The Chinese animal zodiac is a rotating cycle of 12 animals, a different one for each year. These recurring animals represent a concept of time, traditionally used for dating the years in China. The Chinese lunar calendar is based on the cycle of the moon, somewhat different to the western solar calendar, with the beginning of the Chinese year falling somewhere between late January and early February. Although China adopted the western calendar in 1911, they still celebrate the Chinese New Year, giving them a double celebration. Most Chinese calendars have the dates for both the Western and the Chinese New Year printed on them.
Not only is the Chinese New Year celebrated on a different date from the western New Year, but because it is based on the movement of the moon, it also falls on a different date each year. Thus, those born between late January and early February may find their birth year falls in different years between the western New Year and the Chinese New Year.
Order of Animals Legend
According to one Chinese legend, the animals argued over the order of the cycle. They agreed to ask their gods to decide and to abide by their decision. The gods decreed that the animals would race across a river, and that each animal's position in the cycle would be set by its place in the race.
On the day of the race, the 12 animals gathered on the riverbank. As the race began, the rat jumped unnoticed onto the ox's back, and just as the ox reached the other side of the riverbank, the rat jumped off its back and won the race. This is why the rat is first, the ox second, and the last animal in the race, the boar, is last in the cycle. And so the rotating cycle of 12 animals used traditionally for naming the years in China was established, with each animal year repeated every 12 years.
The Twelve Animal Signs
Over the years horoscopes have developed around the animal signs, in much the same way as the star signs (such as Aries, Pisces, etc) of the West. While these might be amusing and fun, the general Chinese populace does generally not regard them as serious.
The Year of The Rat
Those born in the year of the Rat are said to be ambitious hard-workers who are usually successful in achieving their goals. They also tend to be financially cautious perfectionists. They get angry easily, and enjoy gossiping. They are sometimes noted for being charming and attractive to the opposite sex. Rats are said to be most compatible with those born in the year of the Ox, Monkey and Dragon.
The Year of The Ox
Those born in the year of the Ox are said to be easy-going, though they can sometimes be bigoted and stubborn, with furious tempers. They hate failure and don't like to be challenged. At their best they are quiet and patient, with a tendency to inspire confidence in others. Oxen are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Rat, Snake and Rooster.
The Year of The Tiger
Those born in the year of the Tiger tend to be indecisive, often missing a good opportunity by taking too long. They are also sensitive, deep thinkers and can be sympathetic. However, they have a tendency to be very short-tempered and a little antiauthoritarian, although they are respected by others. Tigers are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Dog, Horse and Dragon.
The Year of The Rabbit
Those born in the year of the Rabbit (also known as the Hare) are said to be frequently financially lucky. They would make good gamblers, but are wise enough not to gamble. As well as being articulate, they tend to be talented and ambitious in business - they never back out of a contract and rarely lose their temper. They are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Dog, Goat and Boar.
The Year of The Dragon
Those born in the year of the Dragon are said to be brave and sensitive, and to inspire trust and confidence. They are energetic and healthy, though they have a tendency to be short-tempered. They don't borrow money or make fluffy speeches, but do have a soft heart. Dragons are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Rat, Snake, Rooster and Monkey.
The Year of The Snake
Those born in the year of the Snake are said to have great sympathy for those less fortunate than themselves, though they are also vain, selfish and thrifty with money, which they never have to worry about themselves, being financially lucky. They tend to be passionate and intense with strong determination and a hatred of failing. They prefer to rely on their own judgements, having little faith in the judgement of others. Snakes are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Ox and Rooster.
The Year of The Horse
Those born in the year of the Horse are said to like entertainment and large crowds. They are talented and wise, skilful, cheerful and good with their hands - and their tongues too, as they tend to talk too much. They tend to have a weakness for those of the opposite sex, and also to be hot-blooded and impatient. Possessing an independent streak, they rarely listen to the advice of others. Horses are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Dog, Tiger and Goat.
The Year of The Goat
Those born in the year of the Goat (also known as the Ram or the Sheep) are said to be very religious and pessimistic. They tend to be awkward in speech, puzzled about life and shy. Talented artists who enjoy the simple pleasures of life, they are compassionate, gentle and wise. Goats are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Horse, Boar and Rabbit.
The Year of The Monkey
Those born in the year of the Monkey are said to be good at problem-solving and making decisions. They are skilful and clever with a desire to learn and have excellent memories. However, they can be impatient and give up on projects if they are unable to start them immediately. Monkeys are said to be compatible with those born in the year of Rat and Dragon.
The Year of The Rooster
Those born in the year of the Rooster are said to be deep thinkers who always think they are right, and they usually are. They tend to be a bit eccentric, and have difficulty in relationships with others. They are also capable and talented and give the impression of being adventurous - however, they can also be emotionally cold. Roosters are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Snake, Dragon and Ox.
The Year of The Dog
Those born in the year of the Dog are said to have an intense sense of loyalty and honesty. They inspire confidence in others, make competent leaders, and are good at keeping secrets. However, they can also be emotionally cold, selfish, stubborn and sharp-tongued, finding faults with many things. Dogs are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Tiger, Rabbit and Horse.
The Year of The Boar
Those born in the year of the Boar (also known as the Pig) are said not to say much, though they have a thirst for knowledge. They don't have many friends, but those friends they do have are friends for life and they are exceptionally loyal to them. They tend to be chivalrous and gallant and they loathe arguments, despite their quick tempers. They face the problems of life head-on, and solve them with fortitude and honesty. Boars are said to be compatible with those born in the year of the Goat and Rabbit.
Estimating Age by Animal
With good knowledge and memory of the Chinese animal zodiac, it is possible to estimate a person's age, by asking what animal of the Chinese zodiac they are born in - this would place the person's age within the cycle of 12 years. It is a more polite way of discovering someone's age than asking them directly.
There are other more complex Chinese horoscopes, which include the position of the five elements: metal, wood, fire, water and earth (representing Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Saturn respectively) in relation to the moon in a particular year. The time of day an individual is born may also be considered in connection to the forces of yin and yang (negative and positive), which are said to keep the universe in balance. Night time, when the moon is out, is considered to be yin, and daytime, when the sun is out considered to be yang.