A Beginner's Guide to the Chinese Zodiac

A Beginner's Guide to the Chinese Zodiac

Learn all about the Chinese zodiac, including how to find your Chinese zodiac sign, according to when you were born.
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For thousands of years, the Chinese community has consulted the Chinese zodiac for insights into relationships, business, and general good fortune. The Chinese zodiac is guided by the lunar calendar and, as with Western astrology, has 12 signs; each is represented by an animal. With the lunar new year roughly beginning in late January to early February, a new sign takes the power position, influencing each year with its distinct personality and energy.

The Chinese zodiac and the animal order come from the legend of how the animal kingdom honored the Buddha's departure from Earth. As the story goes, when word spread of Buddha's exit, the animals raced to be first in line to say goodbye. The first was the Rat, then came Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Monkey, Sheep, Rooster, Dog, and finally the Boar. In gratitude for this gesture, the Buddha gave each animal their own year in the twelve-year lunar cycle.

The year, date, and hour of your birth each match up with one of these signs, whose characteristics color your personality and life path. This combination of Chinese zodiac animals creates the beginnings of your Chinese astrological chart. (If you're familiar with Western astrology, think of it as your "big three.")

You can look to Chinese astrology for the same reasons you might look to Western astrology: to better understand yourself from the point of view of the stars. Consult the charts below to identify the zodiac animals that correspond to your birth details and reflect on how you relate to each Chinese zodiac animal connected to you. (To learn more about Chinese Horoscopes in-depth, check out The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes by Theodora and Laura Lau.)

Chinese Zodiac Ascendants: The Twelve Animal Signs and Their Hours

Find your birth time (yes, go text a family member) to see which animal corresponds with that aspect of your birth, according to the Chinese zodiac.

  • 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. — hours ruled by the Rat
  • 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. — hours ruled by the Ox
  • 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. — hours ruled by the Tiger
  • 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. — hours ruled by the Rabbit
  • 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. — hours ruled by the Dragon
  • 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. — hours ruled by the Snake
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — hours ruled by the Horse
  • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. — hours ruled by the Sheep
  • 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. — hours ruled by the Monkey
  • 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. — hours ruled by the Rooster
  • 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. — hours ruled by the Dog
  • 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. — hours ruled by the Boar

Lunar Sign & Solar Sign Corresponding Months and Dates

Next, look at your birthdate to see which Chinese zodiac animal is associated with the day you were born. These follow similar patterns to the sun signs in Western astrology.

  • 1st - Rat: Sagittarius, November 22nd – December 21st
  • 2nd - Ox: Capricorn, December 22nd – January 20th
  • 3rd - Tiger: Aquarius, January 21st – February 19th
  • 4th - Rabbit: Pisces, February 20th – March 20th
  • 5th - Dragon: Aries, March 21st – April 19th
  • 6th - Snake: Taurus, April 20th – May 20th
  • 7th - Horse: Gemini, May 21st – June 21st
  • 8th - Sheep: Cancer, June 22nd – July 21st
  • 9th - Monkey: Leo, July 22nd – August 21st
  • 10th - Rooster: Virgo, August 22nd – September 22nd
  • 11th - Dog: Libra, September 23rd – October 22nd
  • 12th - Boar: Scorpio, October 23rd – November 21st

Chinese Zodiac Sign Years & Characteristics

Rat: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

The Rat is known for charm and creativity. Honest and forever curious, they have a habit of constantly learning and staying on top of information. They achieve this through hard work and effortless networking. A thoughtful planner, they love to help those close to them, but often have to be reminded to take time to care of their own needs and wishes.

Ox: 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

The Ox symbolizes honesty and good character. Hardworking and focused, the Ox enjoys order and takes pleasure in building a good routine. Although Oxen are fair-minded, it is difficult to sway their opinion once it is set. The Ox is one who avoids drama at all costs, but ironically enough is the perfect animal to bring peace to arguments amongst friends.

Tiger: 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Charismatic and passionate, the Tiger is famous for making an entrance! This is a sign that commits themselves completely to love, friendship, and social causes. For better or worse, the Tiger lets their intuition guide them, taking on spontaneous adventures at the drop of a hat. Not one to dwell on the past or beat themselves up for mistakes big and small, the Tiger inspires others to be more daring.

Rabbit: 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

A lover of art, beauty, and time for reflection, the Rabbit reminds others how to enjoy life. One of the classic animal introverts, the Rabbit seeks out quiet, beautiful places to reflect and recharge. A natural diplomat, it is difficult to read a Rabbit's polite and graceful actions unless you have known them for a very long time.

Dragon: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

The legendary Dragon is famous for its energy and courage. With a strong will and strong set of opinions, this animal is a magnet for friends and admirers. The Dragon's real driving force is purpose. Once a Dragon has a plan (big or small), it cannot be distracted until its plans are complete!

Snake: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

A master of intuition and strategy, the Snake has an almost magical way of figuring things out when they are plugged in. Often difficult for strangers to understand, the Snake sign delights in being a bit of a mystery to others. The Snake loves being different and often surprises people with daring fashion choices and controversial opinions.

Horse: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

The Horse is the adventurer of the Chinese zodiac. Wild at heart and brimming with energy, the moody Horse finds their peace in nature or exploring new territory. The Horse takes risks often and with great confidence, keeping friends and admirers on their toes. This is a sign that learns by doing and doesn't take unsolicited advice well, if at all. (Related: How to Let Astrocartography Guide Your Wanderlust)

Sheep: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Sheep are famous for their generous spirit. The ultimate selfless friend and family member, this sign has to be careful to not be too trusting or too willing to compromise. Creative, emotional, and supportive to a fault, Sheep are blessed with a big circle of friends and family to lean on. Though not one looking for a confrontation, the Sheep is a formidable fighter when pushed.

Monkey: 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

The Monkey's creative mind and entrepreneurial spirit cannot be matched, often charming or vexing their opponent. A lover of puzzles and fun alike, the Monkey is resourceful, entertaining, and, of course, tricky. The Monkey's ambitious spirit and daring nature make it difficult for them to think long-term as well as hold one's tongue.

Rooster: 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

The Rooster is a study in extremes. Whether ultra-conservative or extremely liberal, extroverted or introverted, this is a sign that will always give people the unpolished truth — the Rooster cannot function any other way. The Rooster has a strong sense of self and when they speak their mind, others cannot help but listen.

Dog: 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Honest and clever, people born in the year of the Dog are known for their strength of character. The Dog is known as a connector of people, often serving as the connective glue for a wide network of personalities. This sign's sense of justice and spirituality is unwavering, making it a priority for them to surround themselves with those who meet their high moral standards.

Boar: 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

The Boar is a vibrant force that easily connects with people from diverse backgrounds. Naturally, this sign's warm sense of humor of generous spirit easily attracts friendship, romance, and adventure. The Boar will struggle to moderate with so many temptations and interesting opportunities at their disposal.

Laura Lau is a second-generation Chinese American writer who has been practicing Chinese astrology for over 20 years. Her books include Best-Loved Chinese ProverbsWedding Feng Shui, and the Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes.