How to Find Your Chinese Zodiac Sign (2024)

In Chinese culture, the 2021 Lunar New Year on February 12 ushers in the Year of the Ox, after a particularly challenging Year of the Rat in 2020. Twelve animals represent the Chinese zodiac signs (or sheng xiao, translating to "born + resemblance"); in order, they’re the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each animal is associated with particular personality traits, making it fun to look up what your sign is according to the year of your birth date. But as with Western astrology, other aspects—such as planetary shifts, and in this instance, the Five Elements—exert additional influence at any given time, day, and year. Your zodiac animal is only one piece of the puzzle.

The practice of Chinese astrology dates back thousands of years. As authors Gerry Maguire Thompson and Shuen-Lian Hsaio write in The Guide to Chinese Horoscopes, for the first 2000 years of recorded Chinese history, there wasn’t really a line between what we consider astrology and the scientific study that we know as astronomy. Back then, “astrology was only used in the divination of collective fortunes—those of the community, the state, or the agricultural year.” According to Thompson, personal horoscopes only became an idea in the years following the arrival of Buddhism in China during the Han Dynasty (ca. 150 CE), "which brought with it the idea that there are greater forces at work in the mapping of individual destiny.”

The massive popularity of Western astrology’s horoscopes has nurtured major public interest in what any zodiac sign means for people on an individual level. As such, here’s a beginner's guide to the twelve Chinese zodiac signs and their meanings, as well as the Five Elements.

The mythology behind the Chinese zodiac's order

“This being a Chinese legend, there are many explanations, few entirely matching in their details," Ken Smith and Joanna C. Lee write in the 2020 Pocket Chinese Almanac, an annual daily guide to our aforementioned collective fortune—such as which days are lucky and unlucky for weddings, planting seeds, and more. "They do, however, seem to agree on a couple of things: First, that a prominent Emperor (either Jade or Yellow, depending on your source) announced a great race, the order of 12 animals to be determined by their finishing time; and second, that the rat cheated.”

The rat can alternately be considered clever for his role in the story. Upon realizing no one could outrun the ox, he jumped on the ox’s shoulders—only to hop off once they’d crossed a river, so that he won the race by a (rat’s) nose. Hence, the Rat is the first animal in the Chinese zodiac, the Ox is second, and the other 10 are ordered according to how they fared in the race. The pig is last because he stopped for a snack and a nap en route.

The Chinese zodiac animals and their meanings:

How to Find Your Chinese Zodiac Sign (1)

Here are the birth years that correspond to each animal in the Chinese zodiac, and a brief overview of the personality traits associated with them, according to Sabrina Liao's Chinese Astrology: Ancient Secrets for Modern Life. In addition to zodiac sign profiles, Liao's book offers in-depth analysis of Chinese zodiac signs' compatibility with each other—an enormous topic in itself.


Birth years: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Personality traits: Ambitious, charming, talkative, resourceful, private, frugal, critical


Birth years: 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Personality traits: Diligent, gentle, hardworking, reliable, patient, materialistic, stubborn


Birth years: 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010
Personality traits: Confident, brave, magnetic, idealistic, thrill-seeking, arrogant, selfish


Birth years: 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Personality traits: Kind, sensitive, artistic, romantic, judgmental, timid, refined


Birth years: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Personality traits: Outspoken, energetic, generous, intelligent, perfectionistic, egocentric, impatient


Birth years: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Personality traits: Clever, curious, alluring, wise, anxious, calculating, jealous


Birth years: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Personality traits: Amusing, enthusiastic, independent, persuasive, irresponsible, moody, opportunistic


Birth years: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Personality traits: Easygoing, empathetic, creative, cheerful, disorganized, impulsive lazy


Birth years: 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Personality traits: Entertaining, intelligent, optimistic, sociable, fickle, secretive, unpredictable


Birth years: 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Personality traits: Adventurous, charitable, funny, loyal, argumentative, boastful, self-involved


Birth years: 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Personality traits: Helpful, honest, trustworthy, unselfish, pessimistic, anxious, timid


Birth years: 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
Personality traits: Caring, generous, smart, outgoing, fearful, impatient, materialistic

The Five Elements

The animal corresponding to the year you were born is only one part of your Chinese zodiac profile; the philosophy of the Five Elements is another. Drawn from the Chinese concept of Wu Xing, or Five Element Theory, this doesn’t refer to chemical elements, but to types of influencing energies that affect each other through interactions. While Western astrology incorporates beliefs about the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, the Five Elements of the Chinese zodiac are metal, water, wood, fire, and earth.

How to Find Your Chinese Zodiac Sign (2)

An illustration of how the Five Elements interconnect with each other.

The Five Elements impact the Chinese zodiac in several ways. After you've located your Chinese zodiac animal, finding the element for your birth year will tell you more. Each zodiac animal also has a “fixed,” or permanently rooted, element that they’re governed by no matter what the year. For example, while 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox because it’s affected by the “mutable,” or varying, element of Metal, the Ox’s fixed element is always Earth.

Here are the Five Elements’ basic meanings, according to The Guide to Chinese Horoscopes, and how to find your element:


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 0 or 1
Associated with:
“solidity and willpower"


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 2 or 3
Associated with: “responsiveness and persuasion”


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 4 or 5
Associated with:
“imagination and creativity”


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 6 or 7
Associated with:
“passion, and bursts of dynamic energy”


Birth years: Last number of your birth is 6 or 7
Associated with:
“down-to-earth qualities that encourage focus and commitment to achieving goals.”

Your zodiac year is considered unlucky.

You might assume that when the year of the animal sign you were born under returns 12 years later, it’s your time to shine. Not necessarily. “People always say, ‘yay, it’s my year!’ It’s the exact opposite,” Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of the Chinese in America, tells You should actually be extra-careful during the year of your birth animal, Maasbach says, lest you attract an accident or other misfortune in what's believed to be a year of obstacles.

Your Chinese zodiac birth year is called your Ben Ming Nian. Per travel site China Highlights, the superstition that it can bring misfortune comes from a belief that "people in their zodiac year are believed to offend Tai Sui, the God of Age, and incur his curse." Chinese astrology characterizes Tai Sui as an imaginary celestial body, or collection of stars, that corresponds to the position of Jupiter.

Superstition holds that there are ways to avoid conflict with Tai Sui during your Ben Ming Nian. Steer clear of any big moves like starting a business, getting married, or buying a new house, as well as high-risk physical endeavors. You may want to attract luck, China Highlights suggests, by wearing talismans made of jade, crystal, or gold, dressing in the traditionally-lucky color red, or even worshipping Tai Sui in a temple to appease them. So if you're age 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, or 84, err on the side of caution and get your best red outfits together.

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How to Find Your Chinese Zodiac Sign (3)

Samantha Vincenty

Senior Staff Writer

Samantha Vincenty is the former senior staff writer at Oprah Daily.

How to Find Your Chinese Zodiac Sign (2024)
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