You probably know there are 12 Chinese zodiac animals used to represent years, 2020 is the Year of the Rat. Zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture, and can be used to determine your fortune for the year, marriage compatability, career fit, best times to have a baby, and so much more.
What is the Chinese Zodiac?
The general consensus is that the zodiacs originally had something to do with the worship of animals. A zodiac system has existed in Chinese culture since the Qin dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago.
Over time the zodiacs became more and more integrated into everyday life, with different meanings and characteristics assigned to each animal. This in turn gave rise to various compatabilities (and incompatabilities) between each zodiac, and play a major role in marriage and career decisions, fortune-telling and more!
What's your zodiac animal?
In order, they are: rat (鼠—shǔ), ox (牛—niú), tiger (虎—hǔ), rabbit (兔—tù), dragon (龙—lóng), snake (蛇—shé), horse (马—mǎ), goat (羊—yang), monkey (猴—hóu), rooster (鸡—jī), dog (狗—gǒu), and pig (猪—zhū).
The zodiac cycle repeats every 12 years, making it easy to figure out whether it's your year- just check if your age is a multiple of 12! Here are the 12 zodiac animals in order with accompanying years:
|Zodiac Animal||Character||Recent Years|
|Rat||鼠 (shǔ)||1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020|
|Ox||牛 (niú)||1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021|
|Tiger||虎 (hǔ)||1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022|
|Rabbit||兔 (tù)||1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023|
|Dragon||龙 (lóng)||1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024|
|Snake||蛇 (shé)||1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025|
|Horse||马 (mǎ)||1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026|
|Goat||羊 (yang)||1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027|
|Monkey||猴 (hóu)||1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028|
|Rooster||鸡 (jī)||1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029|
|Dog||狗 (gǒu)||1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030|
|Pig||猪 (zhū)||1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031|
Maybe you think your zodiac year (本命年—ben ming nian) will be lucky. It's your year after all. However, it's the total opposite.
It's seen as a hurdle you have jump over. The way to protect yourself from evil spirits and bad fortune is to wear red underwear every day for the entire year. Even in modern times, it's still treated as a real concern.
In some places, married men even have to be accompanied by their wives when they go out at night during their year!
Origin of the zodiacs
One legend says that the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝—yù huáng dà dì) needed to choose 12 animals as palace guards. The Cat asked his neighbor Rat to help him sign up. Rat forgot, which is why they became mortal enemies.
At the palace, Ox was first in line, but Rat secretly climbed onto Ox's back and jumped in front of him. Tiger and Dragon thought it was unfair, but they could only settle behind Ox. Rabbit found it unfair too. He wanted to race with Dragon and succeeded.
This angered Dog, who bit Rabbit in a fit and was sent to the back as punishment. Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey and Rooster fought amongst themselves as well. Pig came late, after everything was finally settled, and could only be the last.
Of course, this is only a story. Cats didn't even exist in China when zodiac animals first came about.
The science behind it all
How do Chinese astrologers know each zodiac's personality, fortune and compatibility with others?
Below is some technical information you might be interested in.
Dì Zhī (地支), or Earthly Branches, were the original terms used for the years. These branches are also assigned to the hours of the day, based on solar time.
The animals were later added as mnemonics and categorized as either yīn (阴) or yáng (阳).
Ten Celestial Stems (天干—tiān gān) pair with the Earthly Branches for a 60 year calendrical cycle. Then add in an element. These cycle through, but each zodiac also has a fixed element. This fixed element is what determines which sign you're compatible with.
Twelve Earthly Branches: zi (子), chǒu (丑), yín (寅), mǎo (卯), chén (辰), sì (巳), wǔ (午), wèi (未), shēn (申), yǒu (酉), xū (戌), hài (亥).
Ten Celestial Stems: jiǎ (甲), yǐ (乙), bǐng (丙), ding (丁), wù (戊), jǐ (己), gēng (庚), xīn (辛), rén (壬), guǐ (癸).
Five elements: water (水—shuǐ), wood (木—mù), fire (火—huǒ), earth (土—tǔ), metal (金—jīn).
A calendar of recent years with everything explained above would look like this:
|Year||Celestial Stem||Earthly Branch||Zodiac||Element||Yin Yang|
There are six groups (六合—liù hé) of most compatible pairs. They fit into each other like jigsaw pieces. These are the ones who support you in the background.
Four groups of trios (三合—sān hé) are the next most compatible signs. Working in a team, they complement your skills.
Introduction to the animals
As mentioned before, the Earthly Branches are also assigned to hours of the day. The animals, depending on what they did, became associated with that certain time. This is another explanation for the ordering of the animals. The following list include each zodiac's time of day, culture, personality and compatibility.
People born in the year of the Rat like saving and collecting. They never have hard times financially and live organized lives. If you receive a valuable gift from a Rat, know that he thinks highly of you, because he doesn't usually like opening his wallet for others. Rats don't look for praise and recognition. They are very sensitive and know when there is trouble. When they do take risks, they're usually successful.
Rat is Yang, and its earthly branch is Zi.
23:00–01:00. Rats are at the height of their activity at this time and people began to associate rats with the Zi hour.
Rats steal food, which can be interpreted as the household being wealthy and having surpluses. Because of their fast reproduction rate, some also pray to rats for children.
Best match: Ox
Best group: Monkey, Dragon
People born in the year of the Ox are hard workers and have a strong sense of responsibility. Even if they run into difficulty during work, they'll persevere through. They aren't very romantic, but are patient and would never force themselves onto someone who doesn't like them. They are usually quiet and keep their emotions bottled up inside. It's hard for others to understand them. When they do lose their temper, it's like an explosion and can drive others away.
Ox is Yin, and its earthly branch is Chǒu.
01:00–03:00. This is when farmers would wake up to feed their oxen.
Whipping spring cattle (打春—dǎ chūn) was a ritual performed to begin a new year of hard work and good harvests. The ox's stomach would be filled with five types of grains and scattered after the whipping to represent the sowing and harvest.
Best match: Rat
Best group: Snake, Rooster
People born in the year of the Tiger are independent and have high self-esteem. They enjoy being the leader and protector of average people. They love justice and never back down in an argument. Recklessness is their biggest weakness, causing them to fail. However, they never truly fail. Tigers will always find a way to stand back up and succeed in the end.
Tiger is Yang, and its earthly branch is Yín.
03:00–05:00. Tigers are the most dangerous at night. Farmers would always be able to hear their frightening roars during this hour.
Tigers are the kings of all beasts. People believe that they are the guardians of children. In the past, infants were washed with water boiled with tiger bones to prevent diseases. Children also wear hats and shoes with tiger designs.
Best match: Pig
Best group: Horse, Dog
People born in the year of the Rabbit are gentle, quiet and polite. They are patient, intelligent and chic. Their sense of responsibility and attention to detail lead to great career success. They take love seriously as well, and would never fall for someone easily. If they find the right person, they'll love them to the end of the world and back.
Rabbit is Yin, and its earthly branch is Mǎo.
05:00–07:00. At daybreak, rabbits would come out of their homes to feed on the dew.
The rabbit represents the moon. Rather than the man in the moon, the ancient Chinese believed that there was a rabbit in the moon.
Best match: Dog
Best group: Pig, Goat
People born in the year of the Dragon have hearts full of adventure and romance. It's hard for people to understand a Dragon's mysterious personality. At the same time, they are indifferent to things the average person worries about. They may seem lazy, but once they decide to do something, they'll be more ambitious and vigorous than anyone else.
Dragon is Yang, and its earthly branch is Chén.
07:00–09:00. This is the most common time for fog to appear. According to folklore, dragons ride the fog to come down to Earth.
Dragons are the most revered creature in Chinese culture and are used to represent royalty. Emperors were often seen as a dragon's reincarnation. Paired with the phoenix, they also symbolize a happy marriage and harmony between yin and yang.
Best match: Rooster
Best group: Monkey, Rat
People born in the year of the Snake are idealists. On the outside, they may seem cold but, deep inside, they are warm and enthusiastic. Their desire of exclusive ownership is very fierce. It irks them if they can't fully understand someone. Snakes are devoted and determined, but their worst enemy is laziness.
Snake is Yin, and its earthly branch is Sì.
09:00–11:00. After the fog has dissipated, snakes would come out to bask in the sun. When creating the character for sì (巳), it was written to look like a snake.
Snakes usually have a negative diction and are symbols of witchcraft. However, Nǚ Wā (女娲), the creator of the world in Chinese mythology, had a human's head and a snake's body.
Best match: Monkey
Best group: Rooster, Ox
People born in the year of the Horse are never one to surrender. They are always positive and energetic, pushing themselves forward. Their biggest desire is to have the freedom to do what they like and be able to express themselves. However, they also have various negative traits. Horses are bad at keeping secrets and lose interest quickly.
Horse is Yang, and its earthly branch is Wǔ.
11:00–13:00. When the sun is at its brightest moment, the horses would gallop and prance joyfully in the fields.
As the head of the six domestic animals, horses are crucial in transportation and war. They represent speed and freedom. Many Northern ethnicities, such as the Mongolians and Manchurians, revere and worship the horse.
Best match: Goat
Best group: Tiger, Dog
People born in the year of the Goat have a pure and kind heart. They'd rather suffer silently than argue and ruin someone else's mood. However, even in silence, they still hold onto their own opinion. In regards to their passions, they will do anything possible to fulfill their wishes. Though kind, Goats have tricks up their sleeves as well. They are skilled at using soft power, able to patiently and politely persuade others into their favor.
Goat is Yin, and its earthly branch is Wèi.
13:00–15:00. At this time, the dew on the grass would be dried by the sun. This is the best hour to let the goats and sheep out.
Xiè Zhì (獬豸) is a mythological one-horned goat. It was the assistant of Gāo Yáo (皋陶), god of Justice. The Goat is also the symbol of filial piety.
Best match: Horse
Best group: Pig, Rabbit
People born in the year of the Monkey do things based on interest. If it's something they don't quite care for, they'll do the work sloppily. If it something they're interested in, they'll put their entire heart into it and work until they succeed. They live a long life full of energy and curiosity for the world. Monkeys also value relationships. However, spoiling children may be their weakness.
Monkey is Yang, and its earthly branch is Shēn.
15:00–17:00. The weather is much cooler with the sun setting and the monkeys would play around in the forest.
There are multiple legends about the Monkey as humans' ancestor. Monkeys also like eating peaches. Peaches are symbols of longevity and, with time, monkeys also became associated with long life.
Best match: Snake
Best group: Rat, Dragon
People born in the year of the Rooster are able to sense what the other person is thinking or feeling. They have quick reactions and high EQ. They make great friends, although some are cunning. Roosters are creative and talented in the arts, although few find a career in that field. They have foresight and plan everything carefully.
Rooster is Yin, and its earthly branch is Yǒu.
17:00–19:00. The character for yǒu (酉) looks similar to wine (酒—jiǔ), and evening is the time for dinner and wine. It is also time to collect the roosters and hens and put them back in their nests, else it'll be too dark to find them.
According to legends, roosters are able to protect against evil spirits. In ancient times, sworn brothers must swear to the heavens, then drip rooster blood into wine and drink it all.
Best match: Dragon
Best group: Snake, Ox
People born in the year of the Dog are conservative and full of justice. Because of their loyalty, Dogs are valued in the workplace. They rarely break rules, except for people important to them. In life, they only wish to live quietly with their family.
Dog is Yang, and its earthly branch is Xū.
19:00–21:00. Before sleeping, the people must patrol around for a check. Trailing behind them is the dog, humanity's little helper.
In the Qin and Han dynasty, the Stone Dog was worshipped by the people. In the Guangdong province, it is still popular to name dogs Wàng Cái (旺财). It means “prosperous wealth” and comes from dogs' barking sounds (旺旺—wàng wàng).
Best match: Rabbit
Best group: Tiger, Horse
People born in the year of the Pig think logically and are able to fix whatever problem they're in. They aren't good communicators, but they're kind and able to provide for the family. Most of them are wealthy. Their only obvious fault is that they lose their temper easily.
Pig is Yin, and its earthly branch is Hài.
21:00–23:00. At night, the pig can be heard rustling around. In order to fatten it up, the farmer must feed before calling it a day.
Pigs are the symbol of wealth. Their chubby faces and big ears are signs of fortune as well.
Best match: Tiger
Best group: Rabbit, Goat