Taiwan suggested using Winter Solstice as the beginning of the solar year. It somehow explains better in certain case studies. Now is 2007, 40+ years since the idea was introduced, there are still very few people use this technique .

So should we have MORE or LESS pillars? It is up to you (and your pocket book)!

So what should we do? Just stick with whatever you have learned, drill the basics and fundamentals, practice and ignore the marketing hype out there. Whatever “new inventions” or “cool” out there are likely repackaged from less effective old ideas dumped decades ago or will take a few life-times to be proven.

The experience of my 4P students shows that if they have mastered the basics of combinations and clashes and drilled on 4P cases heavily for 3- 6 months, they can become pretty good at 4P and can even teach some basic to intermediate 4P courses in less than a year.

The major problem with most 4P students, including myself (when I was young), are not spending enough time to understand the basics. Instead, we look for shortcuts or “magic bullets” that will make us a 4P expert overnight.

There are many “magic bullets” available for sale– from blind-guy stuff, shen-sha to mainland China’s “New Pai 4P”– all promise top secrets for your dollars.

But students should not bear all the responsibility. it is also due to the lack of books and courses dealing with basics in sufficient details. It is hard to find a good 4P basics book even in Chinese.

Teachers can only guide you to a certain extent. Frequent practicing of 4P readings is the key to learn 4P. Buying or taking new 4P courses is no substitute to doing the actual practices.

4P is easier than Feng Shui in the sense that you don’t need to go out to do it. You simply locate some birthdays of famous people and your friends and practice on your own in the comfort of your own home.

Ken Lai