The Chinese Zodiac: How To Determine Your Sign (& What It Means)

The signs in Western astrology are based on constellations — it's where those constellations are at our time of birth that determines which sign we fall under. While Chinese astrology also has specific timelines, their zodiac signs are based on animals. How each zodiac got its spot on the calendar is a mythological tale of the animals racing to earn their position.  They were placed by who finished first to last — thus rat finished first, pig finished last — and all of the other places from two to 11 finished in those respective positions.


Another way Chinese and Western astrology differ is that Western astrology is month by month and Chinese astrology is year by year. However, it's not much more difficult to calculate your Chinese zodiac sign, once you know how. The most important thing to note is that the Chinese new year is celebrated from late January to early February. Where Western zodiac signs go from the late middle of one month to that time in the next (and it sometimes varies), the Chinese zodiac starts in late January or mid-February and run through a date in February or January the next year.

How to calculate your Chinese zodiac sign

So, which sign are you? While it seems that there are some who say you can use math to calculate your Chinese zodiac, reviews of this method prove that it isn't very accurate. Just as you can hop online and punch in your birthday month and day to have a calculator show you which Western zodiac sign you are, you will do the same for your Chinese sign, you just need your year as well. Travel China Guide has a free calculator to get you started.


You and your spouse, friends, and even children could have the same sign even if you're born in different months and on different days (and obviously different years). Each zodiac sign passes back through every 12 years, so if you were born in 1984 and your mom was born in 1960, you might both be rats — of course, this depends on when in those years you were born because the new year started on January 28 in 1960 and on February 2 in 1984. 

Another thing that is different is that where we have Western zodiac signs each with their own elements, like all scorpios, cancers, and pisces are water signs, for instance, you could be a wood, fire, earth, metal, or water in your respective Chinese sign. 


You may be a resourceful rat

Rat is the first sign of the Chinese zodiac, as the winner of that race. And being a winner, the rat is a lucky sign to have. To better understand this zodiac sign, one must think of the actions of a rat or mouse — you have quick wit, you're very intelligent, and you know how to figure things out. You are a natural born leader, but you may also be stubborn — which can be good and bad depending on who or what you're being stubborn toward.


The different elements will also affect what you're like as a rat, though you will still have the basic traits of the sign. Where most rats are generally positive, the wood rat tends to have a pessimistic side. Water rats are often conservative, where metal rats are persuasive and very much self-aware. Like the element of fire, the fire rat has much bravery, and is also quick to anger, while earth rat is, as one would think, down to earth. Like earth signs in Western astrology, this earthy rat is a hard worker.

When it comes to friendships and love connections, rats play very well with other rats. They also pair well with ox, monkey, and dragon.

You could be a giving ox

According to Chinese mythology, ox could have been the first sign of the zodiac, but the animal was tricked by rat and ended up in second place. Like the helpful ox, those born under this sign are hard workers who are loyal to those they work with and live with. The ox, much like Taurus in Western astrology, has a stubborn side, but still forges on when it comes to responsibilities. While you may be strict when in charge, you're the type of person who would risk losing first place if it meant helping out someone in need — though you air on the side of caution when it comes to trusting.


The bravest ox are wood, while the most hardworking are water. Metal ox enjoy being active and having full calendars. Earth and fire ox are both very intelligent, but the stubborn earth element makes this sign a little too adverse to change and the fiery ox is less likely to be empathetic.

When it comes to other signs the ox gets along with, look toward snake, rat, and rooster. A snake's calm demeanor will easily endure an ox's stubborn side.

Embrace power if you're a tiger

When you walk through the zoo and come upon the tiger — the large cat yawning with its giant teeth showing — what are your thoughts? You likely think of bravery and fear — because that animal would be frightening if you were in that cage with it. These word associations truly describe this powerful zodiac sign. Tigers are caring and seek justice — making them excellent teachers, parents, and even reasonable leaders.


Of course, we see a deeper side to these cats when we look at them via the elements. The wood tiger is the one who fights to help those who can't fight for themselves, while the metal tiger prefers to stick with their family. The water tiger is an eternal learner, the fire tiger has the most courage, while earth tiger prefers to be practical.

For partnerships, whether in love, friendship, or work, tigers blend best with dog, pig, or horse. Horse brings more spirit to tiger's life, pig lets them be in charge, and dog makes a equally courageous companion.

If you're a rabbit, your kindness may be showing

Much like rabbits hopping around outside, those who find themselves born in a year of the rabbit are always alert and aware of what is going on around them. It's likely you're also pretty family oriented, because, well, we all know what rabbits are notorious for. It takes you a little while to let knew people in because it takes time to gain your trust. Like the March Hare of Alice in Wonderland, rabbits are very cordial and friendly. But while they may seem inviting, know that they have their keen eye on you.


Metal rabbits tend to be the kindest, while earth rabbits like to be seen. Wood rabbits are happy-go-lucky, with an air of superiority. Fire rabbits are the most responsible, perhaps because they can sometimes tap into the future, and water rabbits tend to be followers.

When it comes to romance and friendship, these bunnies work well with dog, sheep, or pig. The kind-heartedness of the sheep is the ideal compliment to rabbit's kindness.

Be determined like a dragon

While dragons may be mythological creatures, the dragon still made it into the race to be placed as one of the Chinese zodiac signs. It is a lucky critter and has often been used as a symbol for royalty. Much like the knights depicted in movies about dragons, the dragon is a chivalrous being. Those born under this sign have a drive to be successful in all things they set forth to do. Unlike some determined folks, however, dragons are also sincere — so they're unlikely to step on others to get ahead.


Wood dragons love success, but don't like being the one to get all the attention for their achievements, while water dragons use their humor to draw attention to themselves. Fire dragons know how to jump on a lead, and metal dragons prefer the creative side of life. If you're an earth dragon, you need to work harder at staying focused.

Your best partners in life and business include rat, rooster, and monkey. A rat's go get 'em attitude can motivate even the laziest dragon.

Don't fear the serpent

Even if you're not full blown phobic, studies have shown that many people feel uneasy when they see a snake — but the serpent or snake in Chinese astrology is nothing to fear. In fact, if you're a snake, you're probably a calm individual and loyal to the people who matter the most to you. Much like actual snakes, who prefer to hide from humans, if you're a member of this zodiac sign, you're likely modest and intelligent.


When it comes to the elements, water snakes are the artistic types and like to stay busy, while fire snakes have a short fuse but enjoy being in large groups. Wood snakes are also creative, and metal snakes make great leaders. If you're an earth snake, work on not caring so much about what other people think of you.

For snakes, ox and rooster are the perfect matches. While pushing snake to be more outgoing, rooster is sure to shake them up — but hopefully in a good way.

Be energetic like the horse

When it comes to horse as a spirit animal, they are the symbol of freedom. In the world of Chinese astrology, people born in a year of the horse are often seen as enthusiastic and filled with courage. They love to be on the move, bursting forth with energy to do all the things they dream of. 


Wood horses are in charge and find making decisions easy, while water horses will give of themselves to help others, and fire horses are as passionate as their fiery element. Metal horses are just as helpful as those with the water element, but they have a habit of being a little too honest. Earth horses seek justice for all.

Horse will enjoy their time most if they spend it with goat, tiger, or dog.  

Embrace the gentle sheep

The sheep is also sometimes called the goat in Chinese astrology. Sheep are seen as gentle creatures, and they are very social — which is easy to imagine when you think of a flock of sheep or goats. Goats are creative — from those weird little fainting goats to the mountain climbing ones who stand on thin ledges and make it look easy — you are able to find new ways to do things, no matter how difficult the task at hand seems to be.


While wood sheep are the most gentle, those with metal as their element are the most kind-hearted, and water sheep can always be trusted. If you're a fire sheep, you're always there to help. Earth sheep tend to be impatient and have no qualms about speaking their minds.

Sheep or goats do swell with pig, rabbit, and horse. However, your best match may be another sheep — who won't take advantage of your kindness and know exactly what it means when you prefer to be alone for a little while.

Monkey is sure to bring the laughs

The monkey exhibits at the zoo are absolute proof that these primates are hilarious and full of life. These spunky characteristics are housed within those who fall into this Chinese zodiac sign. Your bravery also sends you into the mouth of danger from time to time, and somehow you always come back out the victor — having saved the damsel in distress or made the bad guy fall over laughing.


A monkey born in a metal year will exude the most clever talents, with an ability to always make others laugh while always feeling confident in their ventures. Water monkey may struggle with self-confidence, but wood monkey knows to ask for help. The earth monkey is a planner, and the fire monkey uses their intelligence to adapt to knew situations.

If you're a monkey, look to spend your time with dog, rat, or dragon. The success and determination of dragon is sure to be eased by the joking nature of monkey, allowing the mythical being more time to laugh and relax.

Don't let your rooster call get destructive

From the crow of the rooster in the morning as an automatic wake-up call (but if you've lived with a rooster, you know they scream out that sound more often than just in the morning) to the lucky chicken foot used by followers of voodoo, the rooster is an loud, boisterous, and outgoing zodiac sign. Of course, such a loud mouth is sure to have some negative traits, like having a giant ego and loving to talk about it. Nonetheless, roosters are extremely intelligent and don't mind being on their own.


Wood rooster is the most comical, while water rooster fits the same temperament as the water signs in Western astrology — emotional and overly sensitive. Metal rooster prefers to stay focused on the things that interest them, but earth roosters would prefer to be on the road having adventures. Fire rooster has great potential to be wealthy.

Dragon, ox, and snake are compatible with rooster — snake being the best to calm the loud and obnoxious bird.

Loyalty is what dog is all about

Dog is, after all, man's best friend — a loyal subject willing to learn, love, and help. Dogs in the Chinese zodiac are full of energy, just like your pooch when you toss them a ball. But, like their canine counterparts, zodiac dogs can also lean toward stubbornness and over sensitivity. Really, they just need someone to nurture their need for companionship.


Wood dog is the most reliable of the elements, but earth dog will lay on the persistence to get what they want. Fire dog will give their heart out easily, but they are cautious when it comes to new people. Metal dog will make changes easily so that everyone feels equal, and while water dog gets a little too focused on themselves, they still give their all to the responsibilities in their lives.

Dog can get along pretty good with anyone, but tiger, rabbit, monkey, and horse may have the best time with this friendly sign. No matter who you spend time with, you're sure to be one of their biggest fans!

The persevering pig

Even though pig finished the race last, this sign still has many amazing attributes. The pig kept going, a sure sign of positivity and perseverance. If you are a pig, you don't give up easily, even when it seems like everything and everyone is against you. On the negative side, pigs can be gluttonous, and they are sometimes too trusting, opening themselves up to be taken advantage of.


Pigs are gentle, when they aren't hungry, and metal pigs genuinely take care with each move. Like the water signs of Western zodiac, water pigs have hidden talents and strive in creative situations. A fire pig's bravery stems from their desire to be successful. Grounded but aware, earth pigs enjoy spending time with others. Wood pigs would rather take their time and just enjoy life.

Pigs will have the best time with tiger, rabbit, and goat. The gentle goat makes pig feel comfortable and like they can let their guard down.