The Race of the Twelve: What Your Chinese Zodiac Animal Means for You

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.

The Legend of the Great Race

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 pushing it downstream all the time. However, 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 its gift of swift flight, it was strange that it had not ranked first, but 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 into 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 get to where they are. Rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. 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 the vastly differing personalities, the 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:

Rat 鼠 (子)

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 are always easy to adapt themselves to a new environment. With rich imaginations and sharp observation, rats can take advantage of opportunity to do anything. Rats have strong curiosity, so they tend to try their hands at anything, and they can deal with it skillfully. Ladies belonging to the rat zodiac sign are pretty, smart and lovely. They have quick minds and dexterous hands to learn anything.

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

Best Match: Ox, Dragon, Monkey

Moderate Match: Dog, Rat, Sheep, Snake, Pig, Tiger

Worst Match: Horse, Rabbit, Rooster

Ox牛 (丑)

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. Owning an honest nature, oxen have 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 are traditional good wives who attach great importance to children's education.

With a desire to advance and great patience, oxen can achieve their goals after consistent efforts. They are not influenced by others or the environment, but persist to do things in accordance with their ideas and abilities. Before taking action to do anything, they will have a specific plan and detailed steps, adding their strong faith and physical strength, so people of ox zodiac will enjoy great success.

The most disadvantageous trait in oxen is poor communication skills. They are not good at communicating with others, or even think it not worth exchanging ideas with others. They are stubborn and stick to their own ways.

Best Match: Rat, Rooster, Pig, Snake

Moderate Match: Ox, Tiger, Monkey, Dragon, Rabbit

Worst Match: Sheep, Horse, Dog

Tiger虎 (寅)

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, and do things with a high-handed manner. They are authoritative and never go back on what they have said. 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.

Best Match: Pig, Dog, Rabbit, Horse, Rooster

Moderate Match: Sheep, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Dragon, Snake

Worst Match: Monkey

Rabbit – 兔 or 兎 (卯)

1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Fixed Season : Spring

Fixed Direction : East

Fixed Element : Wood/ Yin

The person born under the sign of the Rabbit has a tendency to be very easygoing with others, offering kind advice when it is needed but never forcing their ideas onto others. While their nature is easy, however, it is certainly not disorderly. Rabbits are calmest when they know what they are doing, and 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 usually very lucky.

Rabbits are also people who 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 which is that the Rabbit cannot just float pass certain thoughts or feelings, but will always stress and worry over exactly what they mean, when sometimes they are nothing more than the whims of a moment.

Best Match: Dog, Pig, Tiger, Sheep

Moderate Match: Snake, Monkey, Ox, Dragon, Horse, Rabbit

Worst Match: Rooster, Rat

Dragon – 龍 / 龙 (辰)

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, although with 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 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. Instead of following the past, they are striving for a smooth and nice future.

Best Match: Rooster, Monkey, Rat, Sheep, Snake

Moderate Match: Tiger, Pig, Ox, Rabbit, Horse, Dragon

Worst Match: Dog

Snake – 蛇 (巳)

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 own 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 without their knowledge. Sometimes they come off as a but suspicious, but usually they don't make a point of expressing their distrust. Rather, they simply choose to live their life according to their own plan and their own 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. Snake people are usually regarded as great thinkers.

Snakes are materialistic and love keeping up with the Joneses. They love to posses the best of everything, but they have no patience for shopping. Snake people prefer to work alone, therefore they are easily stressed; if they seem unusually stressed, it is best to allow them their own space and time to return to normal.

Best Match: Monkey, Rooster, Ox, Dragon

Moderate Match: Rabbit, Horse, Tiger, Sheep, Snake, Dog, Rat

Worst Match: Pig

Horse – 馬 / 马 (午)

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 their ideas, but they are also incredibly patient when it comes to hearing out what other people have to say. They favor straight forward, occasionally blunt conversation. And yet they generally avoid starting up any unnecessary trouble. This combination then makes those under the Horse sign a bit of a puzzle to the people around them. Though this certainly does not stop people from trying to figure them out.

In spite of some of their misgivings, Horses are also incredibly loyal friends and partners. Perhaps it is because first impressions have a lasting effect, or simply that they are inclined to do well by others. Whatever the case for an individual, however, they are consistently 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 then, 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 greatness they tend to achieve a manner of it through the compliments and adoration of their friends.

Best Match: Sheep, Dog, Tiger

Moderate Match: Dragon, Monkey, Rooster, Pig, Rabbit, Snake, Horse

Worst Match: Rat, Ox

Sheep – 羊 (未)

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, the tend towards the opposite end of the spectrum, finding 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 pulling together actions and events in a manner that flows naturally. Which allows both Sheep and anyone with them to enjoy a smooth and unhindered ride over life's many tiny bumps.

As much as the Sheep can improve a person's life, however, they are also protective 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 see 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, but feeling it strongly all the same. It is the Sheep's choice then to weigh their two main paths, between a safe lifestyle with few close friends, or a much more social way of life with its own inherent risks.

Best Match: Horse, Rabbit, Pig, Dragon

Moderate Match: Monkey, Sheep, Snake, Rooster, Rat, Dog, Tiger

Worst Match: Ox

Monkey – 猴 (申)

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 are likely to view life as a series of quick events. Moving from one experience to the other, then, is not so much about the things that they are doing as the feelings that such moves evoke. If something is exciting, then they are likely to act upon it and see what comes their way. Which can bring moments of great achievement as well as times of loss and learning. What the Monkey represents then 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, however, 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 forms of endeavors, such as hobbies or new careers. For in this manner the Monkey can continue to expand their experiences, but do not risk the well being of the people that have begun to form their inner circle, such as friends of old or a partner and family.

Best Match: Snake, Rat, Dragon

Moderate Match: Horse, Sheep, Ox, Pig, Rooster, Monkey, Rabbit, Dog

Worst Match: Tiger

Rooster – 雞 / 鸡 (酉)

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 that 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, however, this beneficial way of life is not something that comes to them without effort. Rather, it is the result of holding off a different type of urge, the urge to overthink.

When a Roosters allow themselves to overthink a situation, they can get caught on the details and sometimes lose sight of the larger picture. The result being that decisions do not come as easily as they might, and their life will not progress at the speed that it is really capable of going. With a little trust, and the ability to just commit, however, a Rooster can work to overcome these issue. Though while they tend to see better results when they go with their gut reaction, the worst case is merely slow and steady, rather than anything worrisome.

Best Match: Dragon, Ox, Tiger, Pig, Snake

Moderate Match: Rooster, Dog, Sheep, Monkey, Horse

Worst Match: Rabbit, Rat

Dog – 狗 / 犬 (戌)

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, emphasizing the more personal aspects of basic human life. They get lost in thought often, appreciate the options that they encounter every single day, and can often entertain themselves for hours on end with puzzles and other brain teasers.

Part of the strong inner lifestyle of the Dog, however, 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 it 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, who while they will encounter resistance from time to time will generally hold true to the morals and the lifestyle that seems best to them.

Best Match: Rabbit, Tiger, Horse, Pig

Moderate Match: Rat, Snake, Dog, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster

Worst Match: Dragon, Ox

Pig – 豬 / 猪 (亥)

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 tend to be a gentle person all around. With a strong interior grasp of their life and the people around them, they are able to spend much 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 experience, but overall it is a strength that allows them to entertain leadership positions if they put the time and effort in.

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. While their life will have its own series of bumps and troubles, the Pig will generally have one of the more satisfying experiences in life. Should they ever feel they are drifting away from the life they would like to lead then, they simply have to refocus their efforts and go after whatever it is that they believe will make them happy. For without this focused effort, it may take much longer to achieve that sort of guiding revelation.

Best Match: Tiger, Rabbit, Rooster, Sheep, Ox, Dog

Moderate Match: Pig, Monkey, Dragon, Rat, Horse

Worst Match: Snake

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