Chinese, History & Culture

Chinese Zodiac Signs; origins & characteristics

The Chinese horoscope plays an interesting role in influencing the culture and community in Taiwan. In general, the zodiac provides indications about how people live their lives. For example, some find their companions and friends by looking for someone whose zodiac sign is compatible with theirs. They also use it to know who they would get along and work best with. This article will mention the legend of each Chinese astrological sign, their meanings, how to be lucky in your sign’s year, which signs are more compatible with you, and of course plenty of Chinese vocabulary for you to learn.

What is my Chinese astrological sign?

The cycle of the Chinese zodiac or horoscope repeats every 60 years. Within this time frame, there are five periods of twelve years each.

Most people believe that a year of the Chinese zodiac begins on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar. Chinese New Year falls between mid-January and the end of February. In 2024, it will fell on February 10.

However, some astrologers believe that a new year of the zodiac begins with the solar term “Beginning of Spring” (February 4th, 5th or 6th).

Each year of the twelve-year cycle is associated with a single zodiac animal, which repeats in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Meaning of each Chinese astrological sign

Chinese Zodia SignChinese pronunciationCharacteristics
鼠 – Ratㄕㄨˇ – shǔquick-witted, imaginative, observant
牛 – Oxㄋㄧㄡˊ – niúdiligent, strong, determined
虎 – Tigerㄏㄨˇ – hǔbrave, competitive, confident
兔 – Rabbitㄊㄨˋ – tùgentle, attentive, responsible
龍 – Dragonㄌㄨㄥˊ – lóngcourageous, tenacious, intelligent
蛇 – Snakeㄕㄜˊ – shédiscreet, reserved, determined
馬 – Horseㄇㄚˇ – mǎanimated, active, energetic
羊 – Goatㄧㄤˊ – yánggentle, steady, sympathetic
猴 – Monkeyㄏㄡˊ – hóuwitty, intelligent, curious
雞 – Roosterㄐㄧ – jīactive, amusing, popular
狗 – Dogㄍㄡˇ – gǒufriendly, kind, cautious
豬 – Pigㄓㄨ – zhūcalm, generous, compassionate

The five elements

The animal corresponding to the year of your birth is only one part of your Chinese zodiac profile. The philosophy of the five elements is another part. It refers to influential types of energies that influence each other through interactions.

The five elementsChinese pronunciationCharacteristics
金 – Metalㄐㄧㄣ – jīnstrong, firm, principled
水 – Waterㄕㄨㄟˇ – shuǐvariability, flexibility, interdependence
木 – Woodㄇㄨˋ – mùopen-minded, persuasive, assertive
火 – Fireㄏㄨㄛˇ – huǒpassionate, ambitious, competitive
土 – Earthㄊㄨˇ – tǔintelligent, responsible, practical

For each year, the Chinese zodiac sign is associated with a primary element: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. Each element has positive and negative qualities.

Depending on the year of birth, a person can be a Metal Monkey, a Wood Monkey, a Water Pig, an Earth Pig, and so on. The same combination of zodiac animal and element is only possible every 60 years.

For example, if you were born on March 27, 2022, you are an Earth Rabbit.

🌳 If the last digit of your birth year is 4 or 5, your element is Wood.

  • Recent years of Wood: 1974, 1975, 1984, 1985, 1994, 1995, 2004, 2005, 2014, 2015

🔥 If the last digit of your birth year is 6 or 7, your element is Fire.

  • Recent years of Fire: 1976, 1977, 1986, 1987, 1996, 1997, 2006, 2007, 2016, 2017

🪨 If the last digit of your birth year is 8 or 9, your element is Earth.

  • Recent years of Earth: 1978, 1979, 1988, 1989, 1998, 1999, 2008, 2009, 2018, 2019

⚱️ If the last digit of your birth year is 0 or 1, your element is Metal.

  • Recent years of Metal: 1970, 1971, 1980, 1981, 1990, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2010, 2011, 2020

💧 If the last digit of your birth year is 2 or 3, your element is Water.

  • Recent years of Water: 1972, 1973, 1982, 1983, 1992, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2013.

The Yin and the Yang

Yin represents shadow, feminine energy, while yang symbolizes light, masculine power.

CharacteristicsChinese zodiac signs
陰 (ㄧㄣ – yīn)Life is full of changes, ups and downs, and therefore the experience is richer.Rat, tiger, dragon, horse, monkey, dog
陽 (ㄧㄤˊ – yáng)Less changes and ups and downs in life, fewer incidents.Ox, rabbit, snake, goat, rooster, pig

Add the qualities of one to the strengths of the other, and you will find your balance. 🙂

The Great Race

Long ago in China, the Jade Emperor decided that a way to measure time was needed. On his birthday, he announced to the animals that there would be a swimming race. The first 12 animals to cross the fast-flowing river would be the winners, and a year of the zodiac would be named after each of them.

All the animals lined up along the riverbank. The rat and the cat, who were good friends, were worried as they were poor swimmers. They asked the sturdy buffalo if he could help them cross the river.

“Of course,” said the kind buffalo. “Climb onto my back, and I will carry you across.”

The rat and the cat jumped onto the buffalo’s back and were very enthusiastic when the buffalo led the way. They were almost at the other side when the rat pushed the cat into the water, leaving him to fend for himself. Just as the buffalo was about to win the race, the rat 🐭 jumped onto his head and onto the bank to finish first.

“Well done,” said the Jade Emperor to the proud rat. “The first year of the zodiac will be named after you.”

The poor buffalo 🐂 had been tricked into coming second, and the second year of the zodiac was named after him.

Shortly after, the tiger 🐯, exhausted, made his way to the riverbank to claim third place. Swimming across the river had been a huge struggle for him against the strong currents. The Emperor was so pleased with his efforts that he gave his name to the third year.

The rabbit 🐰 that came next did not swim across. He had hopped on rocks and found a floating log that brought him to the bank.

“I will be very happy to name the fourth year after you,” explained the Jade Emperor, surprised.

Just then, a kind dragon 🐉 swooped down to take fifth place. The Jade Emperor asked, “Why didn’t you win the race when you can fly?”

“I needed to make it rain because people and animals needed water to drink,” explained the dragon. “So I saw a little rabbit on a log in the water and blew a gust of wind to make the log float to the riverbank.”

“That was very kind of you. The fifth year of the zodiac will be named after you.”

The next thing the Jade Emperor heard was the sound of hooves from a horse. Just as he thought the horse would be the next animal to arrive, a sneaky snake 🐍 coiled around one of the horse’s hooves. The horse was so surprised that he jumped back, giving the snake a chance to take sixth place in the race. The poor horse 🐴 had to settle for seventh place.

Soon after, a raft arrived with the goat, the monkey, and the rooster. They explained to the Emperor how they had shared the raft that the rooster had found. The goat and monkey had removed the weeds and pushed the raft to the shore.

The Emperor was very pleased that the animals had worked together. He said that the goat 🐐 would be the eighth animal of the zodiac, the monkey 🐒 the ninth, and the rooster 🐓 the tenth.

The next animal to finish was the dog 🐶.

“Why are you so late when you are one of the best swimmers?” asked the Jade Emperor.

“The water in the river was so clean that I had to take a bath on the way,” explained the dog.

His reward was to see the eleventh year named after him.

There was still one place left in the zodiac and the emperor wondered when the last winner would arrive. Finally, he heard a grunt from the pig 🐷.

“You took a long time to cross the river,” said the emperor to the pig.

“I was hungry and stopped to eat,” explained the pig. “After the meal, I felt so tired that I fell asleep.”

“You still did well,” said the Jade Emperor.

“The last year of the zodiac will bear your name.”

As for the cat who had been pushed into the water by the rat, he finally crawled out of the water but it was too late for a year to be named after him. He felt very angry with the rat and since then, cats have never been friends with rats.

Since that day, the Chinese zodiac has followed this cycle of years named after these twelve animals.

How to introduce your zodiac sign in Chinese

Introducing your zodiac sign in Chinese can be a great way to break the ice and start a conversation with someone in Taiwan. To do so, you can start by asking the person “你是什麼生肖?” (ㄋㄧˇ ㄕˋ ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙ ㄕㄥ ㄒㄧㄠ ?), which means “What zodiac sign are you?”

If you want to introduce your own zodiac sign, you can say “我屬” (ㄨㄛˇ ㄕㄨˇ) followed by your zodiac sign. For example, if you were born in the year of the rat, you would say “我屬鼠”.

It’s important to note that in Chinese culture, zodiac signs are believed to have certain personality traits associated with them. So if you introduce your zodiac sign, the person you’re speaking with may ask you about your personality and characteristics.

Overall, introducing your zodiac sign in Chinese can be a fun way to connect with someone and learn more about Taiwanese culture.

你的生肖是什麼?(ㄋㄧˇ ㄉㄜ˙ ㄕㄥ ㄒㄧㄠ ㄕˋ ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙ ?)

What is your Chinese zodiac sign?

你属什麼?(ㄋㄧˇ ㄕㄨˇ ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙ ?)

What is your Chinese zodiac sign?

我的生肖是 (ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙ ㄕㄥ ㄒㄧㄠ ㄕˋ) + animal

My Chinese zodiac sign is (animal).

我屬 (ㄨㄛˇ ㄕㄨˇ) + animal

My Chinese zodiac sign is (animal).

我的生肖是虎 (ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙ ㄕㄥ ㄒㄧㄠ ㄕˋ ㄏㄨˇ)

我屬虎 (ㄨㄛˇ ㄕㄨˇ ㄏㄨˇ)

My Chinese zodiac sign is the Tiger.

The most popular and less popular signs

The Dragon 🐉 is the most popular Chinese zodiac sign.

The dragon is considered a symbol of good fortune in Chinese culture. It is associated with power, greatness, and leadership. People born under this zodiac sign are said to have innate leadership skills. They are born lucky and are intelligent and very ambitious.

Jack Ma, owner of Alibaba and one of China’s richest men, is a Dragon. The birth rate increases in the Year of the Dragon as everyone wants a Dragon baby.

Determination, patience, and generosity are the three main character traits of people born in the Year of the Ox 🐂. These people are extremely hardworking and lucky. They are considered one of the best Chinese zodiac signs due to their optimistic and honest nature.

People born in the Year of the Tiger 🐯 are charming, brave, and very powerful. They are also born with leadership qualities and can accomplish any work with ease and comfort.

On the other hand, some people try to avoid the Goat 🐐, as it is often seen as a follower and not a leader. The birth rate tends to decrease in Goat years.

However, many people also consider Goats to be affectionate, compassionate, and very gentle. They are persistent and goal-oriented and are role models for many.

Although the Tiger 🐯 is one of the most popular Chinese zodiac signs, people sometimes avoid having Tiger babies due to an ancient Chinese belief.

The ancient belief that the Year of the Tiger is an evil year, and that people born in the Year of the Tiger must have a fierce character, like a fierce beast, which can harm the newlyweds, has gradually evolved into “people born in the Year of the Tiger should avoid attending weddings”.

Not only are they not allowed to enter the bride’s room, but they are not allowed to be bridesmaids, and when a new baby is born, they are not allowed to enter the room to see the baby and mother, as if they are excluded from all celebrations according to traditional customs.

The concept of the God of Age

As the Chinese zodiac or horoscope repeats every 12 years, everyone will encounter their birth year at the age of 12, 24, 36, etc. It is said that people who are in their birth year (本命年 (ㄅㄣˇ ㄇㄧㄥˋ ㄋㄧㄢˊ – běn mìng nián)) will have bad luck because they offend the God of Age (犯太歲 (ㄈㄢˋ ㄊㄞˋ ㄙㄨㄟˋ – fàn tài suì)).

For example, people who were born in a Tiger year should be more careful in all aspects of life, including career, fortune, health, and love in Tiger years like 2022.

According to an ancient Chinese superstition, the best way to avoid bad luck is to wear red items, such as red underwear, red socks, and red bracelets. Red is one of the most auspicious colors in Chinese culture, as it represents prosperity, loyalty, success, and happiness. Red can ward off bad luck and evil spirits.

In addition to wearing red, you can also wear jade accessories during your zodiac year to ward off bad luck, such as pendants, earrings, rings, and bracelets.

In the past, the God of Age was installed at home and worshiped morning and night for a year, but due to the busy lives of modern people, most of them go to the temple of the God of Age to avoid bad luck and pray for a safe and problem-free year. (安太歲 (ㄢ ㄊㄞˋ ㄙㄨㄟˋ – an tài suì): worship Tai Sui in a temple to appease them.)

Chinese Zodiac Compatibility for Marriage or Love Relationships

Finally, the Chinese use the Chinese zodiac compatibility for marriage or love relationships. The attributes of your birth year sign are used to determine compatibility with other signs. Want to know if he/she is compatible with you? Check the table.

Chinese Zodiac SignCompatible with
RatRat, Buffle, Dragon, Monkey
BuffleRat, Coq, Serpent
TigerCheval, Chien, Cochon
RabbitChèvre, Chien, Cochon
DragonRat, Singe, Coq
SerpentBuffle, Coq
HorseTigre, Chèvre, Chien
GoatChèvre, Lapin, Cheval, Cochon
MonkeyRat, Dragon, Chien
RoosterBuffle, Dragon, Serpent
DogLapin, Tigre, Cheval, Singe
PigLapin, Tigre, Chèvre

Vocabulary Recap

十二生肖ㄕˊ ㄦˋ ㄕㄥ ㄒㄧㄠshí èr shēng xiào12 Chinese zodiac signs
傳說ㄔㄨㄢˊ ㄕㄨㄛchuán shuōlegend
農歷生日ㄋㄨㄥˊ ㄌㄧˋ ㄕㄥ ㄖˋnóng lì shēng rìlunar birthday
鼠、牛、虎、兔、龍、蛇ㄕㄨˇ 、 ㄋㄧㄡˊ 、 ㄏㄨˇ 、 ㄊㄨˋ 、 ㄌㄨㄥˊ 、 ㄕㄜˊshǔ, niú, hǔ, tù, lóng, shéRat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake
馬、羊、猴、雞、狗、豬ㄇㄚˇ 、 ㄧㄤˊ 、 ㄏㄡˊ 、 ㄐㄧ 、 ㄍㄡˇ 、 ㄓㄨmǎ, yáng, hóu, jī, gǒu, zhūHorse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig
金, 水, 木, 火, 土ㄐㄧㄣ , ㄕㄨㄟˇ , ㄇㄨˋ , ㄏㄨㄛˇ , ㄊㄨˇjīn, shuǐ, mù, huǒ, tǔMetal, Water, Wood, Fire, Earth
犯太歲ㄈㄢˋ ㄊㄞˋ ㄙㄨㄟˋfàn tài suìOffend the God of Age
安太歲ㄢ ㄊㄞˋ ㄙㄨㄟˋan tài suìWorship the God of Age in a temple to appease them
本命年ㄅㄣˇ ㄇㄧㄥˋ ㄋㄧㄢˊběn mìng niánThe year of your Chinese zodiac birth.
玉皇大帝ㄩˋ ㄏㄨㄤˊ ㄉㄚˋ ㄉㄧˋyù huáng dà dìJade Emperor (a Chinese deity of Taoist origin who governs other gods, linked to the sky and sovereignty)
配對ㄆㄟˋ ㄉㄨㄟˋpèi duìPairing
你的生肖是什麼?ㄋㄧˇ ㄉㄜ˙ ㄕㄥ ㄒㄧㄠ ㄕˋ ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙ ?nǐ de shēng xiào shì shén me?What is your Chinese zodiac sign?
你屬什麼?ㄋㄧˇ ㄕㄨˇ ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙ ?nǐ shǔ shén me?What is your Chinese zodiac sign?

After reading the story of the Great Race, I’m sure you can easily say the order of the Chinese zodiac! What is your Chinese zodiac sign? Do the characteristics help you understand yourself better or do they not describe you at all? You can discuss your sign with your Taiwanese friends and I’m sure they will have a lot to tell you. In particular, you now know that for some Taiwanese people, their Chinese zodiac sign helps them make decisions about their life, marriage, and career.

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