Chinese Astrological Years

The early history of China from pre-history to 770BCE

The early history of China from pre-history to 770BCE


Most of the ancient traditions of China had become established 3,000 years ago. The institution of Emperor, the written scripts and the key technologies (including silk) all come from China's distant past. The longevity and continuity of Chinese culture are the two key principles to understanding China - even today.

In Chinese astrology there are a sequence of twelve animals ( shēng xiào), each representing a year. The sequence is rat; ox; tiger; rabbit; dragon; snake; horse; sheep; monkey; rooster; dog and finally pig. The Chinese year in which you were born determines which is the associated animal. As the Chinese year starts at Chinese New Year and not on January 1st, if you are born in January or February you need to account for when the Chinese year started in that year, you can check this by hovering the mouse over the year in the following list, a pop-up will show the dates of the Chinese calendar year.

Hong Kong, zodiac, sculpture
The Garden of the Chinese Zodiac features twelve carved animals in the gardens of Kowloon Walled City Park, Hong Kong

Each year is associated with an element as well as an animal. The Chinese ‘elemental essences’ are: Metal; Water; Wood; Fire and Earth. It takes a full 60 years before the cycle repeats itself, so for example, a ‘Metal Sheep’ year is followed in 12 years time by a ‘Water Sheep’; only after 5 x 12 = 60 years will there be a ‘Metal Sheep’ year again. The animals represent the twelve earthly branches. The twelve astrological years only became widely used in the Yuan dynasty.

double happiness

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The reason for twelve animal years is most likely to relate to the twelve months in a year but may actually relate to the almost 12 year orbit of Jupiter around the sun (11.86 years). The orbit was well known from very ancient times in China. However in legend it is said that God of the Golden Star reported to the Jade Emperorthat chaos and confusion reigned on Earth. The God of the Golden Star 's solution was to put twelve animals in charge at different times to bring about some order to affairs.

A full astrological reading is a complex matter as you need the year, month, day and hour of conception (not birth), this is known as the bā zì 'eight characters' as each item is written as two characters using the sexagemisal characters for recording dates. An astrologer will then be able to give predictions for your whole life.

It is all taken as a bit of fun and it serves as a polite way to ask someone's age (you can usually tell which 12 year span was the person's birth year). Here are the years with the associated animal and the earthly stem. The twelve names were also used for the traditional twelve (two hour) shí chen divisions of the day. In addition the propitious month of year and compass direction are given, taking account of these gives extra luck. In China the occurrence every twelve years of your běn mìng nián birth year (astrological sign) is considered an unlucky year and you are vulnerable to accidents and bad luck. This bad influence is particularly strong in your 60th year. To ward this off the ill effects you should take extra care and some superstitious Chinese wear lucky red underwear or red wrist bracelets during this year.

Earthly Branch
YearsTime of day
and Month
Chinese year of the rat

1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008 2020 11pm to 1 am
7th Dec to 5th Jan

A rat in China is not the dirty, nasty creature seen in Europe. A rat is cool; calm and charming. They act with integrity, are persistent and are careful with money. They are generous to those they love.

Chinese year of the ox

1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009 2021 1 to 3 am
6th Jan to 3rd Feb

An ox is quiet and easy-going. Practical and self assured they are often successful. As they are not outspoken they can be difficult to read and so easy to misunderstand and provoke to anger.

Chinese year of the tiger

1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010 2022 3 to 5 am
4th Feb to 5th Mar

Tiger people share the power and courage with the admired and respected animal. Tigers are thoughtful and may be destined for high office. They can be selfish and offhand; tigers have difficulty accepting orders.

Chinese year of the rabbit

1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011 2023 5 to 7 am
6th Mar to 4th Apr

A rabbit is a popular creature, good at getting along with people. Gifted and ambitious they are proficient at business. They are prone to sadness and are not deep thinkers. Naturally lucky, a rabbit is skillful in handling money.

Chinese year of the dragon

1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012 2024 7 to 9 am
5th Apr to 4th May
East South East

In the West dragons are supposed to be violent and evil monsters. Not so in China, they are the most powerful of creatures but are friends as much as foes, and are considered lucky. Dragons have energy, courage and perception. Natural leaders, dragons are healthy and prosperous, however dragons can be spiteful and prone to anger.

Chinese year of the snake

1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013 2025 9 to 11 am
5th May to 5th June
South South East

The wisdom of the snake is proverbial, and this is a snake's principal virtue. Spells of deep thinking can make them loners and independent. Wisdom with handling money makes them able at attain wealth, they are also blessed with good looks. As they are not very perceptive of those around them, they can make poor partners.

Chinese year of the horse

1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014 2026 11 am to 1 pm
6th June to 6th July

A horse is cheerful and easy to get on with but impulsive and with a short temper. Horse people do not always think things through; they may choose a partner on a whim. Horses are gregarious and love entertainment; they can also be good at managing money.

Chinese year of the sheep

1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015 2027 1 to 3 pm
7th July to 6th Aug
South South West

One of the most creative people, sheep (or goats) ponder on life and can get depressed. They are not leaders and tend to be shy but look after themselves well. However their gentle nature does not indicate a lack of passion. Sheep are naturally helpful people, aiding anyone in distress.

Chinese year of the monkey

1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016 2028 3 to 5 pm
7th Aug to 7th Sept
West South West

While the dragon is the ruler, it is the monkey that is held in most affection. Skillful and successful, monkeys have an abundance of common sense and are fun loving. Talkative and impish they can alienate people at times. They are avid readers and promote harmony rather than discord.

Chicken or Rooster
Chinese year of the rooster

1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017 2029 5 to 7 pm
8th Sept to 7th Oct

A chicken is sociable but thoughtful. Ambitious and positive they are often overly ambitious and seem reckless. Roosters, however can be outspoken and act selfishly.

Chinese year of the dog

1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018 7 to 9 pm
8th Oct to 6th Nov
West North West

A dog in China goes not have the negative undertones that it has elsewhere. Dogs are loyal and dutiful and eager to please, which makes them good workers. There is a tendency towards selfishness and obstinacy, dogs do not take part in social affairs. Warm-hearted dogs can be relied on to stand up against injustice.

Chinese year of the pig

1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019 9 to 11pm
7th Nov to 6th Dec
North North West

Like dogs, rats and snakes, pigs are not as bad as the Western association would make you think. Pigs are brave and strong, preferring to work on their own. A pig's knowledge is fairly superficial and they are not gregarious; pigs are loving and dedicated partners and friends.

The standing of women in China

The standing of women in China


Attitudes to women have varied greatly in China over the centuries. The traditional subservient position of women in society has only really changed in the last sixty years. Our section describes the role of women down the centuries including the role of concubines and how some Imperial women bucked the trend.
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