The Signs of the Chinese Zodiac and What They Mean

The Signs of the Chinese Zodiac and What They Mean

Chinese zodiac (十二生肖), or Shēngxiào, is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and folklore as a system of interpreting character traits and fortune-telling via animal characters connected to a time cycle on the traditional Chinese calendar. Your birthdate is matched to one of the twelve animals or zodiacs and it is believed that you will likely share the character traits they represent. In this basic sense, it shares similarities with the Western zodiac system and star signs.

Jump to: The 12 Zodiac Signs and what they mean | Zodiac Order | Calculate your Chinese Zodiac Sign | Partners according to Chinese Zodiac | Zodiac Faith | Your Chinese Age

In Chinese culture, still today people will enquire with the zodiac system especially for matchmaking and consulting on compatibility along with even some who still profile people by their zodiac sign whether that be with work relationships, employment etc. The zodiac remains popular as the mascot of Spring Festival which is when the new zodiac year begins with the Chinese New Year and in entertainment and pop culture.

The origin of the Chinese Zodiac is related to animal worship. According to records unearthed in Yunmeng County of Hubei province that were recorded during the Qin dynasty era (221 to 206 BC) there was a relatively complete zodiac system in the pre-Qin period. Further records indicating the earliest documentary of the twelve zodiac signs similar to those used today dates back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).

Yet, even with that knowledge, the cultural origin of the twelve zodiac signs has not been resolved, and scholars of ancient and modern times have different opinions.

Unlike the Western Zodiac system that changes by month according to the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese Zodiac changes by year according to the Chinese Lunar calendar (although Chinese astrologers may also use the solar calendar).

The Twelve Chinese Zodiacs

The zodiacs number twelve, which coincides with the ancient people’s understanding of natural phenomena. Twelve is an interesting number in Chinese thinking and that can be important in a culture that is very superstitious about numbers. “Twelve days” is the collective name of the weather in ancient times; “Twelve meridians” to describe the human body meridians in TCM; ancient music has “twelve laws”; diet has “twelve foods”; dressing has “twelve clothes” and so on, in ancient times.

Relevant to the Zodiac, twelve is the number of years in Jupiters cycle and twelve is the number of lunar cycles in one year. Chinese Zodiac is of course tied to ancient Chinese lunar and solar calendars.

Along with being connected to the traditional Chinese calendar, the Chinese zodiacs are also connected to the Twelve Earthly Branches (地支) and the Ten Heavenly Stems (天干) linked with the five classical elements of metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. Each zodiac is also linked with a yin and yang element, all of which create 60 years of combinations known as the sexagenary cycle or ganzhi (六十干支).

There is a lot to unpack there, but the takeaway for today is that the Chinese zodiac system is on a 60-year calendrical cycle according to traditional Chinese calendars, the period for a zodiac sign is one year. For example, 2020 is the year of the Rat and marks the beginning of a new 12-year cycle of zodiac signs within the 60-year calendrical cycle.

Let’s go through the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac and what they mean plus their qualities:

Rat (鼠)

The character is very clever. This person has a high degree of willingness, a strong desire, a great achievement, and a wealth of savings, a happy life, a rat. It also has keen observation, predictive power, and forward-looking power.

  • Earthly Branches: Zi | The Five Elements: Water | Yin Yang: Yang
  • Lunar Month: Eleventh
  • Lucky Numbers: 2, 3, 6, 8; Avoid: 4, 5, 9 | Lucky Flowers: Lily | Lucky Colors: gold, blue, green; Avoid: yellow, brown
  • Season: Winter
  • Closest Western Zodiac: Sagittarius
Ox (牛)

Typified by honesty, patience, stubbornness, lack of communication, and gentle heart. Work diligently, independent, enthusiastic, may have hardships/spiritual troubles in the middle age. However, once a decision is made, it will go forward and execute. Any twists and turns will try to overcome and work hard.

  • Earthly Branches: Chǒu | The Five Elements: Earth |Yin Yang: Yin
  • Lunar Month: Twelfth
  • Lucky Numbers: 8, 9, 3; Avoid: 6 | Lucky Flowers: tulip, evergreen, peach blossom, rose | Lucky Colors: blue, red, purple; Avoid: white, green
  • Season: Winter
Tiger (虎)

Typical character is tolerant, strong heart, courageous, and compassionate.  The middle-aged years are undecided and changeable. Good opportunities are available after middle age, and there are also people who are looking forward to the twilight years.

  • Earthly Branches: Yin | The Five Elements: Wood | Yin Yang: Yang
  • Lunar Month: First
  • Lucky Numbers: 0, 1, 3, 4; Avoid: 6, 7, 8 | Lucky Flowers: cineraria | Lucky Colors: grey, white, blue, purple, orange; Avoid: gold, silver, brown, black
  • Season: Spring
Rabbit (兔)

Sensitive, have strong memory and compassion. Observing order, solid, modest, quietly isolated, like peace, the expression is often subtle.

  • Earthly Branches of Birth Year: Tree | The Five Elements: Wood | Yin Yang: Yin
  • Lunar Month: Second
  • Lucky Numbers: 3, 6, 9; Avoid: 1, 7, 8 | Lucky Flowers: plantain lily, nerve plant, snapdragon | Lucky Colors: black, pink, purple, blue, red; Avoid: brown, yellow, white
  • Season: Spring
Dragon (龙/龍)

Typified by troubled early years yet if overcome things can turn out well. Strong, lively, authoritative, self-confident yet not easy to get along with others.

  • Earthly Branches: Chen | The Five Elements: Earth | Yin Yang: Yang
  • Lunar Month: Third | Lucky Numbers: 1, 6, 7; Avoid: 3, 8, 9  | Lucky Colors: yellow; Avoid: blue, green
  • Season: Spring
Snake (蛇)

Noble quality, praised by friends, but their hearts often sinister and jealous, making it difficult to maintain a permanent friendship, mood is easy taken by superstition, and lascivious, good to argue with people and often lose good opportunities.

  • Earthly Branches: Si | The Five Elements: Fire | Yin Yang: Yin
  • Lunar Month: Fourth
  • Lucky Numbers: 2, 8, 9; Avoid: 1, 6, 7 | Lucky Flowers: orchid, cactus | Lucky Colors: red, light yellow, black; Avoid: white, golden, brown
  • Season: Summer
Horse (马/馬)

Happy, great social communication, good with other people’s affairs, respected by others, highly tolerant and successful. This person wants a good appearance, yet lacks observation on internal affairs, and is good at speculation. Not great with money.

  • Earthly Branches of Birth Year: Wu | The Five Elements: Fire | Yin Yang: Yang
  • Lunar Month: Fifth | Lucky Numbers: 1, 4, 5, 7, 9; Avoid: 2, 3, 6 | Lucky Flowers: sunflower, jasmine
  • Lucky Colors: gold, yellow, red, blue; Avoid: pink, brown, white
  • Season: Summer
Goat/Sheep (羊)

Deep thinking, enjoys art & crafts, loves tranquility, strong vitality and willpower in the heart.

  • Earthly Branches of Birth Year: Wei | The Five Elements: Earth | Yin Yang: Yin
  • Lunar Month: Sixth
  • Lucky Numbers: 2, 3, 4, 7, 9; Avoid: 6, 8 | Lucky Flowers: carnation, primrose |Lucky Colors: green, red, purple; Avoid: gold, brown
  • Season: Summer
Monkey (猴)

Active, versatile and dexterous, have a chivalrous heart, do more things for others, give up their own affairs, they are often smart and are very suitable for leaders.

  • Earthly Branches: Shen | The Five Elements: Water | Yin Yang: Yang
  • Lunar Month: Seventh
  • Lucky Numbers: 3, 4, 7, 9; Avoid: 2, 5, 8 | Lucky Colors: white, blue; Avoid: red, black, grey
  • Season: Autumn
Rooster (鸡/雞)

Honesty, wisdom, enthusiasm, good communication, thinker, prone to self-abandonment, forward-looking.

  • Earthly Branches: Yǒu | The Five Elements: water | Yin Yang: Yin
  • Lunar Month: Eighth
  • Lucky Numbers: 5, 7, 8; Avoid: 1, 3, 9 | Lucky Flowers: gladiola, impatiens, cockscomb | Lucky Colors: gold, brown, yellow; Avoid: white, green
  • Season: Autumn
Dog (狗)

Straightforward character, courageous, clever, sensible and alert. Prone to vanity and irrationality.

  • Earthly Branches of Birth Year: Xu | The Five Elements: Earth | Yin Yang: Yang
  • Lunar Month: Ninth
  • Lucky Numbers: 3, 4, 9; Avoid: 1, 6, 7 | Lucky Flowers: rose, oncidium, cymbidium, orchid | Lucky Colors: green, red, purple; Avoid: blue, white, gold
  • Season: Autumn
  • Closest Western Zodiac: Libra
Pig (猪/豬)

Straight forward and unobtrusive. The heart is pure and innocent, yet strong in heart, impatient, dependent, and not good at communication.

  • Earthly Branches: Hai | The Five Elements: Water | Yin Yang: Yin
  • Lunar Month: Tenth
  • Lucky Numbers: 2, 5, 6, 8; Avoid: 3, 4, 9 | Lucky Flowers: lily | Lucky Colors: yellow; Avoid: red, blue
  • Season: Winter

Image Credit: Images via Sina

The order of the Zodiacs

In Chinese folklore, there is the story of the Great Race.

Yù Dì, or Jade Emperor, Ruler of the Heavens, wanted to devise a way to measure time, so he organized a race. The first twelve animals to make it across the river would earn a spot on the zodiac calendar in the order they arrived.

The cat and rat rose with the sun to get an early start, but because they couldn’t swim very well, they asked the kind-hearted ox to carry them across. Yet, just as they were about to reach the other side, the rat pushed the cat into the river and jumped off the ox’s head and across the finish line securing first place.

The ox came in second, with the powerful tiger right behind him. The rabbit, too small to battle the current, nimbly hopped across stones and logs to come in fourth. Next came the dragon, who could have flown directly across, but stopped to help some creatures she had encountered on the way.

After the dragon came the horse, galloping across the river. But just as she got across, the snake slithered by. The startled horse reared back, letting the snake sneak into sixth place.

The Jade Emperor looked out at the river and spotted the sheep, the monkey, and the rooster all atop a raft, working together to push it through the weeds. When they made it across, the trio agreed to give eighth place to the sheep, who had been the most comforting and harmonious of them, followed by the monkey and the rooster.

Next came the dog, scrambling onto the shore. He was a great swimmer but frolicked in the water for so long that he only managed to come in eleventh.

The final spot was claimed by the pig, who had gotten hungry and stopped to eat and nap before finally waddling across the finish line.

And the cat? The cat nearly drowned and vowed revenge and that is why cats chase rats to this very day.

And so, each year is associated with one of the animals in this order (minus the somewhat wet vengeful cat).

Calculate your Chinese Zodiac Sign

The individual Chinese zodiac signs are also linked to one of the five elements. This element most closely expresses the nature of this Chinese animal.

1920 Feb. 20, 1920 – Feb. 07, 1921 Metal Monkey
1921 Feb. 08, 1921 – Jan. 27, 1922 Metal Rooster
1922 Jan. 28, 1922 – Feb. 15, 1923 Water Dog
1923 Feb. 16, 1923 – Feb. 04, 1924 Water Pig
1924 Feb. 05, 1924 – Jan. 24, 1925 Wood Rat
1925 Jan. 25, 1925 – Feb. 12, 1926 Wood Ox
1926 Feb. 13, 1926 – Feb. 01, 1927 Fire Tiger
1927 Feb. 02, 1927 – Jan. 22, 1928 Fire Rabbit
1928 Jan. 23, 1928 – Feb. 09, 1929 Earth Dragon
1929 Feb. 10, 1929 – Jan. 09, 1930 Earth Snake
1930 Jan. 10, 1930 – Feb. 16, 1931 Metal Horse
1931 Feb. 17, 1931 – Feb. 05, 1932 Metal Sheep
1932 Feb. 06, 1932 – Jan. 25, 1933 Water Monkey
1933 Jan. 26, 1933 – Feb. 13, 1934 Water Rooster
1934 Feb. 14, 1934 – Feb. 03, 1935 Wood Dog
1935 Feb. 04, 1935 – Jan. 23, 1936 Wood Pig
1936 Jan. 24, 1936 – Feb. 10, 1937 Fire Rat
1937 Feb. 11, 1937 – Jan. 30, 1938 Fire Ox
1938 Jan. 31, 1938 – Feb. 18, 1939 Earth Tiger
1939 Feb. 19, 1939 – Feb. 07, 1940 Earth Rabbit
1940 Feb. 08, 1940 – Jan. 26, 1941 Metal Dragon
1941 Jan. 27, 1941 – Feb. 14, 1942 Metal Snake
1942 Feb. 15, 1942 – Feb. 04, 1943 Water Horse
1943 Feb. 05, 1943 – Jan. 24, 1944 Water Sheep
1944 Jan. 25, 1944 – Feb. 12, 1945 Wood Monkey
1945 Feb. 13, 1945 – Feb. 01, 1946 Wood Rooster
1946 Feb. 02, 1946 – Jan. 21, 1947 Fire Dog
1947 Jan. 22, 1947 – Feb. 09, 1948 Fire Pig
1948 Feb. 10, 1948 – Jan. 28, 1949 Earth Rat
1949 Jan. 29, 1949 – Feb. 16, 1950 Earth Ox
1950 Feb. 17, 1950 – Feb. 05, 1951 Metal Tiger
1951 Feb. 06, 1951 – Jan. 26, 1952 Metal Rabbit
1952 Jan. 27, 1952 – Feb. 13, 1953 Water Dragon
1953 Feb. 14, 1953 – Feb. 02, 1954 Water Snake
1954 Feb. 03, 1954 – Jan. 23, 1955 Wood Horse
1955 Jan. 24, 1955 – Feb. 11, 1956 Wood Sheep
1956 Feb. 12, 1956 – Jan. 30, 1957 Fire Monkey
1957 Jan. 31, 1957 – Feb. 17, 1958 Fire Rooster
1958 Feb. 18, 1958 – Feb. 07, 1959 Earth Dog
1959 Feb. 08, 1959 – Jan. 27, 1960 Earth Pig
1960 Jan. 28, 1960 – Feb. 14, 1961 Metal Rat
1961 Feb. 15, 1961 – Feb. 04, 1962 Metal Ox
1962 Feb. 05, 1962 – Jan. 25, 1963 Water Tiger
1963 Jan. 25, 1963 – Feb. 12, 1964 Water Rabbit
1964 Feb. 13, 1964 – Feb. 01, 1965 Wood Dragon
1965 Feb. 02, 1965 – Feb. 20, 1966 Wood Snake
1966 Jan. 21, 1966 – Feb. 08, 1967 Fire Horse
1967 Feb. 09, 1967 – Jan. 29, 1968 Fire Sheep
1968 Jan. 30, 1968 – Feb. 16, 1969 Earth Monkey
1969 Feb. 17, 1969 – Feb. 05, 1970 Earth Rooster
1970 Feb. 06, 1970 – Jan. 28, 1971 Metal Dog
1971 Jan. 27, 1971 – Feb. 14, 1972 Metal Pig
1972 Feb. 15, 1972 – Feb. 02, 1973 Water Rat
1973 Feb. 03, 1973 – Jan. 22, 1974 Water Ox
1974 Jan. 23, 1974 – Feb. 10, 1975 Wood Tiger
1975 Feb. 11, 1975 – Jan. 30, 1976 Wood Rabbit
1976 Jan. 31, 1976 – Feb. 17, 1977 Fire Dragon
1977 Feb. 18, 1977 – Feb. 06, 1978 Fire Snake
1978 Feb. 07, 1978 – Jan. 27, 1979 Earth Horse
1979 Jan. 28, 1979 – Feb. 15, 1980 Earth Sheep
1980 Feb. 16, 1980 – Feb. 04, 1981 Metal Monkey
1981 Feb. 05, 1981 – Jan. 24, 1982 Metal Rooster
1982 Jan. 25, 1982 – Feb. 12, 1983 Water Dog
1983 Feb. 13, 1983 – Feb. 01, 1984 Water Pig
1984 Feb. 02, 1984 – Feb. 19, 1985 Wood Rat
1985 Feb. 20, 1985 – Feb. 08, 1986 Wood Ox
1986 Feb. 09, 1986 – Jan. 28, 1987 Fire Tiger
1987 Jan. 29, 1987 – Feb. 16, 1988 Fire Rabbit
1988 Feb.17, 1988 – Feb. 05, 1989 Earth Dragon
1989 Feb. 06, 1989 – Jan. 26, 1990 Earth Snake
1990 Jan. 27, 1990 – Feb. 14, 1991 Metal Horse
1991 Feb. 15, 1991 – Feb. 03, 1992 Metal Sheep
1992 Feb. 04, 1992 – Jan. 22, 1993 Water Monkey
1993 Jan. 23, 1993 – Feb. 09, 1994 Water Rooster
1994 Feb. 10, 1994 – Jan. 30, 1995 Wood Dog
1995 Jan. 31, 1995 – Feb. 18, 1996 Wood Pig
1996 Feb. 19, 1996 – Feb. 06, 1997 Fire Rat
1997 Feb. 07, 1997 – Jan. 27, 1998 Fire Ox
1998 Jan. 28, 1998 – Feb. 15, 1999 Earth Tiger
1999 Feb. 16, 1999 – Feb. 04, 2000 Earth Rabbit
2000 Feb. 05, 2000 – Jan. 23, 2001 Metal Dragon
2001 Jan. 24, 2001 – Feb. 11, 2002 Metal Snake
2002 Feb. 12, 2002 – Jan. 31, 2003 Water Horse
2003 Feb. 01, 2003 – Jan. 21, 2004 Water Sheep
2004 Jan. 22, 2004 – Feb. 08, 2005 Wood Monkey
2005 Feb. 09, 2005 – Jan. 28, 2006 Wood Rooster
2006 Jan. 29, 2006 – Feb. 17, 2007 Fire Dog
2007 Feb. 18, 2007 – Feb. 06, 2008 Fire Pig
2008 Feb. 07, 2008 – Jan. 25, 2009 Earth Rat
2009 Jan. 26, 2009 – Feb. 13, 2010 Earth Ox
2010 Feb. 14, 2010 – Feb. 02, 2011 Metal Tiger
2011 Feb. 03, 2011 – Jan. 22, 2012 Metal Rabbit
2012 Jan. 23, 2012 – Feb. 09, 2013 Water Dragon
2013 Feb. 10, 2013 – Jan. 30, 2014 Water Snake
2014 Jan. 31, 2014 – Feb. 18, 2015 Wood Horse
2015 Feb. 19, 2015 – Feb. 07, 2016 Wood Sheep
2016 Feb. 08, 2016 – Jan. 27, 2017 Fire Monkey
2017 Jan. 28, 2017 – Feb. 15, 2018 Fire Rooster
2018 Feb. 16, 2018 – Feb. 04, 2019 Earth Dog
2019 Feb. 05, 2019 – Jan. 23, 2020 Earth Pig
2020 Jan. 25, 2020 – Feb. 11, 2021 Metal Rat
2021 Feb. 12, 2021 – Jan. 31, 2022 Metal Ox
2022 Feb. 01, 2022 – Jan. 21, 2023 Water Tiger
2023 Jan. 22, 2023 – Feb. 09, 2024 Water Rabbit
2024 Feb. 10, 2024 – Jan. 29, 2025 Wood Dragon
2025 Jan. 29, 2025 – Feb. 16, 2026 Wood Snake
2026 Feb. 17, 2026 – Feb. 05, 2027 Fire Horse
2027 Feb. 06, 2027 – Feb. 25, 2028 Fire Sheep
2028 Jan. 26, 2028 – Feb. 12, 2029 Metal Monkey
2029 Feb. 13, 2029 – Feb. 02, 2030 Earth Rooster
2030 Feb. 03, 2030 – Jan. 22, 2031 Metal Dog
2031 Jan. 23, 2031 – Feb. 10, 2032 Metal Pig

 

So far we have looked at calculating your zodiac by birthday, this is just one pillar. You can actually assign a zodiac to your birth year, birth month, birth day, and birth hour. So, once you calculate your zodiac according to date of birth year, you can then expand that even further for in-depth character analysis according to Chinese zodiac wisdom via your month, day of the week, and even hour.

Marriage Partners according to Chinese Zodiac

Many Chinese still reference the zodiac system to inquire about partner compatibility with the belief that those of a certain zodiac sign match better with select others.

  • Rat matches with: dragon, monkey, ox, and should avoid horse, rabbit
  • Ox matches with rat, snake, rooster and should avoid horse, sheep, dog
  • Tiger matches with a horse, a dog, pig and should avoid snake, monkey
  • Rabbit matches with sheep, dog, pig and should avoid dragon, rat, chicken
  • Dragon matches with rat, monkey, rooster and should avoid dog, rabbit
  • Snake matches with monkey, ox, rooster and should avoid pig, tiger
  • Horse matches with sheep, tiger, dog and should avoid  rat, ox,
  • Sheep matches with rabbit, pig, monkey and should avoid ox, dog
  • Monkey matches with rat, snake, dragon, dog and should avoid tiger, pig
  • Rooster matches with ox, dragon, snake and should avoid rabbit
  • Dog matches with tiger, rabbit and should avoid sheep, dragons, ox
  • Pig matches with sheep, rabbit, tiger and should avoid monkey, snake

Zodiac Faith

The zodiac faith is a combination of traditional Chinese religious philosophy and art culture, supplemented by the association of the zodiac animal temperament, forming an imaginary belief system, which in turn affects people’s ideas and behaviors.

According to this logic, the operation of human society has nothing to do with any other events, but it naturally appears because of the zodiac attributes of human beings, which obviously cannot withstand verification. However, as a belief itself, it does not need logical proof, but it is directly considered to be justified. Therefore, the zodiac faith still has a market in contemporary folks and is constantly used.

Your Chinese Age vs Your Western Age

The virtual age is an important way of dating in China and is also popular in some countries in Asia. A newborn person is immediately one year old, and after the Spring Festival, is two years old. China has always been a lunar society, so the calendar used is the lunar calendar.

Calculating the year sequence (in ordinal) that a person is experiencing after birth is a traditional Chinese aging method and is also popular in other countries in eastern Asia. He/she is one year old at birth because it is the first year after birth, and has nothing to do with the pregnancy that has been experienced for nearly a year.

In China, the Spring Festival can also be regarded as everyone’s birthday, which is very much worth celebrating!

Although, in modern times and legally, the Gregorian calendar is used with age calculated as time spent after birth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *