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Discover and Talk About Your Birth Year in Chinese



Have you ever had one of the scroll calendars that Chinese banks and restaurants give out around Chinese New Year?

The calendars always have an ad for the business at the bottom and a beautiful picture at the top. They also show all twelve of the Chinese zodiac signs along with the days of the lunar new year in Mandarin Chinese.

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The lunar new year decides your Chinese zodiac animal, and your zodiac animal determines your character traits, lucky symbols, and attributes. People around the world use Chinese zodiac signs to understand their personality, predict relationship compatibility, and tell fortunes.

All you need to discover your zodiac sign is your birthday!

Here is your complete beginner’s guide to understanding the Chinese zodiac signs…

What Are the Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals?

We know that the Chinese zodiac signs have been around for more than 2,000 years since before the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC) thanks to ancient books. It’s harder to find the origin of the Chinese zodiac animals, because there are many different stories that explain how the zodiac cycle came to be.

In elementary school, my classmates and I were all taught the myth of the Great Race, which is the story of how the heavenly Jade Emperor called animals in China to take part in a race. The winners would become guards and symbols in the Chinese zodiac.

The Chinese zodiac thus follows the order in which the animals finished the race, and the zodiac animals repeat every twelve years.

Find Out Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

The Chinese zodiac called 生肖 (shēng xiào) in Mandarin Chinese and means “born resembling.” The idea is that people will have traits that are like the animal of their zodiac birth year.

Many countries in Asia, such as Cambodia and Singapore, use the Chinese zodiac. Countries like Vietnam and Japan have adapted it for their own use. Curious about the Japanese zodiac? Check out the Japanese zodiac signs here!

Your “origin of life year” or 本命年 (běn mìng nián) decides your zodiac animal sign. The specific dates of the Chinese New Year change every year, so double-check your zodiac sign if you have a birthday in January or February. The twelve Chinese zodiac signs in order and their associated traits are:

Rat

Chinese Word: 鼠 (shǔ)
Years: 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Traits: optimistic, nosy, sentimental, adaptable, and kind
Attribute: yang
Lucky Colors: black, blue, and green
Lucky Numbers: 4 and 9

Note: The Chinese character 鼠 can mean either “rat” or “mouse.”

Ox

Chinese Word: 牛 (niú)
Years: 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Traits: diligent, serious, loyal, honest, and stubborn
Attribute: yin
Lucky Colors: coffee, yellow, and orange
Lucky Numbers: 1 and 4

  • Note: The Chinese character 牛 can mean “ox,” “bull,” or “cow.”

Tiger

Chinese Word: 虎 ()
Years: 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Traits: ambitious, enthusiastic, arrogant, lively, and determined
Attribute: yang
Lucky Colors: blue, gray, white, and orange
Lucky Numbers: 1, 3, and 4

Rabbit

Chinese Word: 兔 ()
Years: 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Traits: gentle, reserved, kind, sensitive, and thoughtful
Attribute: yin
Lucky Colors: red, pink, purple, and blue
Lucky Numbers: 3, 4, and 9

Note: The Chinese character 兔 can mean either “hare” or “rabbit.”

Dragon

Chinese Word: 龍 (lóng)
Simplified Chinese: 龙 (lóng)
Years: 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Traits: demanding, responsible, bold, sincere, and temperamental
Attribute: yang
Lucky Colors: gold, silver, and gray
Lucky Numbers: 1, 6, and 7

Snake

Chinese Word: 蛇 (shé)
Years: 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Traits: energetic, easy-going, secretive, passionate, and cunning
Attribute: yin
Lucky Colors: red, light yellow, and black
Lucky Numbers: 2, 8, and 9

Note: The Chinese character 蛇 can also mean “serpent.”

Horse

Chinese Word: 馬 ()
Simplified Chinese: 马 ()
Years: 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Traits: resolute, decisive, impatient, cheerful, and opinionated
Attribute: yang
Lucky Colors: green, red, and purple
Lucky Numbers: 3, 4, and 9

Goat

Chinese Word: 羊 (yáng)
Years: 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Traits: creative, melancholy, tolerant, patient, and indecisive
Attribute: yin
Lucky Colors: green, red, and purple
Lucky Numbers: 2, 8, and 9

Note: The Chinese character 羊 can mean “sheep,” “ram,” or “goat.”

Monkey

Chinese Word: 猴 (hóu)
Years: 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Traits: jealous, confident, vain, talented, and clever
Attribute: yang
Lucky Colors: white, gold, and blue
Lucky Numbers: 1, 7, and 8

Rooster

Chinese Word: 雞 ()
Simplified Chinese: 鸡 ()
Years: 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017
Traits: competitive, keen, argumentative, organized, and caring
Attribute: yin
Lucky Colors: gold, brown, and yellow-brown
Lucky Numbers: 5, 7, and 8

Note: The character 雞/鸡 can mean “chicken,” “rooster,” or “hen.”

Dog

Chinese Word: 狗 (gǒu)
Years: 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018
Traits: reliable, intelligent, anxious, studious, and pessimistic
Attribute: yang
Lucky Colors: green, red, and purple
Lucky Numbers: 3, 4, and 9

Pig

Chinese Word: 豬 (zhū)
Simplified Chinese: 猪 (zhū)
Years: 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019
Traits: compassionate, calm, emotional, hardworking, and gullible
Attribute: yin
Lucky Colors: yellow, gray, and coffee
Lucky Numbers: 2, 5, and 8

What About Zodiac Traits and Blood Types?

Every zodiac sign has characteristics that change, and attributes that stay the same.

Fixed attributes include symbolic elements, lucky symbols, and harmonic attributes. Changing attributes include character traits, blood type, and time of birth.

Fixed attributes will be the same for everyone born in the same zodiac year. Changing attributes will result in differences between people with the same zodiac sign.

People disagree on changing attributes more often.

For example, I have two versions of the scroll calendar I mentioned earlier. The first version, “Scroll Calendar of the Rabbit,” describes the rabbit as “tender and lovely.” The second version, “Scroll Calendar of the Horse,” describes the same zodiac sign as “prudent and planning.”

Character traits differ as a result of translation choices but can also change depending on factors in the environment. Let’s say you’re ambitious by nature as a tiger, but you’ve already watched your relative’s business fail. You may be more cautious than expected when starting your own business as a result.

Blood types affect how clear your character traits are. For example, if your zodiac sign is dog and you have blood type A, you are likely to be extra honest and frank. If you have blood type B and your zodiac sign is still a dog, then you are instead extra persistent.

If you’d like to learn more about blood type compatibility, the learning website Yoyo Chinese posted an article with good explanations and audio clips.

What About Zodiac Elements and Attributes?

In general, people agree on fixed attributes. The traditional philosophy of 風水 (fēng shuǐ), meaning “wind-water,” determine the yin and yang attributes of each Chinese zodiac sign. These attributes split according to the number of your animal’s hooves or claws.

If the resulting number is odd, the animal sign is yang. If the resulting number is even, the animal sign is yin. 太極 (tài jí), better known in English as “Tai Chi,” refers to order in the universe when the opposites (yin and yang) unite.

The “five phases” or 五行 (wǔ xíng) of the Chinese zodiac are also fixed. They explain how energy flows in the universe between the classical elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. People who practice Feng Shui use this knowledge to reorder energy to help others or make cures.

To find out what your element is, first determine the last number of your birth year.

If your birth year ends in a…

  • 0 or 1 – Your element is metal.
  • 2 or 3 – Your element is water.
  • 4 or 5 – Your element is wood.
  • 6 or 7 – Your element is fire.
  • 8 or 9 – Your element is earth.

Talk About Your Western Zodiac Sign

The Chinese zodiac receives more attention than the Western zodiac, but the Western zodiac still has its place in Chinese culture.

Western zodiac signs follow the Gregorian calendar and rotate monthly. Written as 星座運勢 with traditional characters or 星座运势 with simplified characters, western-style horoscopes called xīng zuò yùn shì support constellations.

Capricorn

Chinese Word: 摩羯 (mó jié)
Meaning: “scour gelded ram”
Date of Birth: December 22 – January 19
Traits: honest, reliable, indifferent, and patient

Aquarius

Chinese Word: 寶瓶 (bǎo píng)
Simplified Chinese: 宝瓶 (bǎo píng)
Meaning: “treasure bottle”
Date of Birth: January 20 – February 18
Traits: eloquent, friendly, observant, and private

Pisces

Chinese Word: 雙魚 (shuāng yú)
Simplified Chinese: 双鱼 (shuāng yú)
Meaning: “double fish”
Date of Birth: February 19 – March 20
Traits: gentle, sincere, frank, and dedicated

Aries

Chinese Word: 白羊 (bái yáng)
Meaning: “white sheep/goat”
Date of Birth: March 21 – April 19
Traits: decisive, willful, strong, and idealistic

Taurus

Chinese Word: 金牛 (jīn niú)
Meaning: “gold bull”
Date of Birth: April 20 – May 20
Traits: stable, cautious, stubborn, and expressive

Gemini

Chinese Word: 雙子 (shuāng zǐ)
Simplified Chinese: 双子 (shuāng zǐ)
Meaning: “double child”
Date of Birth: May 21 – June 21
Traits: alert, restless, complacent, and witty

Cancer

Chinese Word: 巨蟹 (jù xiè)
Meaning: “huge crab”
Date of Birth: June 22 – July 22
Traits: thoughtful, kind, gentle, and determined

Leo

Chinese Word: 獅子 (shī zǐ)
Simplified Chinese: 狮子 (shī zǐ)
Meaning: “lion”
Date of Birth: July 23 – August 22
Traits: kind, upright, bright, and spontaneous

Virgo

Chinese Word: 室女 (shì nǚ)
Meaning: “room woman”
Date of Birth: August 23 – September 22
Traits: perfectionist, intelligent, mysterious, and restrained

Libra

Chinese Word: 天秤 (tiān chèng)
Meaning: “sky scale”
Date of Birth: September 23 – October 23
Traits: balanced, fair, vigorous, and noble

Scorpio

Chinese Word: 天蠍 (tiān xiē)
Simplified Chinese: 天蝎 (tiān xiē)
Meaning: “sky scorpion”
Date of Birth: October 24 – November 22
Traits: smart, wise, emotional, and enduring

Sagittarius

Chinese Word: 人馬 (rén mǎ)
Simplified Chinese: 人马 (rén mǎ)
Meaning: “human horse”
Date of Birth: November 23 – December 21
Traits: detailed, opinionated, optimistic, and peaceful

Discussing Your Zodiac Signs in Chinese

Now, let’s practice a conversation involving the zodiac signs!

You are out sightseeing with your friend 可欣 (kě xīn), and you two are trying to find clothes that suit her. You are both having a hard time choosing nice clothes, so you decide to look for some that show off positive character traits.

The resulting conversation, written with traditional Chinese characters, goes:

You:
可欣,你的生肖究竟属什么?
Kě Xīn, nǐ de shēng xiào jiū jìng shǔ shén me?
“Kexin, what zodiac animal do you actually belong to?”

Kě xīn:
我属鼠。
Wǒ shǔ shǔ.
“I belong to the rat.”

You:
老鼠通常是善良而樂觀的。
Lǎo shǔ tōng cháng shì shàn liáng ér lè guān de.
“Rats are usually kind-hearted and also optimistic.”

也許我們可以嘗試一些淺色的東西?
Yě xǔ wǒ men kě yǐ cháng shì yī xiē qiǎn sè de dōng xī?
“Maybe we can try some light-colored things?”

Kě xīn:
也許。
Yě xǔ.
“Maybe.”

Phrasebook for Zodiac Sign Conversations

How about discussing the Chinese zodiac signs more casually or more formally? Or asking about someone’s zodiac sign in a different way? How do you ask about next year’s zodiac animal or someone’s birth year?

Read the phrases below!

你的属相是什么?
Nǐ de shǔ xiàng shì shén me?
“What is your zodiac animal?”

我的属相是。。。
Wǒ de shǔ xiàng shì…
“My zodiac animal is…”

你属什么?
*Nǐ shǔ shén me?”
“What do you belong to?”

2017年是鸡年。
2017 nián shì jī nián.
“2017 is the year of the rooster.”

2023是兔年。
2023 shì tù nián.
“2023 is a rabbit year.”

明年是什么年?
Míng nián shì shén me nián?
“What year is next year?”

龍年。
Lóng nián.
“Dragon year.”

今年是我的本命年。
Jīn nián shì wǒ de běn mìng nián.
“This year is my origin-of-life year.”

Lots of people have dedicated their lives to studying Chinese astrology over the years. As a result, Chinese astrology is a huge subject that covers topics such as relationship compatibility and fortunes.

Here are some vocabulary words that may help you navigate the Chinese astrological world:

  • 陰陽論 (yīn yáng lùn) – yin-yang theory; expresses the idea that “opposites balance in this world”
  • 六合 (liù hé) – most compatible pairs
  • 三合 (sān hé) – next most compatible signs
  • 星座 (xīng zuò) – constellation; horoscope
  • 地支 (dì zhī) – the original term for the Chinese zodiac signs; means “earthly branches”
  • 血型 (xuè xíng) – blood type
  • 五行属性 (wǔ xíng shǔ xìng) – five element attribute
  • 水 (shuǐ) – water
  • 木 () – wood
  • 火 (huǒ) – fire
  • 土 () – earth
  • 金 (jīn) – metal
  • 算命 (suàn mìng) – fortune telling
  • 預測 [traditional] / 預測 [simplified] (yù cè) – to forecast; to predict

Chinese New Year Traditions

The Chinese New Year gives you a chance to practice what you’ve learned about the Chinese zodiac signs. It also brings you yearly tasks and fun activities, such as cooking rice, worshiping ancestors, and buying New Year goods. It’s also important to make sure the children stay eager to help and enjoy the celebrations.

When I taught world cultures to middle school students, we studied continents, countries, and nations. When we moved on to Chinese cultural traditions, students of all ages wanted to help and take part in the new year celebrations any way they could.

For example, they decorated the room, cooked traditional food, and practiced Chinese calligraphy. Still, they favored dragon dances, lantern festivals, cooking, and fireworks. If you’re interested in wishing someone a happy lunar year in Chinese, find out more here.

Younger ages enjoy flipping through pop-up books and visiting temples when given the chance. Older children often love the Chinese zodiac signs and learning about the history of joss paper. Try introducing it to them as “ghost money,” and see their faces light up.

Harry’s Kitchen in Hong Kong offers great parent-child baking challenges if you’re interested in exploring traditional Chinese food. Even if you’re not in Hong Kong, it’s becoming easier to find ingredients wherever you are in the world thanks to online shopping sites and exotic stores.

How Do the Chinese Zodiac Signs Affect Me?

Chinese zodiac signs are a big part of lunar new year celebrations, but their contributions are not limited to activities and self-discovery. Your Chinese zodiac sign can influence how others see you and how you see yourself, so some signs are more desired than others. Due to superstition, the dragon is more preferred while the goat is less favored.

Yet, an ancient saying goes “不坐没有老鼠的船” (bù zuò méi yǒu lǎo shǔ de chuán) which means “don’t go on a boat without rats.” This refers to how people born in the year of the rat usually have great foresight. Legend also states that the moon goddess Chang’e kept a pet rabbit – the Jade Rabbit – because only it was selfless enough to earn a place by her side.

So what’s the bottom line? Each zodiac sign has its own advantages and disadvantages. We’re all different, and it takes a team to make the world work after all!

But the next time you’re talking about the Chinese zodiac signs, you’ll be ready to impress Chinese locals with your deep knowledge of astrology.

新年快樂!
Xīn nián kuài lè!
Happy New Year!



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