Chinese Zodiac Animals Complete Guide: The Race of Twelve

Chinese Zodiac Animals Complete Guide: The Race of Twelve

People can rarely guess this by looking at me, but I am half Chinese, and very proud of it! What an incredibly complex and colorful culture to claim as part of my own; the richness of the Chinese traditions and customs can be credited with many amazing advancements dating before America was even a twinkle in the world’s eye. One such aspect is the Chinese Zodiac containing the twelve animals that make up the cycle of our years past, present, and future.

Growing up, my grandmother instructed me, my brother, and my cousins in the way of traditions that have been passed down generation after generation. Usually, we’d gather around her home during Chinese New Year and welcome the new animal of the year (this year, 2014, is the Horse, which is my animal! Power to the Horses.).

We celebrated with a pyramid of oranges, red envelopes called li shis, delicious candies like sweet lotus root, and many a decoration in the shade of the Chinese lucky color, red. Of course, being a kid, I was most interested in the candied fruit, but the stories did grab my attention enough for me to be fascinated by the story of how the animals came to be in the Zodiac.

12 Chinese Zodiac Animals

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Ancient History of the Chinese Zodiac

Once upon a time, the mighty Jade Emperor decreed a great race to decide the years on the calendar. Each year would be named in the order of the animal’s place in the race. The results of the race were to be decided with a swim across the river.

Naturally, Cat and Rat weren’t too excited to hear this, as they were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. However, they brilliantly came up with the idea to ask the kind Ox for a ride on his back. Sweet-hearted Ox agreed, and off they went. However, midway across the river, Rat pushed Cat into the water. Then as Ox neared the other side of the river, Rat jumped ahead of him to the finish line, claiming first place for himself at the expense of the others.

Ox good-naturedly took second place, followed by powerful Tiger, who pulled himself out of the river, exhausted and dripping, explaining to the Jade Emperor how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents carrying him downstream. He had overcome this with his incredible strength, making him third.

Tiger was followed by the clever Rabbit, who had crossed the river by leaping from stone to stone. He had almost fallen into the river, but his luck prevailed, and he had been able to grab a floating log that later washed him to shore. So, the rabbit became fourth.

Dragon arrived next, making it fifth in the race. Of course, with his gift of swift flight, it was strange that he had not ranked first. Dragon explained to the Jade Emperor that he had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore he was held back. Then, on his way to the finish, he saw a little helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the Dragon, and he was added to the zodiac cycle.

Soon after, the sound of thundering hooves marked the arrival of Horse, who had a passenger attached to him: Snake. Snake darted to the finish line ahead of Horse, who was so startled, he reared back in fright, letting Snake slither ahead across the finish line. This made Snake sixth and Horse seventh.

Not long after, Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to finish the race. Rooster spotted a raft and took the other two animals on it with him. Together, Sheep and Monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled, and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named Sheep as the eighth creature, Monkey as the ninth, and Rooster the tenth.

The next creature to arrive was once again a surprise. Dog bounded into eleventh place, even though he was the best swimmer. However, he had enjoyed playing in the water so much, he’d gotten distracted and thus placed further back in the hierarchy.

Lastly, just as the Jade Emperor was about to call an end to the race, a little Pig scurried across the finish line. Pig had gotten hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast, and then fell asleep. After the nap, the Pig continued the race and was named the twelfth animal of the zodiac cycle.

As for the poor Cat, he made it out of the water but didn’t arrive in time to finish the race. Because Rat jeopardized his chances, it’s said that this is why cats always chase rats, trying to get vengeance for what they’ve done.

Thus goes the tale of the Chinese Zodiac; although it’s a mere myth, it provokes the imagination and helped the Chinese people piece together certain mysteries of life, such as vastly differing personalities, the Chinese zodiac elements that play such a strong role in Chinese mysticism, and the cycle of the years.

I find the topic of your Chinese Zodiac symbol to be…well, rather personal. You might identify strongly with your zodiac animal, or you might not. The guidelines they provide can be fun and interesting insights, taken as light amusements or serious considerations. Personally, I find them more of a colorful, beautiful part of my culture, rather than a way to consider my life (I ended up marrying a Rabbit instead of a Sheep, after all…oops), but it’s each individual’s choice.

Without further ado, here is the full list of the twelve, and their corresponding meanings that have been passed down for years:

Chinese Zodiac Signs

Rat鼠 (子)


  • Calendar Year: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
  • Fixed Season: Winter
  • Fixed Direction: North
  • Fixed Element: Water / Yang

The rat has the first position in the Chinese Zodiac. Rats are quick-witted, resourceful, and versatile. With strong intuition and quick response, they can easily adapt themselves to a new environment. With rich imaginations and sharp observational skills, rats are good at taking advantage of all opportunities that come their way. Rats have strong curiosity so they tend to try their hands at anything. Ladies belonging to the rat have quick minds and dexterous hands to learn anything.

As rats lack courage and insight, as well as proper command capabilities, they are not capable of being leaders. Opportunistic and picky as rats are, they do not have great minds but rather a narrow view. Rats are kind but sometimes impolite to others. People of the rat zodiac sign usually sleep late at night because mice are nocturnal animals.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Ox, Dragon, Monkey
  • Moderate Match: Dog, Rat, Sheep, Snake, Pig, Tiger
  • Worst Match: Horse, Rabbit, Rooster


牛 (丑)

  • Calendar Year: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
  • Fixed Season: Winter
  • Fixed Direction: North-Northeast
  • Fixed Element: Earth / Yin

The ox occupies the second position on the Chinese Zodiac. They are known for diligence, dependability, strength and determination. Having an honest nature, oxen show strong patriotism for their country, have ideals and ambitions for life, and attach importance to family and work. These things reflect the traditional characteristics of conservatives. Women belonging to the ox zodiac sign have traditionally been considered to be wives who attach great importance to their children’s education.

With great patience and a desire to advance, oxen can often achieve their goals after consistent efforts. They are not influenced by others or the environment but do things in accordance with their ideas and abilities. Before taking action, they will have a specific plan and detailed steps. They are also known for their strong faith and physical strength, which often leads them to success.

The most disadvantageous trait in oxen is poor communication skills. They are not good at communicating with others and sometimes think it is not worth exchanging ideas with others. They are known for being stubborn and sticking to their own ways.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Rat, Rooster, Pig, Snake
  • Moderate Match: Ox, Tiger, Monkey, Dragon, Rabbit
  • Worst Match: Sheep, Horse, Dog


虎 (寅)

  • Calendar Year: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
  • Fixed Season: Spring
  • Fixed Direction: East-Northeast
  • Fixed Element: Wood /Yang

Tigers are characterized by bravery, competitiveness, and unpredictability. With stubborn personalities and tough judgment, tigers work actively and boldly express themselves. They are authoritative and never go back on their word. With great confidence and indomitable fortitude, they can be competent leaders. They will not make preparations for anything, but they can handle anything that comes along. Tigers are naturally inclined to accept a challenge and do not like to obey others.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Pig, Dog, Rabbit, Horse, Rooster
  • Moderate Match: Sheep, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Dragon, Snake
  • Worst Match: Monkey


兔 or 兎 (卯)

  • Calendar Year: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
  • Fixed Season: Spring
  • Fixed Direction: East
  • Fixed Element: Wood/ Yin

People born under the sign of the rabbit have a tendency to be very easy going with others, offering kind advice when it is needed but never forcing their ideas onto others. While their nature is easy, it is not disorderly. Rabbits are calmest when they know what they are doing; even in the face of chaos, a rabbit can hold steady as long as they have a plan. As such, they often occupy positions in life where they are in charge of day to day operations, ensuring that projects go smoothly and plans go off without a hitch. Rabbits are also often very lucky.

Rabbits have a strong inner compass guiding their emotions. If they feel happy then they are apt to believe that everything is going well in their life rather than to question what is wrong. While when they feel sad they do not wait for it to pass but act upon it in an attempt to right the perceived wrong. The only downside of this is that the rabbit cannot just float past certain thoughts or feelings but will always stress and worry over exactly what they mean.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Dog, Pig, Tiger, Sheep
  • Moderate Match: Snake, Monkey, Ox, Dragon, Horse, Rabbit
  • Worst Match: Rooster, Rat


龍 / 龙 (辰)

  • Calendar Year: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
  • Fixed Season: Spring
  • Fixed Direction: East-Southeast
  • Fixed Element: Earth / Yang

The dragon is the most vital and powerful of any in the Chinese zodiac, though it has an infamous reputation for being a hothead and possessing a sharp tongue. In ancient times, people thought that dragons could control everything in the world for they symbolized the character traits of dominance and ambition.

Gifted with innate courage, tenacity, and intelligence, dragons are enthusiastic and confident. They are not afraid of challenges and are willing to take risks. However, the dragon is sometimes regarded as aggressive, and angry dragons are not open to criticism. They don’t consider themselves irritating and arrogant. They do not dwell on the past but rather focus on the future.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Rooster, Monkey, Rat, Sheep, Snake
  • Moderate Match: Tiger, Pig, Ox, Rabbit, Horse, Dragon
  • Worst Match: Dog


蛇 (巳)

  • Calendar Year: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
  • Fixed Season: Summer
  • Fixed Direction: South-Southeast
  • Fixed Element: Fire / Yin

Those born under the sign of the Snake place a lot of value on their own experiences. They learn from their mistakes, and they are quite adept at identifying the motivations of others. Because of this, snakes are people who are rarely ever deceived or taken advantage of. Sometimes they come off as a bit suspicious but usually, they don’t make a point of expressing their distrust. Rather, they choose to live their lives according to their own plan and standards, enduring whatever comes their way with a stoic determination.

People born in the Year of the Snake are the most intuitive even while remaining the most private and reticent. Snake people represent the symbol of wisdom. They are intelligent and wise and are usually regarded as great thinkers.

Snakes are materialistic and love keeping up with the Joneses. They love to possess the best of everything, but they have no patience for shopping. Snake people prefer to work alone but can become stressed easily. During these times, it is best to allow them their own space to decompress and recover.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Monkey, Rooster, Ox, Dragon
  • Moderate Match: Rabbit, Horse, Tiger, Sheep, Snake, Dog, Rat
  • Worst Match: Pig


馬 / 马 (午)

  • Calendar Year: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
  • Fixed Season: Summer
  • Fixed Direction: South
  • Fixed Element: Fire / Yang

Those born under the sign of the Horse are a flexible group of people. They tend to be stubborn when it comes to their ideas, but they are also incredibly patient when it comes to hearing out what other people have to say. They favor straight forward, blunt conversation but generally avoid starting trouble. This combination often makes those under the Horse sign a puzzle to the people around them.

Horses are also incredibly loyal friends and partners. They are always there when friends need a person to turn to or a shoulder to lean on. They are also quite capable of resolving conflicts, both their own and other people’s. Altogether those born under the sign of the Horse are some of the most favored members of society, and though they don’t often aspire to the greatness they tend to garner compliments and gain the adoration of their friends.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Sheep, Dog, Tiger
  • Moderate Match: Dragon, Monkey, Rooster, Pig, Rabbit, Snake, Horse
  • Worst Match: Rat, Ox


羊 (未)

  • Calendar Year: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
  • Fixed Season: Summer
  • Fixed Direction: South-Southwest
  • Fixed Element: Earth / Yin

The sign of the Sheep produces a person who is not overly fond of sudden changes or impulsive decisions. Rather, they find comfort in both repetition and well-laid plans. Luckily for them, they have a natural inclination towards this type of work and are quite skilled at coordinating actions and events. This allows both sheep and anyone with them to enjoy a smooth and unhindered ride over life’s many tiny bumps.

Sheep are known for being selective about who they let into their inner circle. Not just anyone can get to know someone born under the sign of the Sheep. Rather, they must prove themselves steadily over time, through kind gestures and loving support, until the sheep finally sees that they are someone who can be trusted. Otherwise, people are often left viewing things at a distance, not quite knowing why they feel distant from the sheep.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Horse, Rabbit, Pig, Dragon
  • Moderate Match: Monkey, Sheep, Snake, Rooster, Rat, Dog, Tiger
  • Worst Match: Ox


猴 (申)

  • Calendar Year: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
  • Fixed Season: Autumn
  • Fixed Direction: West-Southwest
  • Fixed Element: Metal / Yang

Those born under the sign of the Monkey often move quickly from one experience to the next. It is not so much about the things they are doing as the feelings that such things evoke. If something is exciting then they are likely to act upon it and see what comes their way. This can bring moments of great achievement as well as times of loss and learning. What the monkey represents is a younger way of life in which action, loss, and education all have an important role to play.

As a person born under the sign of the Monkey continues to age and transitions into the phases of adulthood, they must readdress the lifestyle and choices that have guided them thus far. While this can be difficult, the momentum does not have to cease but can simply be redirected towards other endeavors, such as hobbies or new careers. This way, the monkey can continue to expand their experiences without risking the well being of others.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Snake, Rat, Dragon
  • Moderate Match: Horse, Sheep, Ox, Pig, Rooster, Monkey, Rabbit, Dog
  • Worst Match: Tiger


雞 / 鸡 (酉)

  • Calendar Year: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
  • Fixed Season: Autumn
  • Fixed Direction: West
  • Fixed Element: Metal / Yin

The Rooster is an animal guided by its instinct, welcoming the morning sun for no other reason than it just feels right. Similarly, those born under the sign of the Rooster will often find success when they allow themselves to be led by their instinct. This way compromise is swift, respect is steadily gained, and the overall pace of their life is one in which they continue to achieve rather than dwell or worry. But for those under the sign of the Rooster, this beneficial way of life is not something that comes to them without effort. Rather, it is the result of holding off the urge to overthink.

When a rooster allows themselves to overthink a situation, they can get caught up in the details and sometimes lose sight of the larger picture. The result is that decisions do not come as easily as they might otherwise. However, with a little trust and the ability to just commit, a rooster can work to overcome these issues. 

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Dragon, Ox, Tiger, Pig, Snake
  • Moderate Match: Rooster, Dog, Sheep, Monkey, Horse
  • Worst Match: Rabbit, Rat


狗 / 犬 (戌)

  • Calendar Year: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
  • Fixed Season: Autumn
  • Fixed Direction: West-Northwest
  • Fixed Element: Earth / Yang

The sign of the Dog emphasizes the importance of the self in those who are born under its sign. They are intelligent people who hold much of their thought process deep inside, and they are not always known for being able to share these thoughts freely with others. Part of this means that those born under the sign of the Dog live very rich inner lives: They get lost in thought often, appreciate the options that they encounter every single day, and can entertain themselves for hours on end with puzzles and other brain teasers.

A potential downside of the strong inner lifestyle of the dog is a relatively restrained outer lifestyle. More apt to live a serious and careful existence, a dog is someone who will get the job done but rarely go beyond the scope of what is asked of them. This is because to them, there are more important things to do than spending their time trying to impress others, and they would rather enjoy what they choose to do than sacrifice their freedom for a little monetary gain. Thus, a dog is a person in charge of their own path, and they will always hold true to the morals and lifestyle that seems best to them.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Rabbit, Tiger, Horse, Pig
  • Moderate Match: Rat, Snake, Dog, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster
  • Worst Match: Dragon, Ox


豬 / 猪 (亥)

  • Calendar Year: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
  • Fixed Season: Winter
  • Fixed Direction: North-Northwest
  • Fixed Element: Water / Ying

Someone born under the sign of the Pig tends to be a gentle person. With a strong grasp of their life and the people around them, they are comfortable spending time both alone and in the company of others. Sometimes this can cause them to feel a little overwhelmed, as they might struggle to separate their thoughts from their immediate experiences, but overall it is a strength that allows them to entertain leadership positions.

Pigs tend to enjoy interacting with others and taking advantage of what interpersonal relationships can offer them. They understand how to converse with ease, even when they are sometimes feeling worn out or a little awkward inside, and they have an empathetic streak which tends to endear them to others. Should they ever feel they are drifting away from the life they would like to lead then, pigs need to remember to take the time to refocus their efforts and go after whatever it is they believe will make them happy.

Chinese Zodiac Sign Matches

  • Best Match: Tiger, Rabbit, Rooster, Sheep, Ox, Dog
  • Moderate Match: Pig, Monkey, Dragon, Rat, Horse
  • Worst Match: Snake


Commonly Asked Questions

What is the Science Behind Chinese Astrology?

While one wouldn’t necessarily ascribe western, materialist science to the Chinese zodiac, it’s ancient eastern philosophy could be considered a science in itself. The wealth of wisdom and insight offered from this ancient astrological calendar is a similar type of science to the horoscope system of western astrology, except the animals, are not based on the constellations. 

Which Chinese Zodiac Sign is the Luckiest?

There isn’t necessarily one zodiac sign that is luckier than any other, however, based on your zodiac sign, there are luckier matches with other zodiac signs. Refer to the list above for each sign’s best, moderate and worst match with other signs.  

Which Chinese Zodiac Sign is the Most Powerful?

Again, there isn’t necessarily anyone sign that is the most powerful, however each sign is more powerful than others in specific skill sets or situations. The word powerful is subjective and can mean different things for different people. 

If someone is attentive and empathic, that could be considered a powerful trait when it comes to interpersonal relationships. If someone is physically strong that could be powerful in situations requiring brute force, while it could also be considered weak when it comes to matters involving the intellect.

Which Chinese Zodiac Sign is the Smartest?

The Rat is considered to be the sign associated with intelligence, cleverness, and adaptability, though all signs on the zodiac have specific traits in which they excel that they could be considered smart at accomplishing.

We hope this breakdown of the Chinese zodiac provides more clarity into the many-faceted and ancient system of astrology. Though slightly different and nuanced compared to the western system, these two fields of thought are powerful tools for understanding why we are the way we are. For more on the Zodiac check out our two-part series Zodiac.

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