Many people don’t know the story behind the Chinese zodiac | 12生肖 | 12 Shēngxiào and how the Animal Years came to be. Well, pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of tea — it’s quite an interesting tale. Read more for the full story and a breakdown of your zodiac year.
The Jade Emperor of Heaven | 玉皇 | Yù Huáng, or 玉帝 | Yù Dì decided, on a whim, to make a calendar comprised entirely of animals (hey… why not?). In order to decide the order of the years, he told a group of twelve them to swim across a river. Yù Huáng would rank the years according to the order in which each animal reached the shore.
The smarmy Cat | 猫 | Māo and wily Rat | 鼠 | Shǔ asked the Ox | 牛 | Niú to carry them on its back because they hadn’t a clue on how to swim. When the Ox had nearly reached the shore, the Rat pushed the Cat in the water, drowning the poor thing, and jumped off the Ox’s head, landing onto shore first, shortly followed by the angered Ox.
The Tiger | 虎 | Hǔ swam in third, followed by the Rabbit (兔 | Tù) who hopped swiftly across on various rocks and logs. In fifth was the Dragon (龙 (龍) | Lóng), a real gentle giant of an animal. Although it had wings, the Dragon stopped and blew forcefully at the clouds in order make it rain– for thirsty animals! Talk about selflessness. It also created wind to push the Rabbit’s log that had become stuck, causing the the Rabbit to drift along with nowhere to hop. The Horse came galloping onto shore, about to make sixth place, when the Snake | 蛇 | Shé slithered out in front of him, startling the Horse | 马 | Mǎ and pushing him back to the seventh spot. Next, a raft floated to shore with the Sheep, Monkey and Rooster (羊 | Yáng, 猴 | Hóu, 鸡 | Jī), finishing in eighth, ninth and tenth, respectively. The eleventh animal was the Dog | 狗 | Gǒu, who when asked by the Emperor why it was late, told him that he decided to take a bath in the clean river.
After waiting a while, the oaf of a Boar (猪 | Zhū) finally arrived on shore. When asked why it took so long, the Boar said it stopped to eat and fell asleep. The Cat finally struggled its way onto shore but was too late to get a spot. So, from that moment on, the Cat and Rat became enemies, and according to Chinese history this is the reason why cats hate rats.
Now you know of the crazy tale behind the order of the Chinese Zodiac, let’s learn about the traits of each animal according to Chinese history!
🐀 鼠 | Shǔ | Rat
1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008…
Good traits: Resourceful, quick-witted, and versatile.
Negative traits: Well, you remember how the rat tricked the cat, right? The rat is said to have an insatiable thirst for power, and can also be anxious and meddling.
Cool with: The ox, rabbit, and dragon.
Not cool with: The horse, rooster, and sometimes sheep.
Lucky colors: blue, gold, and green.
🐂 牛 | Niú | Ox
1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009…
Good traits: Patient, honest, strong-willed.
Negative traits: Inarticulate, narrow-minded, distant.
Cool with: Rat, monkey, rooster, and snake.
Not cool with: Tiger, horse, and sheep.
Lucky colors: red, blue, and purple.
🐅 虎 | Hǔ | Tiger
1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010…
Good traits: Adventurous, brave, confident.
Negative traits: Arrogant, hasty, aggressive.
Cool with: Dog, horse, pig…and some zodiac charts also add the sheep, dragon, rooster, and rabbit. Seems like tigers are popular!
Not cool with: Ox, snake, monkey.
Lucky colors: blue, gray/white, and orange.
🐇 兔 | Tù | Rabbit
1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011…
Traits: Alert, quiet, and kind-hearted.
Negative traits: Stubborn, discreet, conservative..
Cool with: sheep, dog, pig, monkey.
Not cool with: Snake, rooster.
Lucky colors: red, pink, purple, blue.
🐉 龙 (龍) | Lóng | Dragon
1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012…
Traits: Kind-hearted, successful, and courageous.
Negative traits: Quick-tempered, arrogant and impatient.
Cool with: Rat, tiger, snake. And also, rooster, horse, sheep, rabbit and pig. (Dragons are popular too!)
Not cool with: Dog (apparently the dog is overly protective), sheep, and ox.
Lucky colors: Gold, silver, greyish-white.
🐍 蛇 | Shé | Snake
1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013…
Traits: Intelligent, wise, discreet.
Negative traits: Vain, suspicious, materialistic.
Cool with: Dragon, rooster.
Not cool with: Tiger, rabbit, sheep, pig.
Lucky colors: Red, black, light yellow.
🐎 马 | Mǎ | Horse
1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014…
Traits: Active, easy going, great sense of humor.
Negative traits: Cunning, over-confident, showy.
Cool with: Tiger, sheep, also the dog and rabbit.
Not cool with: Rat, rooster, ox.
Lucky colors: Brown, yellow, purple.
🐑 | 🐐 羊 | Yáng | Sheep/Goat/Ram
1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015…
Traits: Gentle, hardworking, creative.
Negative traits: Pessimistic, timid, weak-willed.
Cool with: Rabbit, horse, pig.
Not cool with: Ox, dog.
Lucky colors: Green, red, purple.
🐒 猴 | Hóu | Monkey
1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016…
Happy Year of the Monkey! 2016 is the year of the “Fire Monkey”, as Chinese astrology isn’t just based on animals, but also the Five Elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth). The last fire monkey year was in 1956 and the next will be in 2028. People born in a fire monkey year are adventurous, ambitious, but sometimes irritable. Monkeys are said to be successful because of their ability to influence people.
Traits: Charming, intelligent, witty, enthusiastic, self-assured, sociable, innovative, cheerful, energetic, flexible, wise, confident, charismatic, loyal, have good leadership skills, and have a magnetic personality.
Negative traits: Mischievous, quick-tempered, jealous, suspicious, selfish, arrogant.
Cool with: Ox, rabbit.
Not cool with: Tiger, pig.
Lucky colors: White, blue, gold. Unlucky colors: Red, black, grey, dark coffee.
Lucky numbers: 1,7, and 8. Unlucky numbers: 2,5, and 9.
Lucky flowers: Chrysanthemum.
Ideal careers: Stockbroker, banker, lawyer, diplomat, real estate, insurance, software, site management, E-commerce, pro sports player, actor, writer, journalist, construction, hardware, electrician, and catering.
🐓 鸡 | Jī |Rooster
1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017…
Traits: Hardworking, confident, courageous, warm-hearted.
Negative traits: Impatient, critical, eccentric, narrow-minded, selfish.
Cool with: Snake, ox. And sometimes the tiger, sheep, monkey and pig.
Not cool with: Rat, rabbit, horse, rooster, dog.
Lucky colors: Gold, brown, yellow.
🐕 狗 | Gǒu | Dog
1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018…
Traits: Honest, loyal, kind, responsible.
Negative traits: Sensitive, stubborn, emotional.
Cool with: Rabbit.
Not cool with: Dragon, sheep, rooster.
Lucky colors: Green, red, purple.
🐖| 🐗 猪 | Zhū | Pig or Boar
1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019…
Traits: Easy-going, honest, compassionate.
Negative traits: Gullible, sluggish, naive.
Cool with: Goat, tiger, rabbit.
Not cool with: Snake, monkey.
Lucky colors: Yellow, grey, brown, golden.
你的生肖是什么？| Nǐ de shēngxiào shì shénme? | What is your zodiac animal? I hope you found the history and descriptions of each animal informative. How well do you think your animal describes you? You should note that the traits also depend on which year and even what time of the day you were born, so these descriptions are not set in stone. I wish you the best of luck, wealth, and happiness in the new year, the year of the Monkey! 新年快乐！Xīnnián kuàilè | Happy New Year!
Get your vocab on
Chinese zodiac | 12生肖 | 12 Shēngxiào
Jade Emperor of Heaven |玉皇 | Yù Huáng, or 玉帝 | Yù Dì
Cat |猫 | Māo
Rat | 鼠 | Shǔ
Ox | 牛 | Niú
Tiger | 虎 | Hǔ
Rabbit |兔 | Tù
Dragon | 龙 (龍) | Lóng
Snake |蛇 | Shé
Horse |马 | Mǎ
Sheep | 羊 | Yáng
Monkey猴 | Hóu
Rooster | 鸡 | Jī
Dog | 狗 | Gǒu
Boar/Pig | 猪 | Zhū
What is your zodiac animal? | 你的生肖是什么？| Nǐ de shēngxiào shì shénme?
Happy New Year! | 新年快乐！| Xīnnián kuàilè !
Latest posts by Natasha Davis (see all)
- Meanwhile in China: Strange Stories & The Language Behind Them Vol. 2 - June 21, 2016
- Way More Than Ni Hao: 8 Different Ways to Say Hello in Chinese - April 27, 2016
- China in the Spring: 15 Must-See Destinations - March 18, 2016