What's Your Sign: An Introduction to the Chinese Zodiac


My mom is a pretty up-to-date mom as far as things go. She video-chats with her siblings in Taiwan and her granddaughter in California, checks her email and stock prices on her iPhone and pays her bills online. But one seemingly antiquated thing she holds hard and fast to? The two paper calendars hanging above her desk. One of these calendars is a regular 365-day Gregorian calendar used in western cultures. The other is a lunar calendar that she picked up at an Asian market so that she can track Chinese New Year and Chinese birthdays.

For some families, whether it’s a big part of the celebration or a casual one, the Chinese New Year festivities include determining what kind of luck and outlook you will have for the year ahead, similar to a traditional horoscope—which is based on your zodiac animal.

Most famous in placemat form, the animals that form the Chinese Zodiac have more meaning (both traditionally and in a fun way) than meets the eye. Every birth year has one of 12 zodiac animals assigned to it, cycling every 12 years is a specific sequence. Each of these animals, exactly like your monthly horoscope sign, has personality characteristics for those born in that year along with a certain outlook for the year.

Curious about what this all means? Let’s dive in. 

Note: Lunar calendar-based years have a moving “start date” that can range depending on the moon’s phases. As a result, lunar years begin anywhere between January 21 and February 19, depending on when the New Moon appears. January and February birthdays should double check when Chinese New Year occurred during your “western” calendar birth year since it’s possible that your zodiac animal is the prior year.

  • Rat  
    • Years: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, future 2020
    • Traits: A natural leader, charming, thrifty, ambitious, and opportunistic. A little short tempered. You always finish what you set out to do.
  • Ox  
    • Years: 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, future 2021
    • Traits: Patient, easy going, methodical, strong and dependable, but stubborn. You achieve great things.
  • Tiger  
    • Years: 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, future 2022
    • Traits: Courageous, proud, enthusiastic, sensitive, energetic and passionate. With a streak of impulsiveness.
  • Rabbit  
    • Years: 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, future 2023
    • Traits: Pleasant, affectionate, caring, imaginative, talented and sometimes aloof. You’re very likable.
  • Dragon  
    • Years: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, future 2024
    • Traits: Lucky, wise, powerful, confident, wise and eccentric. You demand a lot from others.
  • Snake  
    • Years: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, future 2025
    • Traits: Wise, elegant, determined, intense and posses a snake-like ruthless quality.
  • Horse
    • Years: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, future 2026
    • Traits: Hard working, independent, energetic, popular and clever. A little egoiste. You are often the life of the party.
  • Goat  
    • Years: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, future 2027
    • Traits: Artistic, elegant, sensitive, generous, creative and moody. You enjoy the finer things in life. Sometimes goats are also referenced as a sheep or ram— which are the same word in mandarin, though notably not the same animal at all.
  • Monkey  
    • Years: 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, future 2028
    • Traits: Inventive, talented, mischievous and versatile, you’re often successful at any career you put your mind towards. 
  • Rooster  
    • Years: 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, future 2029
    • Traits: articulate, brave, ambitious, adventurous and often grandiose. You’re outgoing and extroverted.
  • Dog  
    • Years: 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, future 2030
    • Traits: Loyal, intelligent, honest faithful, confident and outspoken. You’re loyal to the core.
  • Pig  
    • Years: 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, future 2031
    • Traits: Peaceful, shy, resilient and studious with a strong personality. You have a great sense of responsibility and importance on finishing things. Also sometimes referred to as a boar.

The folklore of animal zodiacs originates from a series of ancient tales. According to one story from the book Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts by Carol Stepanchuk, when Buddha threw his last earthly party, these were the 12 animals who showed up. Another common folklore is about  a competition involving a lake crossing with these animals. The strong ox was in the lead while the lazy pig held down the tail end of the competitors—but unbeknownst to all, the sneaky rat hitched a ride on the ox and jumped to shore just before the ox crossed the finish line. This explains why every 12 year cycle begins with that cunning little rat.

This year, beginning February 16, 2018, we’ll be welcoming in the Year of the Dog. If you’ve got a birthday divisible by 12, it’s your year!

Tell us: what’s your sign? Is it accurate?


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