The Chinese Zodiac, or in Chinese shēngxiào, relates each year in a 12-year cycle to an animal and somewhat anthropomorphic attributes connected to that animal.
It is similar to the Western Zodiac in that it uses a 12-part cycle (though years, not months) and it connects attributes of that cycle to a person based on the time of their birth. Unlike the Western Zodiac, however, the Chinese Zodiac has no association with constellations.
If you don’t know what Chinese Zodiac animal you are, check this chart.
Chinese zodiac signs represent twelve different types of personalities. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so (see below). The following are the twelve zodiac signs in order and their characteristics.
- Rat – 鼠 (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water): Forthright, tenacious, intense, meticulous, charismatic, sensitive, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, artistic, shrewd. Can be manipulative, vindictive, self-destructive, mendacious, venal, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.
- Ox – 牛 (Water buffalo in Vietnam) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water): Dependable, ambitious, calm, methodical, born leader, patient, hardworking, conventional, steady, modest, logical, resolute, tenacious. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid, demanding.
- Tiger – 虎 (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish, aggressive, moody.
- Rabbit – 兔 (Cat in Vietnam) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Gracious, good friend, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious, artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, shy, astute, compassionate, lucky, flexible. Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent, opportunistic, stubborn.
- Dragon – 龍 (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, eccentric, intellectual, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, artistic, generous, loyal. Can be tactless, arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, intolerant, dogmatic, violent, impetuous, brash.
- Snake – 蛇 (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Deep thinker, wise, mystic, graceful, soft-spoken, sensual, creative, prudent, shrewd, elegant, cautious, responsible, calm, strong, constant, purposeful. Can be loner, bad communicator, possessive, hedonistic, self-doubting, distrustful, mendacious, suffocating, cold.
- Horse – 馬 (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Cheerful, popular, quick-witted, changeable, earthy, perceptive, talkative, agile—mentally and physically, magnetic, intelligent, astute, flexible, open-minded. Can be fickle, arrogant, childish, anxious, rude, gullible, stubborn.
- Sheep, Goat, or Ram – 羊 (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Righteous, sincere, sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, creative, gentle, compassionate, understanding, mothering, peaceful, generous, seeks security. Can be moody, indecisive, over-passive, worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer, weak-willed.
- Monkey – 猴 (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Inventor, motivator, improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem solver, self-assured, sociable, artistic, polite, dignified, competitive, objective, factual, intellectual. Can be egotistical, vain, arrogant, selfish, reckless, snobbish, deceptive, manipulative, cunning, jealous, suspicious.
- Rooster – 雞 (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible. Can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, proud, opinionated, given to empty bravado.
- Dog – 狗 (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Honest, intelligent, straightforward, loyal, sense of justice and fair play, attractive, amicable, unpretentious, sociable, open-minded, idealistic, moralistic, practical, affectionate, sensitive, easy going. Can be cynical, lazy, cold, judgmental, pessimistic, worrier, stubborn, quarrelsome.
- Pig – 猪 (Boar in Japan and Elephant in Northern Thailand) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water): Honest, gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working, trusting, sincere, calm, understanding, thoughtful, scrupulous, passionate, intelligent. Can be naïve, over-reliant, self-indulgent, gullible, fatalistic, materialistic.
In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs, and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals) and hours of the day (called secret animals).
To sum it up, while a person might appear to be a dragon because they were born in the year of the dragon, they might also be a snake internally and an ox secretively. In total, this makes for 8,640 possible combinations (60 year cycle (5 elements x 12 animals) x 12 months x 12 times of day) that a person might be. These are all considered critical for the proper use of Chinese astrology