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Suzanne White

Author • Adventuress • Astrologer


Chinese Astrology (Zodiac Signs)

Year of the Rat

Unlike Western Sun Signs, Chinese Astrological Signs are simply based on the year of your birth. The Chinese signs go through 12 year cycles, starting with Rat and ending with Pig. Keep reading to consult our complete chart of Chinese astrology signs by year, from 1900 to the present day.  

NOTE: If you were born in January or February, check your exact date of birth on the Chinese Calendar. The Chinese New Year is later than ours. Your birthday may fall in the previous Chinese Year.

More About Chinese Astrology & What Makes it Different

We tend to use the terms astrology and zodiac almost interchangeably. Yet the Chinese zodiac is literally represented as a circle of animals, and is not very astral at all. Chinese astrology looks to philosophy, the calendar, the cosmos and the rhythms of nature for its ideas and predictions about events and personal character. Western astrology, on the other hand, looks heavenward to the stars. Western astrologers chart the positions and movements of heavenly configurations to draw conclusions about both nature and the future.

Western astrological signs are monthly. Each of this system's signs has a different heaven-inspired mythological name and corresponds to a period equivalent to a single moon cycle. If you were born the in moon cycle period labeled Aquarius, then in western astrological terms you are an Aquarian.

Chinese zodiac signs are annual. Each Chinese sign has a different animal name and corresponds to a period equivalent to an entire Chinese calendar year. If you were born in a yearlong period which the Chinese label the Dragon Year, then in Chinese astrological terms you are a Dragon. 

How are Chinese Signs Calculated, Exactly?

In Chinese astrology there are no intricate charts to draw up or elusive rising signs to calculate. But there is one tricky aspect to consider. The Chinese New Year falls on a different date every year. This holiday can occur as early as mid-January or not until late February.

So, if you were born in either January or February; that is, if you are either Capricorn or Aquarius in western astrology, please consult the Chinese Calendar at the top of this page to find out whether your particular birthdate falls into the previous or the new Chinese year. Once you have determined your Chinese zodiac sign, you need only read the chapter that corresponds to you. You will see that knowing the characteristics of your Chinese Animal sign will set you on the path to a whole new understanding of yourself.

The Chinese animal symbols are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. These animals always appear in the same order.

The Five Elements in the Chinese System: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water

To allow for movement to occur and bring about change, Chinese philosophy calls upon the five elements as agents of change and reaction. Change, the Chinese think, derives from the influence of the five main elements—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water—on the basic Yin or Yang energies. Like in the old rock, paper, scissors game that we played as kids, each of these five Chinese elements has the ability to control and/or destroy the previous element, and is capable of producing the element that directly follows it. In the regenerative cycle of the elements, Water engenders Wood. Wood begets Fire. Fire burns to Earth. Earth creates Metal and Metal gives way to Water.

Wood is characterized by the color green. Wood heralds the beginning of life, springtime and buds, sensuality and fecundity. Wood’s influence affects the liver, the gallbladder and, by extension, the digestion. Wood needs moisture to thrive. Its two opposite yet equally emotional forces are rage and altruism. The Wood person will be expansive, outgoing and socially conscious.

Wood, in its turn, can create and nourish Fire. Fire’s signatory color is red. Fire is hot weather, satisfaction of nature, aridity and dust. The tongue and the small intestine are the centers of attention in the Fire person’s body. Fire makes heat, which either warms or burns. The Fire person must constantly seek to balance a tendency to explode and possibly destroy, against a desire to create coziness and warmth. Passionate by nature, this impatient, ebullient person must strive to keep his flame under control.

Earth is created from the ashes of the Fire. Now we are in the soothingly satisfying late summer cycle. Earth’s favorite color is yellow, which represents the equanimity between beginnings and. endings. The weather of Earth is mild or temperate. In the human body, Earth influences spleen, pancreas and mouth. Earth’s two opposite but equal forces which need to be kept in constant balance are enhancing and smothering. On the one hand Earth gives care and allows for growth and improvement. On the other, Earth buries roots and snuffs out breath. Earth people are gifted for fairness and have the ability to commit themselves to protracted projects and complete Herculean tasks with ease. They must struggle against a penchant for worry.

The Earth grows Metal in her veins. Metal says white and autumn. Metal is cool, crisp weather. Metal’s effect on the body centers in the lungs and respiratory system. It only secondarily rules the large intestine and the nose. Metal people like to communicate. They need to keep discord and harmony in constant balance. Metal signifies the onset of winter. Its influence can sometimes add sadness or gloom to an astrological chart. Two of Metal’s emotional forces are melancholy and romance. I see Metal as Wagnerian. Metal people must guard against a tendency to wallow in nostalgia.

Lastly, Metal begets Water—groundwater trickling its way through layers of the Earth’s ore. Water’s color is blue. Its season is full-blown winter. Water is always moving, fluid, and mutational. In our bodies, water’s influence affects our plumbing systems, the kidneys and the bladder. The ear, too, comes under the spell of Water. Hence people born in Water-ruled years are frequently musical. They pick up on everything. Be it good or bad, they never miss a vibe. Water-ruled creatures are always very sensitive and sometimes even mentally fragile. The downside of Water’s influence, then, is a stressful nervousness. To balance that fidgety, squeamish, overly sensitive side, Water endows its subjects with the noblest quality of all, kindness and sympathy. Sometimes too permeable, the Water-ruled must take precautions against drowning in the chagrin of those they see as less fortunate than themselves.

So, the five elements cause the commotion and are responsible for creating and maintaining both balance and imbalance—for moving things around and making life interesting. These purveyors of change can be controlled or not, depending on how one manages them.

Each animal year of the Chinese zodiac has been assigned one of the five elements. That element turns up twice in the cycle going away for another ten years. The five elements are always presented in the above order. Once we know this, we can understand how the elements directly affect us and pertain to individual characters.

A (Very) Short History of Chinese Astrology

At first, when I, learned about Chinese astrology, I found the choice of these animals odd. Yet, when I considered the agrarian society that existed in early China, it began to make perfect sense. The philosophers needed to make concrete their findings about how each of twelve individual years balances the power between Yin and Yang. They used familiar animals that were most characteristic of the style or tone of that year. Take the Ox year, for example. It’s the second year of the twelve-year cycle. The Ox year is a traditionally slow-moving, hard-working year, suggesting a predominance of Yin over Yang. To depict it in the zodiac, the Chinese chose the slow and stubborn yet familiar beast of labor, the Water Buffalo or Ox, a Yin creature.

For the bombastic and festive fifth year of the cycle, they naturally chose the noisy, mythical Dragon. The frisky seventh year is called Horse. Some of the animals are not so familiar to us now as they were back then in rural China. For example, we find rats despicable. Yet, in a barnyard setting, a rat is a very respected beast. Yes, he is invasive, but he is also powerful, protects his own and knows how to hoard food. In times of famine, the Rat is king. He takes first place in the zodiac cycle.

Since the beginning of recorded Chinese time, 2637 B.C., the animal sequence has recurred faithfully every twelve years. It always begins with the Rat and ends with the Pig. And—to make things even more convenient for us twentieth-century Westerners—1900 was a Rat year. That means that the next Rat year was 1912 and 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984 were all Rat years. Anybody born in any of these years is a Rat.

Ready to learn what your own Chinese animal sign is? Go back to the top of the page and enter your birthdate to find out. Then learn what your New Astrology™ sign is at this page.