The 12 Chinese Astrology Signs and What They Mean for You
What's your Chinese zodiac sign? The animal associated with your birth year reveals a lot about your personality and the year ahead.
For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese zodiac has played an integral role in Chinese culture. You may have heard that 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox, but if you’re not familiar with Chinese traditions, you might not understand the significance of Chinese New Year and the Chinese zodiac system. While Western astrology is detailed, Chinese astrology is even more complex and nuanced, incorporating not just the 12 Chinese astrology signs, but also the five elements—earth, metal, water, wood, and fire—and yin and yang energy. But let’s begin with the basics: What are the 12 Chinese astrology signs, how did they come to be, and what do they mean for your personality?
What is the Chinese zodiac?
The Chinese zodiac, also known as Shengxiao (“born resembling”), is a repeating cycle of 12 years, and each year is represented by a different animal. In order, the 12 animals are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The order of the Chinese astrology signs is related to the most commonly accepted legend of the Chinese zodiac: the Jade Emperor’s Race. As the story goes, the Chinese emperor held a race to determine which lucky animals would have the honor of being added to the calendar. The first place winner—who ended up being the rat—would claim the first year of the 12-year cycle, and so on. Check out the luckiest birth dates for every Chinese zodiac sign.
What is my Chinese astrology sign, and what does it mean?
Juleen (Zhuqing) Wang, Student Services Advisor for Montclair State University’s School of Business, grew up in Hangzhou, China. She loves to share Chinese culture and history with her students, and she also sometimes teaches Chinese language classes. As a native to China, she and her family always clung to the superstition of the Chinese zodiac. “Nowadays,” she says, “[fewer] people care about it, but it’s still in people’s minds.” For example, zodiac traits and compatibility are often cited as reasons for why two people don’t get along. (“They’re a Tiger and an Ox—of course they’re fighting!”)
While that may sound a lot like Western astrology, Wang notes that the very nature of Western and Eastern astrology are inherently different. “In Western astrology, horoscopes change,” she explains. “Chinese astrology is pretty set in stone.” Unlike Western astrology, which is governed by the constant planetary movements, Chinese astrology is predetermined by birth year; an Ox is an Ox, and that never changes (though the personality of a Water Ox will be somewhat different from a Fire Ox). So, what does your animal sign say about you?
Birth years of the Rat: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Next year of the Rat: 2032
“We normally say Rat is smart, charming, and imaginative,” Wang says. “That’s how he got first place.” The Rat secured first place in the emperor’s legendary race by riding on the back of the Ox and jumping off just in time to cross the finish line. This enviable wit is a source of pride for people of this Chinese astrology sign. As it happens, Rat is most compatible with Ox, as well as with Dragon and Monkey.
Birth years of the Ox: 1913, 1925, 1937,1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009
Next year of the Ox: 2021
Duped by the Rat, the Ox came in second place. “Ox is very determined and generous and patient,” Wang says. “Ox is also considered very hardworking.” Those virtues will help people born in Ox years through 2021, the year of the Metal Ox, because in Chinese astrology, your year is actually considered unlucky. That’s because being born is said to antagonize a Chinese god of fortune named Tai Sui, earning you his curse. “He’s going to be against you,” Wang explains. “You’re trying to fight that monster.” One way to ward off the evils of your birth year is to wear red, an auspicious color in Chinese culture. Snakes, Rats, and Roosters are the best matches for an Ox.
Birth years of the Tiger: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010
Next year of the Tiger: 2022
“The third one is Tiger,” Wang continues. “Tiger is very adventurous. [Chinese] consider people in that year very lucky. The negative side is that Tigers can be kind of dramatic and cocky.” Interestingly, Forbes once did a study of the 400 richest Americans and found a disproportionately large number of them were Tiger babies! Tiger goes well with Dragon, Horse, and Pig.
Birth years of the Rabbit: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011
Next year of the Rabbit: 2023
Following the Tiger is the Rabbit. People born in Rabbit years are described as smart, kind, and docile. Rabbits do not get along with Snakes, which Wang knows from personal experience. “My dad was an Ox,” she reminisces. “I’m a daddy’s girl. My mom is a Rabbit and she said I bullied her!” Rabbits are said to get along famously with Dogs, Goats, Monkeys, and Pigs.
Birth years of the Dragon: 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012
Next year of the Dragon: 2024
Dragons are incredibly important to Chinese culture, so naturally, the Dragon is a very popular Chinese astrology sign. “Dragon is warmhearted and enthusiastic. The birth rate will actually even increase during that year because everyone wants a Dragon baby,” Wang reveals. “There is such a huge competition when Dragon babies need to go to college, because [they] are facing more competitors.” She also notes that Jack Ma, owner of Alibaba and one of the richest men in China, is a Dragon. Dragons pair best with Roosters, Rats, and Monkeys.
Birth years of the Snake: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013
Next year of the Snake: 2025
Next up: the Snake. “We say that Snake is like the mini Dragon, so that is very popular as well,” says Wang. “They’re very curious and wise, but they can also be jealous and greedy. Snake goes really well with Ox—and I actually married an Ox!” Dragons and Roosters are optimal matches for a Snake.
Birth years of the Horse: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014
Next year of the Horse: 2026
The horse has been one of the most influential animals in all of human history, which is why, Wang says, the Horse “is a leader and very generous as well.” People born in Horse years are also said to be talented and energetic. This Chinese astrology sign matches well with Tigers, Goats, and Rabbits.
Birth years of the Goat: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015
Next year of the Goat: 2027
Often seen as being followers and not leaders, people born in Goat years are gentle, decent, and a little timid. “Goat is actually an animal that a lot of people try to avoid, because Goat always has a hard life,” says Wang, adding that the birth rate tends to decrease in Goat years. If you’re a Goat, you’d be wise to make a match with a Horse, Rabbit, or Pig. Find out which Western zodiac sign produces the most billionaires.
Birth years of the Monkey: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016
Next year of the Monkey: 2028
Pretty much everyone loves a Monkey, likely because this is the animal most genetically linked to humans. “Monkey has really good social skills and is very humorous,” Wang says. Those two personality traits also make Monkeys playful, and even sometimes mischievous. Ox, who is patient, and Rabbit, who is kind, are ideal matches for this sign.
Birth years of the Rooster: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017
Next year of the Rooster: 2029
One can literally and figuratively set their clock by the Rooster, a sign that’s defined by reliability and consistency. For this reason, Roosters tend to do very well in Ox years, wherein hard work and determination are rewarded, and they are expected to succeed in 2021. “They are also very brave and very entertaining,” Wang says. Ox and Snake are the best matches for a Rooster. When it comes to compatibility, you may want to cross-reference your zodiacs. According to Western astrology, these are the zodiac signs that should never date each other.
Birth years of the Dog: 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018
Next year of the Dog: 2030
“Dog sign is exactly what you think about dogs,” Wang says of man’s best friend. “Dog is very loyal, playful, and selfless.” This sign is also considered practical, much like how the real animal is used for protection or bred by humans for specific purposes. Dog’s best bet for a partner is a Rabbit—someone who is as kind and loving as they are.
Birth years of the Pig: 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019
Next year of the Pig: 2031
“The last one is Pig, who is loving, happy, direct, and persuasive.” The Pig may have come in last in the emperor’s race, but this animal sign is no slouch. 2019 was the year of the Earth Pig, which was predicted to bring steadiness, wealth, and opportunity. (How was it for you?) Tigers, Rabbits, and Goats will make a Pig happy.
- Juleen (Zhuqing) Wang, Student Services Advisor for Montclair State University’s School of Business
- Travel China Guide: “Chinese Zodiac Story”
- Your Chinese Astrology: “Chinese Zodiac Five Elements”
- Travel China Guide: “Chinese Zodiac Compatibility”
- Travel China Guide: “Ben Ming Nian (Zodiac Year of Birth)”
- Forbes: “Is Success in the Stars?”
- BBC: “Enter the dragons: A baby boom for Chinese across Asia”
- South China Morning Post: “World’s three richest Chinese billionaires born in ‘lucky’ year of the dragon”
- NPR: “China Blames Goats For 2015 Drop In Birth Rate”