China is a great place to travel and study for a variety of different reasons, and at the top of the list is the country’s rich culture. One important aspect of Chinese culture is the Chinese zodiac, which refers to a traditional 12-year astrological calendar based on lunar phases. The zodiac signs change with the Chinese New Year, which is a major Chinese holiday.

The Chinese calendar repeats every 12 years in an ongoing cycle. Typically, a specific animal (a zodiac sign) is used to represent each year. Exploring the significance of the Chinese zodiac and the specific personality characteristics represented by each animal can be a fun and interesting way to learn more about Chinese culture.

Finding Your Chinese Zodiac Animal: A Quick Guide

All you need to do to find your own zodiac sign is to match your year of birth with its corresponding zodiac animal. Doing so can also help you determine the element that matches your zodiac sign.

Here’s a quick guide showing recent years and their corresponding Zodiac animals and elements:

Zodiac AnimalElementRecent Years
Rat, 鼠, shǔWater, 水, shuǐ1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Ox, 牛, niúEarth, 土, tǔ1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Tiger, 虎, hǔWood, 木, mù1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Rabbit, 兔, tùWood, 木, mù1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Dragon, 龙, lóngEarth, 土, tǔ1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Snake, 蛇, shéFire, 火, huǒ1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Horse, 马, mǎFire, 火, huǒ1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Ram, 羊, yángEarth, 土, tǔ1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Monkey, 猴, hóuMetal, 金, jīn1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Rooster, 鸡, jīMetal, 金, jīn1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Dog, 狗, gǒuEarth, 土, tǔ1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Pig, 猪, zhūWater, 水, shuǐ1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

The Importance of the Chinese Zodiac

The zodiac concept has been traditionally used by Chinese fortune tellers to determine if a given person will be lucky in a given year or not. Some people also use zodiac animals to determine whether or not their personality is compatible with other people. Usually, it’s believed that each zodiac animal interacts positively or negatively with others.

The animal signs are compared based on their position on the zodiac clock, where the 12 zodiac signs represent different hours of the clock and different months of the year. In this case, animals that are four hours apart are considered more compatible than those that are 6 hours apart. For instance, rats (positioned at 11 pm – 1 am) are most compatible with other rats, monkeys (placed at 3 pm – 5 pm), or dragons (positioned at 7 am – 9 am). However, rats are considered to be least compatible with horses (placed at 11 am – 1 pm) and rabbits (set at 5 am – 7 am).

Last but not least, Chinese zodiac animals have historically been used to explain human personalities. Each of the 12 zodiac animals is connected with a certain set of personality traits which will be discussed later on in this article.

The History of the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac is suggested to have originated during the Zhanguo Era (475 BC – 221BC). However, it wasn’t until the reign of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 202 AD) that the popularity of the Chinese astrological calendar really started to grow.

There are several different theories and popular stories explaining the origin of the Chinese zodiac animals, and so understanding its origins can get confusing. One popular theory argues that the Chinese zodiac originated from the Silk Road and that the various animals of the zodiac represent those that were originally brought to China by Indian Buddhists.

Another popular theory mentions the legendary Jade Emperor (Buddha). It’s argued that he invited all the world’s animals to a banquet, but only 12 turned up. As a result, he decided to honor the 12 (popularly known as the 12 Chinese zodiac animals) by dedicating a year on the calendar to each animal.

There’s also another version that argues that Buddha wanted 12 guards to protect his palace and so he organized a race that involved all the animals. In the end, however, only the first 12 were chosen, and they are the ones that now represent the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.

The 12 Zodiac Animals

Those who believe the zodiac origin story involving invitations to the Jade Emperor’s banquet described above argue that the order in which the animals arrived at the banquet is what determines the order in which the animals now appear in the Chinese zodiac.

The traditional order of the 12 zodiac animals is listed below:

  1. Rat
  2. Ox
  3. Tiger
  4. Rabbit
  5. Dragon
  6. Snake
  7. Horse
  8. Ram
  9. Monkey
  10. Rooster
  11. Dog
  12. Pig

 

The 12 Zodiac Animals and Their Personality Traits

All 12 Chinese zodiac animals possess both good and bad traits as described below. People born in a year corresponding to a given animal are also believed to possess these traits.

1. Rat

Positive traits: The rat is believed to be smart and curious, and some argue that this explains why it was the first to arrive at the emperor’s banquet. Other positive traits associated with the animal include cleverness, persuasiveness, and generosity.

Negative traits: The rat zodiac sign is, unfortunately, associated with individuals who are uptight and monotonous.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the year of the rat include Katy Perry (American singer) and Prince Harry (Duke of Sussex).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Rat are believed to be more compatible with those born in the Year of the Rat, Monkey, and Dragon.

2. Ox

Positive traits: The ox might be a stubborn animal, but it also possesses impressive attributes like reliability and protectiveness. Sometimes, this sign is associated with leadership skills and being goal-oriented.

Negative traits: The ox sign is thought to symbolize people who are private and those who hold grudges silently.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the year of the ox include Barack Obama (former U.S president) and George Clooney (American actor)

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Ox are believed to be more compatible with people born in the Year of the Ox, Rooster, and Snake.

3. Tiger

Positive traits: Tigers are powerful animals. Thus, this sign is associated with people who are natural-born leaders. Other characteristics demonstrated by those with this sign include bravery and warm-heartedness.

Negative traits: People born in the year of the tiger are thought to be moody and hot-tempered at times.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Tiger include Tom Cruise (American actor) and Marilyn Monroe (American actress).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Tiger are more compatible with people born in the Year of the Tiger, Dog, and Horse.

4. Rabbit

Positive traits: Considered by many to be a sensitive and compassionate animal, the rabbit also possesses attributes like kindness and popularity.

Negative traits: The downside of this zodiac sign is that it’s associated with people who can’t defend themselves when facing an argument.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Rabbit include Angelina Jolie (American actress) and Brad Pitt (American actor).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Rabbit are more compatible with those born in the Year of the Rabbit, Pig, and Goat.

5. Dragon

Positive traits: The dragon demonstrates natural leadership, power, and charisma. This zodiac sign is also associated with naturally lucky people.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Dragon are thought to be self-centered at times.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Dragon include Rihanna (singer and actress) and Bruce Lee (martial artist).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Dragon are more compatible with those born in the Year of the Dragon, the Rat, and the Snake.

6. Snake

Positive traits: The snake symbolizes generosity and mental sharpness. Individuals born in this year are also thought to be analytical and good with money.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Snake are often considered distrustful, jealous, and insecure.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Snake include Muhammad Ali (American pro boxer) and Daniel Radcliffe (English actor).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Snake are more compatible with those born in the Year of the Snake, Ox, and Rooster.

7. Horse

Positive traits: Horses are thought to be self-reliant and energetic. Thus, people born in the Year of the Horse possess these two traits in addition to a love for travel.

Negative traits: Those born in the Year of the Horse are thought to be impatient.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Horse include American actresses Katie Holmes and Kristen Stewart.

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Horse are more compatible with those born in the Year of the Horse, Tiger, and Dog.

8. Ram

Positive traits: Rams are thought to be loving and supportive animals. Also, those with this zodiac sign demonstrate attributes like creativity and beauty.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Ram are thought to be unorganized and unrealistic in their expectations.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Ram include Bruce Willis (American actor) and Nicole Kidman (American-Australian actress).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Ram are more compatible with those born in the Year of the Ram, the Rabbit, and the Pig.

9. Monkey

Positive traits: Those with this zodiac sign often demonstrate excellent listening skills and energy. Individuals born in this year are also usually cheerful people.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Monkey are thought to hate commitments and are often heartbreakers.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Monkey include Tom Hanks (American actor) and Daniel Craig (English actor).

Compatibility: People born in the Year of the Monkey are more compatible with other people born in the Year of the Monkey, the Dragon, and the Rat.

10. Rooster

Positive traits: The rooster symbolizes straightforwardness and honesty. It’s also associated with practical individuals and perfectionists.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Rooster are thought to be materialistic.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Rooster include Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge) and Britney Spears (American singer).

Compatibility: Those born in the Year of the Rooster are more compatible with others born in the Year of the Rooster, the Ox, and the Snake.

11. Dog

Positive traits: This zodiac sign is thought to symbolize loyalty, and it’s also linked to attributes like sensitivity, attention to detail, and honesty.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Dog are thought to be emotionally insecure and judgmental.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Dog include Madonna (American singer) and Winston Churchill (former British Prime Minister).

Compatibility: Those born in the Year of the Dog are more compatible with others born in the Year of the Dog, the Horse, and the Tiger.

12. Pig

Positive traits: Pigs are thought to demonstrate good manners and intelligence. Additionally, this zodiac sign is associated with tastefulness.

Negative traits: People born in the Year of the Pig are thought to be incapable of making tough choices.

Representative individuals: Well-known people born in the Year of the Pig include former U.S First Lady Hillary Clinton and former Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Compatibility: Those born in the Year of the Pig are more compatible with others born in the Year of the Pig, the Goat, and the Rabbit.

The Five Elements and the Chinese Zodiac

According to traditional Chinese philosophy, there are also five elements that can be used to represent all living things (including Chinese zodiac animals).

Fire: Symbolizes decisiveness, innovativeness, dynamism, and joy

Water: Symbolizes flexibility, diplomacy, kindness, and persuasiveness

Earth: Symbolizes honesty, prudence, and hard work

Metal: Symbolizes independence, ambition, and strength

Wood: Symbolizes warmth, elegance, sensitivity, and generosity

Check the table in the next section to match the 12 zodiac animals with their corresponding elements.

Image Credit: The Elements of the Chinese Zodiac © Parnassus