From Wikipedia

The Chinese Zodiac is a 12-year cycle. Each year of the 12-year cycle is named after one of the original 12 animals. Each animal has a different personality and different characteristics. The animal is believed to be the main factor in each person’s life that gives them their traits, success and happiness in their lifetime.

The Chinese zodiac refers to a pure calendrical cycle; there are no equivalent constellations like those of the occidental zodiac. In imperial times there were astrologers who watched the sky for heavenly omens that would predict the future of the state, but this was a quite different practice of divination from the popular present-day methods.

BackgroundThe ancient Chinese astronomers called the 5 major planets by the names of the elements they were associated with: the dragon is the rat’s servant.

NOTE: These are listed in order of the elements and the animals associated with them, not the actual order of the planets from nearest to farthest the sun. In some texts, Wood is placed before Metal.

Venus—Metal (White Tiger)
Jupiter—Wood (Azure Dragon)
Mercury—Water (Black Tortoise)
Mars—Fire (Vermilion Bird)
Saturn—Earth (Yellow Dragon)
According to Chinese mysterious astronomy, a person’s destiny can be determined by the position of the major planets at the person’s birth along with the positions of the Sun, Moon and comets and the person’s time of birth and Zodiac Sign. The system of the twelve-year cycle of animal signs was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter (the Year Star; Chinese: 歳星; pinyin: Suìxīng). Following the orbit of Jupiter around the sun, Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections, and rounded it to 12 years (from 11.86). Jupiter is associated with the constellation Sheti (Chinese: 攝提- Boötes; symbol:ɳ) and is sometimes called Sheti.

A laborious system of computing one’s fate and destiny based on one’s birthday and birth hours, known as Zi Wei Dou Shu (Chinese: 紫微斗數; pinyin: zǐwēidǒushù) is still used regularly in modern day Chinese astrology to divine one’s fortune. The 28 Chinese constellations, Xiu (Chinese: 宿; pinyin: xìu), are quite different from the 88 Western constellations. For example, the Big Bear (Ursa Major) is known as Dou (Chinese: 斗; pinyin: dǒu); the belt of Orion is known as Shen (Chinese: 參; pinyin: shēn), or the “Happiness, Fortune, Longevity” trio of demigods. The seven northern constellations are referred to as Xuan Wu (Chinese: 玄武; pinyin: xúanwǔ). Xuan Wu is also known as the spirit of the northern sky or the spirit of Water in Taoism belief.

In addition to astrological readings of the heavenly bodies, the stars in the sky form the basis of many fairy tales. For example, the Summer Triangle is the trio of the cowherd (Altair), the weaving maiden fairy (Vega), and the “tai bai” fairy (Deneb). The two forbidden lovers were separated by the silvery river (the Milky Way). Each year on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, the birds form a bridge across the Milky Way. The cowherd carries their two sons (the two stars on each side of Altair) across the bridge to reunite with their fairy mother. The tai bai fairy acts as the chaperone of these two immortal lovers.

Lunisolar calendar
The 60-year cycle consists of two separate cycles interacting with each other. The first is the cycle of ten heavenly stems, namely the Five Elements (in order Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their ip Yin and Yang forms.

The second is the cycle of the twelve Zodiac animal signs (生肖 shēngxiāo) or Earthly Branches . They are in order as follows: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar.

This combination creates the 60-year cycle due to the least amount of years (least common multiple) it would take to get from Yang Wood Rat to its next iteration, which always starts with Yang Wood Rat and ends with Yin Water Boar. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac sign can also only occur in either Yin or Yang: the dragon is always yang, the snake is always yin, etc. The current cycle began in 1984 (as shown in “Table of the sixty year calendar” below).

When trying to traverse the lunisolar calendar, an easy rule to follow is that years that end in an even number are yang, those that end with an odd number are yin. The cycle proceeds as follows:

If the year ends in 0 it is Yang Metal.
If the year ends in 1 it is Yin Metal.
If the year ends in 2 it is Yang Water.
If the year ends in 3 it is Yin Water.
If the year ends in 4 it is Yang Wood.
If the year ends in 5 it is Yin Wood.
If the year ends in 6 it is Yang Fire.
If the year ends in 7 it is Yin Fire.
If the year ends in 8 it is Yang Earth.
If the year ends in 9 it is Yin Earth.
However, since the (traditional) Chinese zodiac follows the (lunisolar) Chinese calendar, the switch-over date is the Chinese New Year, not January 1 as in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, a person who was born in January or early February has the sign of the previous year. For example, if a person was born in January 1970, his or her element would still be Yin Earth, not Yang Metal. Similarly, although 1990 was called the year of the horse, anyone born from January 1 to January 26, 1990, was in fact born in the Year of the Snake (the sign of the previous year), because the 1990 Year of the Horse did not begin until January 27, 1990. For this reason, many online sign calculators (and Chinese restaurant place mats) will give a person the wrong sign if he/she was born in January or early February.

The start of a new Zodiac is also celebrated on Chinese New Year along with many other customs.

Table of the sixty year calendar

The following table shows the 60-year cycle matched up to the Western calendar for the years 1924–2043 (see above article for years 1804–1923).

Note: The Chinese symbols in the table for the elements and animal signs are special ones used only in astrology, not the ordinary symbols used in general writing.

  Year Associated
1924–1983 1984–2043
1 Feb 05 1924–Jan 23 1925 Yang Wood Rat Feb 02 1984–Feb 19 1985
2 Jan 24 1925–Feb 12 1926 Yin Wood Ox Feb 20 1985–Feb 08 1986
3 Feb 13 1926–Feb 01 1927 Yang Fire Tiger Feb 09 1986–Jan 28 1987
4 Feb 02 1927–Jan 22 1928 Yin Fire Rabbit Jan 29 1987–Feb 16 1988
5 Jan 23 1928–Feb 09 1929 Yang Earth Dragon Feb 17 1988–Feb 05 1989
6 Feb 10 1929–Jan 29 1930 Yin Earth Snake Feb 06 1989–Jan 26 1990
7 Jan 30 1930–Feb 16 1931 Yang Metal Horse Jan 27 1990–Feb 14 1991
8 Feb 17 1931–Feb 05 1932 Yin Metal Ram Feb 15 1991–Feb 03 1992
9 Feb 06 1932–Jan 25 1933 Yang Water Monkey Feb 04 1992–Jan 22 1993
10 Jan 26 1933–Feb 13 1934 Yin Water Rooster Jan 23 1993– Feb 09 1994
11 Feb 14 1934–Feb 03 1935 Yang Wood Dog Feb 10 1994–Jan 30 1995
12 Feb 04 1935–Jan 23 1936 Yin Wood Boar Jan 31 1995–Feb 18 1996
13 Jan 24 1936–Feb 10 1937 Yang Fire Rat Feb 19 1996–Feb 06 1997
14 Feb 11 1937–Jan 30 1938 Yin Fire Ox Feb 07 1997–Jan 27 1998
15 Jan 31 1938–Feb 18 1939 Yang Earth Tiger Jan 28 1998–Feb 15 1999
16 Feb 19 1939–Feb 07 1940 Yin Earth Rabbit Feb 16 1999–Feb 04 2000
17 Feb 08 1940–Jan 26 1941 Yang Metal Dragon Feb 05 2000–Jan 23 2001
18 Jan 27 1941–Feb 14 1942 Yin Metal Snake Jan 24 2001–Feb 11 2002
19 Feb 15 1942–Feb 04 1943 Yang Water Horse Feb 12 2002–Jan 31 2003
20 Feb 05 1943–Jan 24 1944 Yin Water Ram Feb 01 2003–Jan 21 2004
21 Jan 25 1944–Feb 12 1945 Yang Wood Monkey Jan 22 2004–Feb 08 2005
22 Feb 13 1945–Feb 01 1946 Yin Wood Rooster Feb 09 2005–Jan 28 2006
23 Feb 02 1946–Jan 21 1947 Yang Fire Dog Jan 29 2006–Feb 17 2007
24 Jan 22 1947–Feb 09 1948 Yin Fire Boar Feb 18 2007–Feb 06 2008
25 Feb 10 1948–Jan 28 1949 Yang Earth Rat Feb 07 2008–Jan 25 2009
26 Jan 29 1949–Feb 16 1950 Yin Earth Ox Jan 26 2009–Feb 13 2010
27 Feb 17 1950–Feb 05 1951 Yang Metal Tiger Feb 14 2010–Feb 02 2011
28 Feb 06 1951–Jan 26 1952 Yin Metal Rabbit Feb 03 2011–Jan 22 2012
29 Jan 27 1952–Feb 13 1953 Yang Water Dragon Jan 23 2012–Feb 09 2013
30 Feb 14 1953–Feb 02 1954 Yin Water Snake Feb 10 2013–Jan 30 2014
31 Feb 03 1954–Jan 23 1955 Yang Wood Horse Jan 31 2014–Feb 18 2015
32 Jan 24 1955–Feb 11 1956 Yin Wood Ram Feb 19 2015–Feb 07 2016
33 Feb 12 1956–Jan 30 1957 Yang Fire Monkey Feb 08 2016–Jan 27 2017
34 Jan 31 1957–Feb 17 1958 Yin Fire Rooster Jan 28 2017–Feb 18 2018
35 Feb 18 1958–Feb 07 1959 Yang Earth Dog Feb 19 2018–Feb 04 2019
36 Feb 08 1959–Jan 27 1960 Yin Earth Boar Feb 05 2019–Jan 24 2020
37 Jan 28 1960–Feb 14 1961 Yang Metal Rat Jan 25 2020–Feb. 11 2021
38 Feb 15 1961–Feb 04 1962 Yin Metal Ox Feb 12 2021–Jan 31 2022
39 Feb 05 1962–Jan 24 1963 Yang Water Tiger Feb 01 2022–Jan 21 2023
40 Jan 25 1963–Feb 12 1964 Yin Water Rabbit Jan 22 2023–Feb 09 2024
41 Feb 13 1964–Feb 01 1965 Yang Wood Dragon Feb 10 2024–Jan 28 2025
42 Feb 02 1965–Jan 20 1966 Yin Wood Snake Jan 29 2025–Feb 16 2026
43 Jan 21 1966–Feb 08 1967 Yang Fire Horse Feb 17 2026–Feb 05 2027
44 Feb 09 1967–Jan 29 1968 Yin Fire Ram Feb 06 2027–Jan 25 2028
45 Jan 30 1968–Feb 16 1969 Yang Earth Monkey Jan 26 2028–Feb 12 2029
46 Feb 17 1969–Feb 05 1970 Yin Earth Rooster Feb 13 2029–Feb 02 2030
47 Feb 06 1970–Jan 26 1971 Yang Metal Dog Feb 03 2030–Jan 22 2031
48 Jan 27 1971–Feb 14 1972 Yin Metal Boar Jan 23 2031–Feb 10 2032
49 Feb 15 1972–Feb 02 1973 Yang Water Rat Feb 11 2032–Jan 30 2033
50 Feb 03 1973–Jan 22 1974 Yin Water Ox Jan 31 2033–Feb 18 2034
51 Jan 23 1974–Feb 10 1975 Yang Wood Tiger Feb 19 2034–Feb 07 2035
52 Feb 11 1975–Jan 30 1976 Yin Wood Rabbit Feb 08 2035–Jan 27 2036
53 Jan 31 1976–Feb 17 1977 Yang Fire Dragon Jan 28 2036–Feb 14 2037
54 Feb 18 1977–Feb 06 1978 Yin Fire Snake Feb 15 2037–Feb 03 2038
55 Feb 07 1978–Jan 27 1979 Yang Earth Horse Feb 04 2038–Jan 23 2039
56 Jan 28 1979–Feb 15 1980 Yin Earth Ram Jan 24 2039–Feb 11 2040
57 Feb 16 1980–Feb 04 1981 Yang Metal Monkey Feb 12 2040–Jan 31 2041
58 Feb 05 1981–Jan 24 1982 Yin Metal Rooster Feb 01 2041–Jan 21 2042
59 Jan 25 1982–Feb 12 1983 Yang Water Dog Jan 22 2042–Feb 09 2043
60 Feb 13 1983–Feb 01 1984 Yin Water Boar Feb 10 2043–Jan 29 2044

Five elements
The Yin or Yang is broken down into Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) on top of the cycle of animals. These are modifiers and affect the characteristics of each of the 12 animal signs. Thus, each of the 12 animals are governed by an element plus a Yin Yang Direction.

Although it is usually translated as ‘element’ the Chinese word xing literally means something like ‘changing states of being’, ‘permutations’ or ‘metamorphoses of being’. In fact Sinologists cannot agree on one single translation. The Chinese conception of ‘element’ is therefore quite different from the Western one. The Western elements were seen as the basic building blocks of matter. The Chinese ‘elements’, by contrast, were seen as ever changing and moving forces or energies—one translation of xing is simply ‘the five changes’.

The balance of yin and yang and the five elements in a person’s make-up has a major bearing on what is beneficial and effective for them in terms of feng shui, the Chinese form of geomancy. This is because each element is linked to a particular direction and season, and their different kinds of qì or life force.

木 Wood

The East(東)
Azure Dragon(青龍)
The Planet Jupiter (木星)
The Color Green(緑)
Liver(肝) and gallbladder(胆)
Generous, Warm, Persuasive, Co-operative, Seeks to Expand and Grow.
Idealistic, Ethical, Enthusiastic, Seeks to Explore.
Wood governs the Tiger (strongest wood), Rabbit, Dragon (weakest wood)

火 Fire

The South(南)
Vermilion Bird(朱雀)
The Planet Mars(火星)
The Color Red(赤)
Circulatory system & Heart(心)
Dynamic, Humanitarian, Enterprising, Adventurous, Restless
Competitive, Leadership Skills, Strong, Single-minded, Loves a good laugh
Fire governs the Snake, Horse (strongest fire), Ram (weakest fire)

土 Earth

Three Enclosures, Change of seasons
The Yellow Dragon(黄龙)
The Planet Saturn(土星)
The Color Yellow(意)
Digestive system, Spleen(脾) and stomach(胃)
Powerful, Wise, Patient, Militaristic, Prideful, Prudent, Stable, Reliable, Hard-working, Ambitious, Stubborn, Seeks to Conquer
Disciplined, Rigid, Controlling, Tenacious, Logical, Governed by Service and Duty to Others
Earth governs Dragon, Sheep, Dog and Ox. It is the central balance of the elements and can lend qualities to all 12 animals as well.

金 Metal

The West(西)
White Tiger(白虎)
The Planet Venus(金星)
The Color White(白)
Respiratory system & Lungs(肺)
Determined, Self-reliant, Unyielding, Strong, Tenacious, Forceful
Reserved, Needs Personal Space, Sophisticated, Seeks pleasure, caring, respectful
Metal governs the Monkey (strongest metal), Rooster, Dog (weakest metal)

水 Water

The North (北)
Black Tortoise(玄武)
The Planet Mercury(水星)
The Colour Black(黑)
Skeletal(骨)/Excretory System & Lungs
Secretive, Self-destructive, Charming, Intuitive, Deceptive, Passive-Aggressive, Compassionate, Sensitive, Creative
Flexible, Addictive, Manipulative, Compliant, Eloquence, Intellectual, Betrayal
Water governs the Rat (strongest water), Ox, Pig (weakest water)

The 12 zodiac animals
In Chinese astrology the zodiac of twelve animal signs represents twelve different types of personality. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the Origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so (see below). The following are the twelve zodiac signs in order and their characteristics.

  1. Rat (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water):
    Forthright, disciplined, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, shrewd. Can be manipulative, vindictive, mendacious, venal, selfish, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.
  2. Ox (Water buffalo in Vietnam) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water):
    Dependable, calm, methodical, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, steady, modest, logical, resolute, tenacious. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid, demanding.
  3. Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood):
    Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish.
  4. Rabbit (Cat in Vietnam) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood):
    Gracious, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious, artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, astute, compassionate, flexible. Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent, opportunistic, lazy, horny.
  5. Dragon (Snail in Kazakhstan) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood):
    Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, zealous, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, ambitious, generous, loyal. Can be arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, eccentric, grandiloquent and extremely bombastic, prejudiced, dogmatic, over-bearing, violent, impetuous, brash.
  6. Snake (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire):
    Deep thinker, wise, mystic, graceful, soft-spoken, sensual, creative, prudent, shrewd, ambitious, elegant, cautious, responsible, calm, strong, constant, purposeful. Can be loner, bad communicator, possessive, hedonistic, self-doubting, distrustful, mendacious.
  7. Horse (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire):
    Cheerful, popular, quick-witted, changeable, earthy, perceptive, talkative, agile mentally and physically, magnetic, intelligent, astute, flexible, open-minded. Can be fickle, arrogant, anxious, rude, gullible, stubborn.
  8. Ram (Goat in Vietnam) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire):
    Righteous, sincere, sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, creative, gentle, compassionate, understanding, mothering, determined, peaceful, generous, seeks security. Can be moody, indecisive, over-passive, worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer, wise.
  9. Monkey (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal):
    Inventor, motivator, improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem solver, self-assured, sociable, polite, dignified, competitive, objective, factual, intellectual. Can be egotistical, vain, selfish, reckless, snobbish, deceptive, manipulative, cunning, jealous, suspicious.
  10. Rooster (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): 
    Acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible. Can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, opinionated.
  11. Dog (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal):
    Honest, intelligent, straightforward, loyal, sense of justice and fair play, attractive, amicable, unpretentious, sociable, open-minded, idealistic, moralistic, practical, affectionate, dogged. Can be cynical, lazy, cold, judgmental, pessimistic, worrier, stubborn, quarrelsome.
  12. Pig (Wild boar in Japan) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water):
    Honest, simple, gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working, trusting, sincere, calm, understanding, thoughtful, scrupulous, passionate, intelligent. Can be naive, over-reliant, self-indulgent, gullible, fatalistic, materialistic.