The Chinese zodiac is traditionally used to calculate days in the calendar using Chinese astrology. It consists of 12 animals that rotate yearly, each holding auspicious meanings. The animals can determine character traits, fortune, and compatibility. There is another layer, an association with one of five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), which adds more nuance to an individual’s fortune in a particular year. Get the lowdown on what it means to be born in a certain year in the Chinese calendar.

What is the Chinese zodiac?

chinese zodiac years represented in wheel illustration
The 12 zodiac animal signs illustrated in a wheel (© RootOfAllLight via WikiCommons)

The Chinese zodiac, also known as Sheng Xiao (生肖 – literal translation is “born resemblance”), is a twelve-year repeating cycle that significantly influences the livelihood of Chinese culture. Each year is marked by a different animal, starting from the rat and ending at the pig (the order is rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig). The order of the animals derives from a race the Jade Emperor held to determine which animal would be the fastest. This year, 2022, is the year of the tiger and 2023 is the year of the rabbit.

The Chinese zodiac signs according to your birth year can say a lot about one’s personality and what to expect in a given year. It can also predict fortune, romance, career, and family life. Besides the animals, each year is represented by one of five Chinese elements – metal, water, wood, fire, and earth – that colours further depth into one’s character. These elements resonate with the yin-yang energies that cater to the fluidity of life.

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How was the Chinese zodiac created?

Having been around for over 2,000 years, the origins of the Chinese zodiac remain slightly scattered. In what is probably the most common story, the order of the Chinese zodiac animal signs was determined by a royal race.

The mythical race that determined the order of the Chinese almanac in an ancient chess illustration (© Outlookxp via WikiCommons)

Another story involves the aforementioned Jade Emperor inviting animals to a dinner, in which twelve appeared. Thus, he dedicated a year to each animal.

A third story takes place along the trade routes of the Silk Road, where Indian Buddhists gradually introduced the twelve zodiac animals to Chinese knowledge.

A fourth story features Buddha requesting the twelve animals to protect his humble abode. Though, all-in-all, it wasn’t until the Han Dynasty (9-220 A.D.) that the Chinese calendar gained momentum in common usage.

The meanings of each Chinese zodiac sign

Similar to Western astrology, there is a Chinese horoscope system where each zodiac animal is associated with certain personality traits and good or bad fortune in particular Chinese zodiac years. There are also beliefs about the compatibility and interaction styles between zodiac signs.

Year of the Rat (鼠, shǔ)

Birth years: 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032

Characteristics: Rats have a quick nature and the ability to fend for themselves, so those born in the year of the rat are known to bring in wealth and abundance to their households. They tend to be ambitious and financially successful, and know a thing or two about saving!

Year of the Ox (牛, niu)

Birth years: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, 2033

Characteristics: Those born in the year of the ox are steadfast and hard workers. They aren’t the most emotionally vulnerable and may be stubborn at times, but they’re respectful, patient, and dependable beings. And, in the face of hardship, oxes will brave it through and never give up.

Year of the Tiger (虎, hǔ)

Birth years: 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022, 2034

Characteristics: Known to be the leader of the pack and for their protective qualities, those born in the year of the tiger are highly regarded. Tigers are confident, courageous, and adventurous, and seek justice. Sometimes, they may become arrogant or reckless in the face of danger.

Year of the Rabbit (兔, tù)

Birth years: 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

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Characteristics: Cute and dainty in appearance, those born in the year of the rabbit tend to have soft and gentle traits. Rabbits are reserved, but they have a strong sense of judgement and responsibility and an eye for details. When it comes to romance, one would be lucky to be with a rabbit as they strongly reciprocate love upon meeting their counterpart.

Year of the Dragon (龙, lóng)

Birth years: 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Characteristics: Dragons are arguably the most notable animals seen in Chinese culture, known to bring good luck, harmony, and prosperity. Possessing a fiery spirit, those born in the dragon year have an adventurous spirit and are energetic and outspoken. Although their patience is tested at times, once a dragon sets its sights on the prize, it will persevere. 

Year of the Snake (蛇, shé)

Birth years: 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Characteristics: Bearing physical similarities to a dragon, but smaller, snakes are witty and curious. They may seem sly and stone cold, but once one has the honour to get to know a snake, they’re warm at heart. People born in the snake year are determined beings who take ownership. However, they can be lazy, anxious, and jealous. 

Year of the Horse (马, mǎ)

Birth years: 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Characteristics: Horses have an independent nature and are freedom seekers, which should come as no surprise given their long stride. Those born in the horse year are renowned for their positivity and energetic push for life. At times, they can be irresponsible and moody if you catch them on an off day.

Year of the Goat (羊, yang)

Birth years: 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Characteristics: People born in the goat year are selfless creatures who take pleasure in seeing others happy and successful, even in times of difficulty. They show empathy and have a cheerful soul, despite being known to have a hard life in comparison to the other Chinese zodiac animals. On the contrary, goats can be lazy and disorganised.

Year of the Monkey (猴, hóu)

Birth years: 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Characteristics: Monkeys are all about being unpredictable yet entertaining and fun. Those born in the year of the monkey do things that they find interesting and care about. They’re sociable and admirable, and are considered optimists. Those lucky to be with a monkey in a romantic setting can be prepared to be charmed away, too. 

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Year of the Rooster (鸡, jī)

Birth years: 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Characteristics: As sharp as its spur and prized with a high EQ, roosters are clever and can put up a debate. On top of that, people born in the rooster year tend to be creative, adventurous, and entertaining. They make reliable people, planning things in advance, and are quick-witted with a keen eye. 

Year of the Dog ((狗, gǒu)

Birth years: 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Characteristics: Dogs are notoriously known to be loyal companions. They’re selfless and playful, exactly as one especially as a dog owner can imagine. Those born in the dog year are trustworthy and honest above all else, rarely breaking rules as they try to live a quiet and peaceful life.

Year of the Pig (猪, zhū)

Birth years: 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

Characteristics: Pigs are typically mistaken to be lazy in nature, but they’re everything but that! People born in the pig year are generous, outgoing, caring, and intelligent. They’re known to be wealthy, so they make great providers for the family. However, they may get materialistic and impatient at times.

FAQ about the Chinese zodiac

chinese zodiac animals and yin yang rock  engraving
Yin yang symbol encapsulated by the Chinese zodiac signs at Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple (© gionnixxx via Canva)

What is the order of the Chinese zodiac?

From first to last, the order of the Chinese zodiac is rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

Is your zodiac year lucky?

Contrary to what may seem logical in Western thought, your zodiac year (本命年, bun ming nin in Cantonese, meaning ‘birth year’) isn’t lucky because it’s considered offensive to the God of Age (Jupiter) who has an orbit of 12 years.

Which Chinese zodiac signs are lucky in 2022?

The zodiac signs considered lucky in 2022 are the ox and goat. Financially speaking, the pig is lucky, while romantically speaking, the rooster, dog, snake, and goat can expect to find love.

Is there a 13th Chinese zodiac sign?

While lesser known, it’s said that the 13th Chinese zodiac sign is the cat. The cat and rat at the Jade Emperor’s palace were known to be best friends. However, the cat missed the race because the rat intentionally didn’t wake the cat up from its nap before the competition.

Header image credits: OSTILL via Canva

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A hermit at heart, Agnes likes to connect with the world across various platforms that share a wealth of content on beauty, culture, lifestyle, and travel. She loves using the art of language to portray her voice and poor sense of humour whenever possible. When she’s not nerding around or head deep into a piece, you’re sure to find her spending time outdoors with friends and family or going down the Pinterest rabbit hole to find all sorts of inspiration she can!

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