The Chinese zodiac, or Sheng Xiao (生肖), is a repeating 12-year cycle of animal signs and their ascribed attributes, based on the lunar calendar. In order, the zodiac animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, marks the transition from one animal to the next—2021 is the year of the Ox, which began on February 12th, 2021, and ends on January 31st, 2022. February 1st, 2022 (Chinese New Year) will signal the start of the year of the Tiger.
What’s Your Zodiac Sign?
Your birth year determines your Chinese zodiac sign, but it can get tricky, as the lunar calendar varies from the solar, or Gregorian, calendar.
Because the dates of Chinese New Year change every year, individuals born in January or February will need to pay special attention to their birth date in addition to their birth year.
The 12 Zodiac Animals
If you already know your Chinese zodiac sign, or are curious to explore them all, select one from below to discover the personality traits, romantic compatibility, and what fortune 2023 will bring.
Chinese Zodiac Years
Since the Chinese zodiac cycle repeats every 12 years, it’s easy to figure out if it’s your year—just check if your age is a multiple of 12! Listed below are the 12 zodiac animals in order with accompanying years:
|Zodiac Sign||Chinese Name||Zodiac 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|
Ben Ming Nian (Zodiac Birth Year)
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!
Origins of the Chinese Zodiac
It is generally believed the origins of the Chinese zodiac are rooted in zoolatry, or animal worship, with the system dating back to the Qin dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago.
Legend has it that the Jade Emperor summoned all the animals to his palace in a “Great Race” (or possibly for a banquet), and the order in which they arrived determined the animal’s place in the zodiac.
With such a rich past, it’s little wonder the Chinese zodiac remains so popular throughout China and much of Asia. An integral part of everyday life, it’s used to determine your fortune for the year, marriage compatibility, career path, best times to have a baby, and so much more.
The Science Behind the Chinese Zodiac
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.
Fortune and Personality of the 12 Zodiac 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.
Rat (鼠 / Shǔ)
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
Ox (牛 / Niu)
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
Tiger (虎 / Hǔ)
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
Rabbit (兔 / Tù)
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
Dragon (龙 / Lóng)
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
Snake (蛇 / Shé)
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
Horse (马 / Mǎ)
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
Goat (羊 / Yang)
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
Monkey (猴 / Hóu)
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
Rooster (鸡 / Jī)
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
Dog (狗 / Gǒu)
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
Pig (猪 / Zhū)
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