Chinese Astrological Years

In Chinese astrology ( shēng xiào) there are twelve animals 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 your 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 five 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.


The reason for twelve animal years may come from the twelve months in a year but may also relate to the almost exactly 12 year orbit of Jupiter around the sun (11.86 years). One name for Jupiter is ‘year star’ suì xīng which confirms the association. 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 Emperor that chaos and confusion reigned on Earth. The god of the Golden Star's solution was to put each of twelve animals in charge for a year to bring about some order to affairs. The animals formed an orderly queue but the rat jumped onto the back of the ox so it could be named first. The pig is last because it was too busy dozing to join the queue.

A complete 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. As with western star signs many believe that the choice of partner for marriage should take astrology into account.

It is all taken as a bit of fun and it serves as a polite way to ask someone's age (you can usually guess 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 auspicious 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 the year.

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Kim Dramer's short video story about the origin of the cycle of animals

Chinese year of the rat


Year 1 of cycle; years: 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008 2020 2032
Lucky time of day 11pm to 1 am
Lucky time of year 7th Dec to 5th Jan
Lucky direction North 0°
Lucky numbers 2 and 3 (also 23, 32, 323…)
Western zodiac equivalent Aries

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

Chinese year of the ox

Ox chǒu

Year 2 of cycle; years: 1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009 2021
Lucky time of day 1 to 3 am
Lucky time of year 6th Jan to 3rd Feb
Lucky direction North-north-east 15°
Lucky numbers 1 and 4 (also 41, 14, 144…)
Western zodiac equivalent Taurus

An ox is quiet and easy-going. Practical and self assured they are often successful. They like to work to a carefully thought out plan. They are also patriotic but can tend to waste effort over trivial things. 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

Tiger yín

Year 3 of cycle; years: 1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010 2022
Lucky time of day 3 to 5 am
Lucky time of year 4th Feb to 5th Mar
Lucky direction East-north-east 30°
Lucky numbers 1, 3 and 4 (also 41, 134, 31…)
Western zodiac equivalent Gemini

Tiger people share the power and courage with the admired and respected animal. Tigers are thoughtful, competitive and charming and may be destined for high office but they can be over-confident, selfish and offhand. Tigers have difficulty accepting orders.

Chinese year of the rabbit

Rabbit mǎo

Year 4 of cycle; years: 1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011 2023
Lucky time of day 5 to 7 am
Lucky time of year 6th Mar to 4th Apr
Lucky direction East 90°
Lucky numbers 3,4 and 6 (also 46, 34, 364…)
Western zodiac equivalent Cancer

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

Chinese year of the dragon

Dragon chén

Year 5 of cycle; years: 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012 2024
Lucky time of day 7 to 9 am
Lucky time of year 5th Apr to 4th May
Lucky direction East-south-east 120°
Lucky numbers 1, 6 and 7 (also 61, 67, 617…)
Western zodiac equivalent Leo

In the west dragons are considered 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, tenacity and perception. Natural leaders, dragons are healthy and prosperous, however dragons can be spiteful and prone to anger.

Chinese year of the snake


Year 6 of cycle; years: 1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013 2025
Lucky time of day 9 to 11 am
Lucky time of year 5th May to 5th June
Lucky direction South-south-east 150°
Lucky numbers 2, 8 and 9 (also 28, 89, 289…)
Western zodiac equivalent Virgo

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. Acquisitive snakes are hard people to read. Wisdom with handling money makes them able at attain wealth and 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


Year 7 of cycle; years: 1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014 2026
Lucky time of day 11 am to 1 pm
Lucky time of year 6th June to 6th July
Lucky direction South 180°
Lucky numbers 2, 3 and 7 (also 23, 237, 73…)
Western zodiac equivalent Libra

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

Chinese year of the sheep

Sheep (or Goat) wèi

Year 8 of cycle; years: 1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015 2027
Lucky time of day 1 to 3 pm
Lucky time of year 7th July to 6th Aug
Lucky direction South-west 210°
Lucky numbers 2 and 7 (also 27, 272, 77…)
Western zodiac equivalent Scorpio

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

Chinese year of the monkey

Monkey shēn

Year 9 of cycle; years: 1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016 2028
Lucky time of day 3 to 5 pm
Lucky time of year 7th Aug to 7th Sept
Lucky direction West-south-west 240°
Lucky numbers 4 and 9 (also 49, 44, 949…)
Western zodiac equivalent Sagitarius

While the dragon is the natural leader, it is the monkey that is held in most affection. Skillful and successful, monkeys have an abundance of common sense but most importantly are fun loving. Their talkative, adaptable, energetic and impish nature can alienate people at times. They are avid readers, have good luck and promote harmony rather than discord.

Chinese year of the rooster

Chicken or Rooster yǒu

Year 10 of cycle; years: 1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017 2029
Lucky time of day 5 to 7 pm
Lucky time of year 8th Sept to 7th Oct
Lucky direction West 270°
Lucky numbers 5, 7 and 8 (also 57, 78, 888…)
Western zodiac equivalent Capricorn

A chicken (or rooster) is sociable, observant, honest and thoughtful. They are ambitious, talkative and positive but are sometimes overly ambitious and seem reckless. Roosters, however can be outspoken and act selfishly.

Chinese year of the dog


Year 11 of cycle; years: 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018 2030
Lucky time of day 7 to 9 pm
Lucky time of year 8th Oct to 6th Nov
Lucky direction West-north-west 300°
Lucky numbers 3, 4 and 9 (also 43, 349, 94…)
Western zodiac equivalent Aquarius

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 but rather insular. There is a tendency towards impatience, selfishness and obstinacy; dogs avoid social meetings. Warm-hearted dogs can be relied upon to help others and stand up against injustice.

Chinese year of the pig

Pig hài

Year 12 of cycle; years: 1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019 2031
Lucky time of day 9 to 11pm
Lucky time of year 7th Nov to 6th Dec
Lucky direction North-north-west 330°
Lucky numbers 1 and 7 (also 17, 77, 171…)
Western zodiac equivalent Pisces

Like dogs, rats and snakes, pigs are not as bad as western associations might make you think. Pigs are brave, determined and strong but prefer to work stubbornly on their own. A pig's knowledge is fairly superficial and they are easily fooled but pigs are loving and devoted partners and friends.

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