The Chinese Zodiac Signs: Their Interpretation and Meaning

Lots of Americans know their Western astrological Zodiac sign. But do you know your Chinese Zodiac sign?

While both Zodiac systems have twelve different signs, the signs and the method you use to figure out your sign are very different from each other.

Here is a basic overview of the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs, how to figure yours out, and what you need to know to avoid bad luck according to Chinese astrology.

Origins of the Chinese Zodiac Signs

According to the authors of The Guide of Chinese Horoscopes, the first 2000 years of recorded ancient Chinese culture drew little distinction between astrological and scientific studies. The two pursuits were joined and they each influenced each other, and there was no distinction between astrology and astronomy.

For example, the Zodiac year was used to help predict weather patterns for crop growth. The use of Zodiac signs to tell individual fortunes wasn’t a trend until the Buddhist movement surfaced during the Han Dynasty.

Now, instead of predicting community fortunes, such as agricultural success, the culture opened their eyes to the possibilities of “greater forces at work in the mapping of individual destiny.”

While it’s recorded that this shift occurred in 150 C.E., there is no concrete origin story to the Chinese Zodiac signs, also known as Sheng Xiao. This translates to Born and Resemblance.

One of the most common legends is that the Jade Emperor announced a race to pronounce the order of 12 animals. While most expected that the ox would win without contest, the rat used his intelligence to cheat and win. He jumped on the ox’s shoulder and at the last moment, he launched himself off the shoulders of the ox and won by the tip of his nose.

The order was as follows: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

The pig came in last because he stopped for a nap and a snack on the way to the finish line.

Chinese Zodiac Signs

How the Chinese Zodiac Signs Work

Unlike the Zodiac horoscope, the Chinese Zodiac signs are based on your birth year, rather than the time of the year. However, they are not based on the Gregorian calendar. But the Chinese calendar.

In China, this is the same thing as the Lunar Year. It begins with Chinese New Year, which starts on the sunset of the second New Moon after the winter solstice. As it’s based on lunar cycles, the date changes from year to year. It can begin anywhere from January 21 to February 21.

Each animal sign corresponds to different personality traits. If you were born between March and December, it’s rather easy to figure out your Chinese Zodiac sign. If you were born in January or February, it’s best to look up your birth year to know on what date the Lunar calendar began.

While you may think that the year your sign – also known as your Ben Ming Nian – returns would be an indication of good luck, it’s actually the opposite. On your 12th, 24th, 36th, 48th, and every other 12th year, you need to be careful not to make major life choices. Try to avoid buying a house or making a huge career move during your sign’s year. Accidents and misfortunes can easily befall you during your sign’s year.

This fear of misfortune comes from the belief that encountering your sign’s Zodiac year will offend Tai Sui, the God of Age. According to Chinese astrology, Tai Sui is represented by a celestial body corresponding with the position of Jupiter.

Not Every Year Is The Same

However, not every year is exactly the same. Like the horoscope Zodiac signs, planetary shifts and the elements will influence the luck of the year as well. Instead of the Western horoscope Zodiac’s four elements – earth, water, fire, and air – the Chinese Zodiac has five. Metal is the fifth element in this system.

There are ways to persuade the bad luck to pass you over during your Ben Ming Nian, however. You can wear talismans of jade, crystal, or gold. You could also wear the ever-lucky red. Also, you can directly appease the god himself by worshipping in a Tai Sun temple. So if you’re going to start a new business during your sign’s year, you’d better wear a red suit, a jade necklace, and head to the closest Tai Su temple.

2022 Year of the Tiger

Common Traits of Each Zodiac Sign

Each of the Zodiac signs has their own personality traits. Here is a basic overview of their characteristics.

Year of the Rat

Birth years: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

The rat’s cunning was what won him the race. This ambition is what drives people born during the year of the rat. They have charm, love to talk with others, and know how to make their way in the world. While they’re willing to talk with just about everyone, they are private people. They think critically and are frugal with their time and money.

Year of the Ox

Birth years: 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

While the rat won through cunning, the ox came in second through hard work and strength. They push for what they want, do the work they need to do to get it done, but they’re gentle with those around them. They’re reliable and patient, but do have the tendency to be materialistic and stubborn.

Year of the Tiger

Birth years: 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010

The tiger exhibits just the traits you would expect from such a fierce beast. They are confident, brave, and idealistic. You are drawn to their magnetic personality and tendency to seek thrills. All these enamoring traits come with a bit of a drawback; they can sometimes be arrogant and selfish.

Year of the Rabbit

Birth years: 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Just like the tiger, the traits of the year of the rabbit are similar to the animal itself. Kind, sensitive, but timid: the rabbit sign can also be artistic, romantic, and refined. Part of being timid can come with a scrutiny that can be perceived as judgment.

Year of the Dragon

Birth years: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

People born during the year of the dragon are loud and proud of their identity. They’re outspoken on their beliefs, generous with what they have to offer, and energetic when they get excited about their passions. They’re extremely intelligent perfectionists that can tend toward egocentrism and impatience.

Year of the Snake

Birth years: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

The snake is clever and cunning. They’re curious, ready to adventure and discover what’s out there. They’re alluring, calculating, wise, and can grow jealous when provoked.

Year of the Horse

Birth years: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

The year of the horse was made for people who are independent and persuasive. They’re amusing and enthusiastic, which makes them fun to be around. They can also be irresponsible and moody if you catch them at the wrong hour. They’re opportunistic and will take any chance they get to move ahead, regardless of what their goal is.

Year of the Goat/Sheep

Birth years: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

The goat, or sheep, are great friends to have. They’re easygoing, empathetic, and cheerful, which makes them delightful to be around. They have a creative mind, but that mind can also be disorganized, impulsive, and sometimes lazy.

Year of the Monkey

Birth years: 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Someone born under the sign of the monkey is fun to hang with. They’re entertaining, sociable, and intelligent, so spending time with them can lead to interesting conversations. They can also be fickle and unpredictable, keeping most of their secrets to themselves.

Year of the Rooster

Birth years: 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

The year of the rooster is for the proud. This sign can be boastful and self-involved, strutting about like they own the place. They also have a sense of adventure and can be charitable if the mood strikes them. They are funny and loyal to those they hold dear, but they tend to be argumentative.

Year of the Dog

Birth years: 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

When you think of the year of the dog, think of the traits of a golden retriever: helpful, honest, and trustworthy. They are entirely unselfish; they’ll do anything for a friend, and even do things for those they aren’t close to. They can also come from a place of uncertainty. They can be timid, anxious, and pessimistic.

Year of the Pig

Birth years: 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

And finally: the year of the pig. While their origin story is less than favorable, the pig is actually a caring, generous, and intelligent sign. It takes intelligence to know when you need to stop and refuel. They’re outgoing, which can make them fun to spend time with. However, they can grow fearful and impatient if pushed, and they tend towards materialism.

The Elements of the Chinese Zodiac Signs

However, knowing the year of your Zodiac sign does not give you the full picture. You can also analyze the philosophy of the Five Elements. This philosophy comes from the concept of Wu Xing. It’s not the elements in a scientific sense. It’s about the energy that flows through all interactions.

Once you figure out your Zodiac animal sign, you need to look up the element that your specific birth year had: metal, water, wood, fire, or earth. They each come with their own traits as well. Each year has a fixed sign; for example, every year that ends in 0 or 1 is a metal year.


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 0 or 1

Like the physical metal, the trait means “solidity and willpower.”


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 2 or 3

Just as water adapts to those around it, the element of water is that of responsiveness and persuasion.


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 4 or 5

Think about all that you can create with a stroke of a pen on a piece of paper. Those are the traits of wood: imagination and creativity.


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 6 or 7

Like a fire can burst forth with heat, the element of fire is passionate and filled with bursts of dynamic energy.


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 6 or 7

The element of earth is all about grounding. This element is about focus and commitment.

Chinese Zodiac Years

What Is My Chinese Zodiac Sign?

Your birth year is what determines your Chinese Zodiac sign. Remember, you need to take a look at the Chinese Lunar year, not the Gregorian calendar that runs from January 1 to December 31.

Taking a look at your Chinese Zodiac sign in addition to your Western horoscope Zodiac can help you understand yourself. Even if you don’t agree that you have all the traits present in either of your signs, the act of self reflection can reveal a lot about yourself.

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Author, Artist, Photographer.

Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.

She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.

She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.


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