Year of the Dragon: The Complete Guide

The Year of the Dragon... even the name exudes a certain mystique. Dragons, the mythological creatures of Chinese folklore, are one of the 12 animals represented in the Chinese zodiac. Join us as we explore the roots of this fascinating astrological system. Discover which colors, directions, and numbers are best suited for dragons. Additionally, resolve the troubles in your love life!

What is the Chinese zodiac?

There are a number of similarities between the Chinese zodiac and the western zodiac, which forms the basis of western astrology and horoscopes. The most obvious overlap is that both systems categorize people using 12 distinct signs based on the time and date of their birth. Both zodiacs also use these signs to predict behavioral patterns and make relationship suggestions.

However, there are also substantial differences between the two. The western zodiac uses birth month as its unit for assigning signs whereas the Chinese zodiac is based on year. The western zodiac is tied to the constellations while the Chinese zodiac has no relation to the stars. Finally, the western zodiac utilizes a range of disparate symbols representing both animals, objects and humans, while the Chinese zodiac is composed entirely of animals.

The 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac are referred to in Chinese as 12 生肖 (shēngxiào). These animals in their order of appearance are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (also translated as Ram and Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

The Chinese Calendar, or 农历 (nónglì), is the basis of the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. It’s known rather esoterically as a ‘lunisolar calendar,’ which simply means that instead of using the sun as its reference point, the Chinese calendar relies on a variety of astronomical phenomena including both sun and moon cycles to calculate dates.

Although it originated in China, the Chinese zodiac has achieved great popularity throughout Asia, particularly in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Enter the dragon

According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Dragon comes once every 12 years. The dragon (龙 lóng) years of the last century were 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, and 2012.

The next Year of the Dragon will be 2024.

People born in any of these years are said to have been born under the sign of the dragon.

Temperament and fame

Thanks to their intimate connection to the regal dragons that inhabit the celestial realm according to Chinese mythology, those born under the sign of the dragon are said to be, first and foremost, self-assured leaders. Their charismatic and dominant personalities make them natural CEOs, start-up founders, politicians, and military commanders.

Blessed as they are with tenacity and intelligence, dragons are equally renowned for reveling in challenges, taking pleasure in spending countless hours working towards conquering whatever opposes them.

The flipside of these positive traits is a tendency to have a legendarily short temper and an inability to take criticism. As is often the case in life, the strengths of those born under the dragon sign are wrapped up with their weaknesses. Due to their incredible capacity to perform at a high level, dragons will often have little patience for incompetence, which can make them seem aggressive and irritable.

A couple of famous western individuals born under the sign of the dragon are Martin Luther King Jr., Vladimir Putin, Che Guevara, Bruce Lee, Salvador Dali, and John Lennon. Famous Chinese people who were born in the year of the dragon include the three richest billionaires of Chinese origin: Jack Ma, Lee Shau Kee, and Li Ka Shing.

Li Ka Shing, one of China’s richest men, was born in the Year of the Dragon.

Life hack: courteous question

The regularity of the 12-year cycle Chinese zodiac has allowed for information about one’s animal sign to develop into a good way to discreetly find out about someone’s age.

Asking someone “你属什么?” (Nǐ shǔ shénme?), which translates to “What sign are you?,” is a superb way to inquire about how old someone is without having to do so directly.

If someone replies to this question by saying “我属龙” (Wǒ shǔ lóng; I’m a dragon) then it’s simply a matter of judging from their appearance which Year of the Dragon they were born in. If they’re in their 40’s, then they were born in the Year of the Dragon 1976 and if in their early 30’s, then they must have been born in 1988. Likewise, if they’re  in their early 20’s, then they were probably born in 2000, and if they are clearly a child, then you can surmise that they were born in 2012.

Knowing that someone was born in the Year of the Dragon will allow you to guess their exact age.

The Dragon in Chinese culture

Dragons hold a unique place in the Chinese Zodiac. Of all the animals present, only dragons are mythical. As is well known, they hold a prized place in traditional Chinese folklore.

Jade Emperor and the Four Dragons

One of the most famous Chinese myths involving dragons tells of a devastating drought that was ravaging China. The four mighty dragons of the sea saw this calamity unfolding and took pity on the human race who would soon perish if rain did not fall. These four took it upon themselves to travel to the highest heaven and petition the Jade Emperor (玉皇 Yùhuáng) ruler of heaven and earth, to send rain.

After they were given an audience and had made their case to the Jade Emperor, he absentmindedly agreed to send rain. However, being understandably preoccupied with running the affairs of heaven and earth, the Jade Emperor promptly forgot his promise to send rain.

10 days passed without action. Blades of grass turned to bristles and the soil cracked and blistered in the relentless heat of the sun. People began to die.

Seeing this tragedy, the four dragons took it upon themselves to remedy the situation. They gathered up fresh water and released it onto the land, finally bringing an end to the apocalyptic drought. When the Jade Emperor learned that they had acted on their own without his permission, he was enraged. He ordered them to be imprisoned for eternity, weighed down by the Mountain God himself.

From their mountain prisons sprouted the four rivers of China, the Yellow River (黄河 Huáng Hé), the Yangtze (长江 Cháng Jiāng), the Pearl River (珠江 Zhū Jiāng), and the Amur River (黑龙江 Hēilóng Jiāng).

China would never again be without water.

Traditional painting of the Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor is ruler of heaven and earth according to Chinese mythology.

Dragon babies

Because of the multitude of positive traits associated with the dragon zodiac sign, many Chinese parents are eager to have their children be born in a Year of the Dragon. Some young couples will intentionally wait for a dragon year to try to have their babies. This has repeatedly caused minor baby booms during dragon years in China as well as in countries with sizable Chinese diasporas.

Tragically, this marked increase in births has meant that dragon years are also associated with a decrease in hospital capacity, which can result in higher infant mortality rates.

Tips for dragons

If you happen to have been born in a Year of the Dragon, traditional Chinese knowledge offers you a variety of ways to insulate yourself from the unpredictable whims of the universe.

Here are some tips and tricks to help ensure good fortune.

Lucky and unlucky numbers

Whether it’s the change you get at the grocery store or the last four digits on your credit card, if you’re a dragon, you would be wise to pay special attention to the numbers that enter your life.

1, 6, and 7 are the good ones. Embrace these. Maximize their presence and when given the option, incorporate them into your life as much as possible by using them in, for example, pin codes, passwords and custom license plates.

Watch out for 3 and 8, however, since these two will get you in trouble. Minimize their inauspicious influence by keeping their presence to a minimum.

Lucky and unlucky colors

Gold, white and gray are on your side; paint your room with them and choose your outfit for an important date or business meeting with these colors in mind.

Dragons are faced with considerable difficulty when it comes to their unlucky colors: blue and green. These colors are omnipresent, but they must be avoided or at least kept away from the essential parts of your life to maximize your chance at good fortune.

Lucky colors for those born in the Year of the Dragon include gold, white and gray.

Lucky directions

If you’re a dragon who's in charge of building a new house, a tool shed out back, or merely arranging your desk in a new apartment, you’ve just about got the pick of the litter when it comes to cardinal directions: east, north, and south are all going to be in your favor.

However, at all costs avoid the northwest! It could lead to your downfall.

Those born in the Year of the Dragon should avoid the northwest.

Love me, love me not: compatibility

When it comes to relationships, both in business and in love, people born in the Year of the Dragon will naturally be attracted to people born under the Rat, Tiger or Snake signs. This organic affinity makes it easy for them to cooperate and to have stable, mutually fulfilling relationships.

However, fraternizing with those born in the Year of the Ox, Goat or Dog will produce friction. This is not to say that pursuing a relationship with people born under these signs will necessarily result in catastrophe. Instead, it simply means that extra vigilance is required.

Dragons are said to get along best with people born in the Year of the Rat, Tiger and Snake.

Mandarin and the Chinese zodiac

The best way to truly grasp the meaning behind the Chinese zodiac signs, their intricacy and how they influence the day-to-day life of the average person in China is by learning how they are interwoven into the Chinese language itself.

The easiest way to do this is by enrolling in some online Chinese classes and discussing the endless nuances of the Year of the Dragon with one of the excellent Chinese language and culture experts at CLI.

Or, better yet, come join us in Guilin for complete cultural immersion in the country that gave birth to this fascinating zodiac system!

Guilin is the perfect location to embark on your Mandarin learning journey.

Year of the Dragon vocabulary

ChinesePinyinEnglish
生肖shēngxiàothe animals of the Chinese zodiac
农历nónglìChinese calendar
你属什么?Nǐ shǔ shénme?What (Chinese zodiac) sign are you?
我属龙。Wǒ shǔ lóng.I was born under the sign of the dragon.
lóngdragon
玉皇YùhuángJade Emperor
黄河Huáng HéYellow River
长江Cháng JiāngYangtze River
珠江Zhū JiāngPearl River
黑龙江Hēilóng JiāngAmur River

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