Chinese Zodiac

Five Elements

If you already know your zodiac animal in Chinese astrology, you might think your personality is similar to those born 12 years earlier or 12 years later in a year with the same zodiac animal as yours.

However, there is another factor to consider. In addition to the cycle of 12 zodiac animals, each year is also assigned one of five elements—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal or Water. Each element is associated with certain traits and behavioral patterns, adding a dimension of richness to the matrix of personality in Chinese astrology.

2022, Year of the Water Tiger

As an example, let’s look at the current year. The year 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, but it is also the Year of Water. A Tiger born in 2022 won’t resemble other Tigers born in 1998 or 2010, previous Years of the Tiger. That’s because, when the 12 zodiac signs are overlaid with the five elements, each complete cycle in the Chinese calendar consists of 60 years. The previous Year of the Water Tiger was all the way back in 1962!

Read on to understand more about the Five Elements Theory. Discover what your zodiac element is and what implications this has for your personality, relationship dynamics, career aspirations and more.

Origin of the Five Elements Theory

The idea of these elements originated in the Five Elements Theory, or Wu Xing in Chinese. This complex philosophical system divides everything in the world into five categories, each possessing different characteristics. It was first formalized in the Spring and Autumn period in Chinese history—a period that gave rise to iconic philosophers like Confucius and Laozi—and would go on to become the foundation of many disciplines including Daoism, Chinese philosophy, astrology, Feng Shui and more.

An Element for Every Year

In the Chinese system, each year is associated with one of the elements, thus lending everyone born that year the characteristics of that element. These annual designations are calculated using the complex Chinese calendrical system of Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches.

But for our purposes we have simplified the calculations so you can quickly find out in this chart below what your zodiac element is based on the year you were born. After that, we will examine what each element represents in terms of your personality, your preferences and behavior patterns in love and work to help you gain a better understanding of your personality.

Five Element Years Chart

Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
1964, 1965, 1974, 1975, 1984, 1985, 1994, 1995, 2004, 2005, 2014, 2015 1966, 1967, 1976, 1977, 1986, 1987, 1996, 1997, 2006, 2007, 2016, 2017 1968, 1969, 1978, 1979, 1988, 1989, 1998, 1999, 2008, 2009, 2018, 2019 1970, 1971, 1980, 1981, 1990, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2010, 2011, 2020, 2021 1972, 1973, 1982, 1983, 1992, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2022, 2023

Characteristics of the Five Elements

Wood

Recent years: 1964, 1965, 1974, 1975, 1984, 1985, 1994, 1995, 2004, 2005, 2014, 2015

People who possess the characteristics of Wood tend to be tall and willowy. The men of this element are likely solid and well-built, while the women look youthful as shoots of spring bamboo even as they age.

Both are soft-spoken, preferring to listen rather than speak. They are creative and quick-witted, but prefer to stay still in silent contemplation rather than participate in anything overly active for their taste.

By nature, people of the Wood element are kind and loyal to their family and friends, especially their partner. In love, they are considerate of the needs of their other half, and are usually loving partners who express their affection in unexpected, creative ways.

However, because they are stubborn and easily wounded, they are prone to nursing a past hurt for years without letting on. They would do best to learn how to communicate with their partner directly and not let a small slight fester into a major breakdown of the relationship.

They are usually ambitious and competitive at work. As part of a team they are capable and independent, often even quite opinionated. They can think rationally when analyzing complex situations and are level-headed as leaders.

On the other hand, because they are determined to the point of being obstinate, they often refuse to change their mind and can become very self-centered and not take others’ input into consideration. Although they are not usually temperamental, they hate being misunderstood and can be quite scary on the rare occasion when they are truly provoked—as flammable as dry kindling.

Fire

Recent years: 1966, 1967, 1976, 1977, 1986, 1987, 1996, 1997, 2006, 2007, 2016, 2017

People born in a year of Fire might have ruddy and glowing complexions with pleasant voices that carry easily. They tend to be rather thin, as if they are constantly burning off energy with their endless activity and refuse to sit still for long.

They speak in a rush and may not wait for others to speak before moving on. Temperamentally they are quick to anger, but they never hold a grudge and expect the same from those around them.

They are most likely charismatic leaders who need to feel they are in control. They are natural speakers and ambitious competitors. At work, as in almost everything else they do, it is important for them to only show themselves at their best.

They are enthusiastic, active and assertive, which makes them valuable members on a team. Once they have a goal in sight, they will pursue it with all their resources until they reach it, no matter what difficulties they must overcome.

In love, natives of the Fire element will want to take on the role of the hunter. Man or woman, people possessing characteristics of this element will proactively go after their heart’s desire.

Their courtship is passionate and impatient, but they will retain that heat even after years of marriage. They are able to inject their relationship with such energy and excitement that their partner can’t help but cherish it.

Earth

Recent years: 1968, 1969, 1978, 1979, 1988, 1989, 1998, 1999, 2008, 2009, 2018, 2019

People born in years of the Earth element, men and women alike, tend to be full-figured. The women in this group will usually appear plump and radiant, while the men often forget to pay attention to their appearance, even degenerating into slovenliness if they are not careful.

They are even-tempered and easy to be around, most likely introverted and slow to react. More often than not, they appear not to have any extreme passions or desires.

They are tenacious and responsible workers with the ability to stay optimistic and steadfast in the toughest situation, even when others have given up. They are kind and understanding. They do not judge others, at least not harsher than they judge themselves.

However, their honor is of the utmost importance to them. When an Earth native makes a promise, you can be certain they will fulfill it. They are usually humble and live frugally, without feeling the need to live among luxury, although they still appreciate the finer things in life.

People with the characteristics of the Earth element may find it difficult to start relationships, as they do not like to speak up even when their feelings are intense. Romance, likewise, does not come easily for this group, but their affection becomes more apparent once they settle down and feel secure that their feelings are reciprocated.

They are naturals in a marriage rather than a passionate fling, often proving to be dependable partners. They show their love and affection for their mate by cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the house and the children.

Metal

Recent years: 1970, 1971, 1980, 1981, 1990, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2010, 2011, 2020, 2021

Like gold or silver, those born in a year of the Metal element may appear almost too dazzling to behold. They are considered attractive by any standard, possessing even a voice that is especially pleasant to hear.

They are refined in their demeanor as well, with well-defined features that can make quite an impression on those they meet.

Metal natives are decisive and courageous. Never one to shy away from challenges, they can cut through confusing situations or even stalemates with the quickness of a sword. They tend to have clear-cut ideas between right and wrong.

This means, however, that they can be quite judgmental and when you rub against them the wrong way – even if it’s only a misunderstanding – their scorn may be too intense and too sudden for many to handle.

Due to their attractive appearance and demeanor, those with Metal characteristics may often find themselves the object of desire. They end up in relationships without too much doing on their part. But when it comes to settling down in a long-term relationship, they will usually draw the line unless they feel ready.

On the other hand, when they are interested in someone else, Metal natives will be sure to show their charm and charisma right away, leading even the most unwilling heart to fall in love with them.

Water

Recent years: 1972, 1973, 1982, 1983, 1992, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2022, 2023

People born in years of the Water element are elegant and gentle beings, akin to the ebb and flow of waves. Despite their calm exterior, however, they can possess great depth that most are not privileged to glimpse. They can be quite innocent, even naive, and this trusting nature makes them appealing.

They tend to be fair and lithe in appearance with soft hair and glowing skin. They also tend to be introspective and more interested in activities like reading and writing, leading others to consider them rather shy when they are only lost in their own imagination.

At work, Water natives are skillful and flexible, usually able to work well with technology. They are modest and laidback, preferring to do their own work without too much oversight from others.

They will usually not want leadership positions, as wielding power can prove stressful for these sensitive souls. Left alone, however, they transform into creative magicians, able to turn the most ordinary into the extraordinary.

Both as a friend and a romantic partner, those born with the Water element are empathetic and understanding. The only exception to this is when their own emotions take them hostage. They may feel at such a time that no one can understand the nuance and depth of their feelings.

They are not likely to take action when in love, but when their partners take the initiative they welcome it and reciprocate in folds.

Twelve Zodiacs and Fixed Elements

On top of this cycle of zodiac elements, each zodiac sign also has a fixed association with one of the elements and is thought to possess the same defining characteristics of the element.

To resume with our example of the current year: someone born in 2022 is thought to have Wood characteristics—creative, stubborn and competitive—because Tigers are associated with the fixed element of Wood. Simultaneously, because 2022 is the year of Water, the 2022 Tigers are also thought to be defined by introspection and empathy—characteristics associated with the Water element, which someone born in 1998 or 2010 would not possess.

In this chart, you will find the element your zodiac sign is associated with, which you’ll also need to keep in mind when analyzing your own personality or that of others.

Zodiac Fixed Element Chart

Fixed Element Zodiac Sign
Wood Tiger, Rabbit
Fire Snake, Horse
Earth Ox, Dragon, Goat, Dog
Metal Monkey, Rooster
Water Pig, Rat

Interactions Between the Elements

A final dimension in the system of elements is the interaction between them, which can be classified as either positive “generating” or negative “overcoming.” This is important to compatibility—whether two people make a good match romantically or as friends and business partners. This idea is based on how different elements react to each other in nature. It originates in Chinese philosophy and its way of thinking of the world as a web of interconnectedness.

Positive “Generating” Interactions

Think of the generating interactions as two elements complementing each other. The word for “generation” in Chinese, “sheng,” also means giving birth, nurturing and mutual life. When two people of generating elements come together, both are likely to thrive with unprecedented vitality, like one plus one equals three.

The generating interactions are:

  • Wood feeds Fire

  • Fire creates Earth

  • Earth engenders Metal

  • Metal holds Water

  • Water nourishes Wood

Negative “Overcoming” Interactions

When two elements overcome each other, they are essentially at odds, which can escalate to conflicts or even war. This is a very bad aspect for marriage, and something that the matchmakers especially advised against. A marriage of overcoming elements will be full of dissatisfaction and marital strife.

The overcoming interactions are:

  • Wood splits Earth

  • Earth stops Water

  • Water extinguishes Fire

  • Fire melts Metal

  • Metal chops Wood

The Five Elements Theory and Feng Shui

As we have already mentioned, almost everything under the sun has been assigned an element, including directions, colors, seasons and shapes. This is the basis for the popular art (or science, if you ask those in the know) of Feng Shui, which provides guidance on the most auspicious placement of objects in your home.

Five Elements Feng Shui Chart

In this chart, you can find the directions, seasons, colors and shapes associated with each of the five elements.

Element Direction Season Color Shape
Wood East Spring Green Rectangle
Fire South Summer Red Angles
Earth Center Seasonality Yellow Square
Metal West Autumn White Circles
Water North Winter Black Waves

As you can see, the most auspicious direction, for example, will differ for everyone depending on their element. In your home, especially in a room where you spend a lot of your time, try to incorporate the color that goes best with your element, and place the biggest pieces of furniture in a direction that is auspicious for you—as an anchor to good luck.

To use our 2022 Tiger babies as an example once more, their Feng Shui would be best if their rooms are decorated in green or black—the colors associated with Wood and Water elements. This will ensure their health and longevity. If possible, they should also occupy a room in the northern corner of the house with the bed also in this orientation.

Referring to the chart on “generating” and “overcoming” interactions, you can see that Wood and Water complement each other very well—they form generating interactions! Thus, you’ll be safe incorporating both elements in the Tiger’s room. Perhaps a wooden chair by a north-facing window? But remember to refrain from having too much Earth element, because Earth stops Water.

Please note, however, that Yin and Yang—the balance between opposing elements, is one of the key ideas in Feng Shui. Therefore, do not be overzealous in your creation of Feng Shui in your house. If in doubt, there are many Feng Shui experts who will be able to design a house most suited to both your birth aspect and your current fortune!