The Chinese Zodiac

Updated July 28, 2023 | Infoplease Staff
Chinese zodiac
Commemorative Stamp-Chinese New Year

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Chinese New Year Dates, 2005-2030

  • 2005 — Feb. 9
  • 2006 — Jan. 29
  • 2007 — Feb. 18
  • 2008 — Feb. 7
  • 2009 — Jan. 26
  • 2010 — Feb. 14
  • 2011 — Feb. 3
  • 2012 — Jan. 23
  • 2013 — Feb. 10
  • 2014 — Jan. 31
  • 2015 — Feb. 19
  • 2016 — Feb. 8
  • 2017 — Jan. 28
  • 2018 — Feb. 16
  • 2019 — Feb. 5
  • 2020 — Jan. 25
  • 2021 — Feb. 12
  • 2022 — Feb. 1
  • 2023 — Jan. 22
  • 2024 — Feb. 10
  • 2025 — Jan. 29

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You might have heard of the Lunar or Chinese New Year, and the associated animal that is celebrated annually.

Each of these animals makes up the Chinese zodiac, which is also known as shēngxiào or 生肖 in Chinese. The featured animals were originally selected in ancient China because of important cultural legends, and each has characteristics that are believed to influence a person’s personality — in other words, the Chinese horoscope.

Read on for more information on the animals of the Chinese zodiac, horoscope information, and what the Chinese New Year is currently!

The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac

Considering that the Chinese zodiac was created thousands of years ago, it is not surprising that there are several interpretations of its origin. But most agree that the 12 animals on the Chinese zodiac calendar were the animals that appeared in response to an invitation to a celebration from Buddha or the Jade Emperor.

Another legend says that the animals fought over their place on the calendar. In order to fairly resolve the conflict, the gods had them hold a “Great Race” across a river. The order of the animals on the calendar reflects their completion of the race — the rat placing first and the pig finishing last.

This is why the Year of the Rat comes first in the cycle and the Year of the Pig comes last, as the order of these animals in the zodiac seems to have been set by the era of the Han Dynasty, from 9 to 220 A.D.

Although Buddha is the central figure in many stories about the origin of the Chinese zodiac, evidence suggests the Chinese zodiac predates Buddhism. Early Chinese astronomers devised a system based on the 12-year orbit of Jupiter to tell time. The system included 12 earthly branches and existed long before Buddhism.

Chinese Calendar Animals

Unlike the Gregorian calendar used in China today, the traditional Chinese calendar features a cyclical dating method that repeats every 60 years. The calendar is based on two cycles that interact with each other — the Chinese zodiac, which is divided into 12 parts, and the five elements. The five elements are metal, water, wood, fire, and earth.

Each year of the Chinese Zodiac is represented by a different animal: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The five elements are assigned to the 12 animals (years), giving different characteristics to each animal (year). Assigning each of the five elements to the 12 years creates 60 different combinations that result in a 60-year cycle.

Either the same zodiac calendar or variations on the cycle remain popular in many countries around China, including Thailand, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and more.

The Five Elements, Yin, and Yang

Much of Chinese philosophy is built around five elements and the belief that they interact with natural phenomena. The five elements, including metal, water, wood, fire, and earth, have existed in Chinese culture for thousands of years, and affect the Chinese zodiac, as each element has different traits.

Characteristics of the five elements are assigned to the 12 animal signs, creating 60 possible characteristic combinations. The concept of Yin and Yang also affects the Chinese Zodiac by assigning opposing forces to each animal sign — odd years are Yin years and even years are Yang years. Yin is perceived as earth, female, dark, and passive. Yang is perceived as male, heaven, light, and active.

Chinese Zodiac Signs and Personalities

Horoscopes were developed around animal signs to predict personality traits and destiny. Each animal is known to have certain characteristics that a person born under the sign would demonstrate.

In particular, the year a person is born determines their animal sign. For example, the tiger is a person's animal sign if they were born in the Year of the Tiger.

These animal signs are also assigned by month and hours of the day, which are also broken up into increments of 12. It is important to remember that when determining the hour in which you were born, these hours are not based on local time, but in relation to the Sun's location, according to the Chinese zodiac. —

Additionally, the good or bad luck of a year depends on Chinese astrology and whether the current year shares the same animal as the year a person is born. For example, “Ben Ming Nian” is the term for a year with an identical animal to your birth year, and is considered bad luck; “Tai Sui” refers to a year where Jupiter is not in a favorable position for certain zodiac signs.

Chinese Zodiac Animal Personality Traits

The following is a quick guide to each of the animals of the zodiac and their individual personality influences.

  • Rat: Quick-witted, smart, charming, and persuasive.
  • Ox: Patient, kind, stubborn, and conservative.
  • Tiger: Authoritative, emotional, courageous, and intense.
  • Rabbit: Popular, compassionate, and sincere.
  • Dragon: Energetic, fearless, warm-hearted, and charismatic.
  • Snake: Charming, gregarious, introverted, generous, and smart.
  • Horse: Energetic, independent, impatient, and enjoy traveling.
  • Sheep: Mild-mannered, shy, kind, and peace-loving.
  • Monkey: Fun, energetic, and active.
  • Rooster: Independent, practical, hard-working, and observant.
  • Dog: Patient, diligent, generous, faithful, and kind.
  • Pig: Loving, tolerant, honest, and appreciative of luxury.

What Is My Chinese Zodiac?

The primary 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac features one animal per year. Because these animals also feature strongly in Chinese astrology and the birth year of an individual person, it determines personality traits, success, and warning signs. Furthermore, the element attached to a certain birth year and whether it falls under Yin or Yang also makes a difference to how a person acts.

The animal zodiac years, elements, and Yin/Yang cycle (as well as their incidences between 1948 and 2031) include the following:

Animal Element Yin or Yang Character

Year of the Rat



鼠, shǔ

Year of the Ox



牛, niú

Year of the Tiger



虎, hǔ

Year of the Rabbit



兔, tù

Year of the Dragon



龙/龍, lóng

Year of the Snake



蛇, shé

Year of the Horse



马/馬, mǎ

Year of the Goat



羊, yáng 

Year of the Monkey



猴, hóu

Year of the Rooster



鸡/雞, jī

Year of the Dog



狗, gǒu

Year of the Pig



猪/豬, zhū

Which one is yours?

What Year Is 2023 in Chinese Zodiac?

On January 22, 2023, the Chinese New Year was celebrated and a new annum was launched. The year 2023 is known as the rabbit year, or when combined with the associated element, the Year of the Water Rabbit.

The Chinese Zodiac Cycle and You

Now you have a good grasp of why the Chinese 12-year cycle is important, both historically and culturally.

So, you might not be surprised by how much faith some people have in the Lunar New Year and how it affects your horoscope, depending on the Chinese zodiac animal associated with each annum. People often put stock in the relationship between a lunar calendar and individual personality traits, particularly when it comes to the Chinese horoscope.

And for anyone who believes in western astrology and best matches based on your year of birth, how connected do you feel with Chinese zodiac compatibility? And if you want to discover more about the Lunar New Year, check out our quiz on Chinese Traditions or the History of Chinese New Year!

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