Animal Signs of the Chinese Zodiac
A selection of 100 Chinese words that represent the essence of traditional Chinese culture, reflect its extensive and profound nature from different angles, and help people overseas better understand China and Chinese culture.
The Shēngxiào (Chinese: 生肖, literally “birth likeness”), also known in English as the Chinese zodiac (“zodiac” derives from the similar concept in Western Astrology and means “circle of animals”), is a scheme and systematic plan of future action, that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to a 12-year cycle. It remains popular in several East Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
Identifying this scheme using the term “zodiac” reflects several similarities to the Western zodiac: both have time cycles divided into 12 parts, each labels at least the majority of those parts with names of animals, and each is widely associated with a culture of attributing influence of a person’s relationship to the cycle upon their personality and/or events in their life. Nevertheless, there are major differences: the “Chinese” 12-part cycle corresponds to years rather than months. The Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 animals, whereas some of the signs in the Western zodiac are not animals, despite the implication of the Greek etymology of “zodiac”. The animals of the Chinese zodiac are not associated with constellations, let alone those spanned by the ecliptic plane.
- Rat – 鼠 (子) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water)
- Ox – 牛 (丑) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water)
- Tiger – 虎 (寅) (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
- Rabbit – 兔 or 兎 (卯) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
- Dragon – 龍 / 龙 (辰) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
- Snake – 蛇 (巳) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
- Horse – 馬 / 马 (午) (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
- Goat – 羊 (未) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
- Monkey – 猴 (申) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
- Rooster – 雞 / 鸡 (酉) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
- Dog – 狗 / 犬 (戌) (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
- Pig – 豬 / 猪 (亥) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water)
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), by day (called true animals) and hours (called secret animals).
Depending on the source, the Goat is sometimes interchangeable with a Sheep or Ram.