Introduction to the Zodiac

It is that time of year, the time to refresh on the Chinese Zodiac. The past year was the Year of the Goat, with this year being the Year of the Monkey! Do you know which animal is your zodiac sign, or how the zodiac came about? If not, read on!

All the animal images were from Hallmark, whose web page is also a great source of information about the Chinese zodiac! Please note that the order of the zodiac depicted in the above image is counter clockwise.


The Chinese zodiac is a repeating twelve-year lunar-based cycle, with each year represented by a certain animal. Each zodiac sign has its own particular attributes, which are believed to influence the personality and life events of the people born under each zodiac sign. The most famous aspect of the zodiac cycle is the assignment of animal signs by the year of birth, but people can also be assigned additional zodiac signs by the month, day, and hour of their birth. On each Lunar New Year, a new animal comes in with the new lunar-based year. The origin of the zodiac signs would be retold through a famous folktale about the Zodiac Race, which you can read below!


The Story of the Zodiac Race

The Jade Emperor, ruler of all the gods, announced that there would be a race to determine the signs of the Zodiac. The first twelve animals to finish the race would each have a year named after them.

When the race commenced, all the animals began running as quickly as they could. The Rat and the Cat, who were both good friends, easily made their way through the various obstacles and were the first to arrive at the last obstacle, a fast-flowing river. The two animals were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom, but they were also the most cunning; they waited by the riverbank until the Ox appeared and asked if it could carry them across the river. The kind Ox agreed, allowing the two animals to climb onto its back. When the three animals were halfway across the river, the Rat suddenly pushed the Cat into the water, leaving it to flounder as it was washed away by the strong currents. As the Ox reached the other bank, the Rat jumped off its back and quickly dashed across the finish line, winning first place and the first year of the Zodiac cycle, with the Ox in close second place behind it.

Shortly after, the Tiger clambered onto the riverbank, exhausted from having to fight against the powerful currents, but it earned third place for its efforts. The Rabbit arrived next; it had crossed the river by hopping from one stone to another, but it had slipped about halfway through. The Rabbit had kicked its powerful hind legs, fighting to stay afloat, but to no avail. Just when it had seemed all hope was lost, the Rabbit managed to grab hold of a floating log, which carried the Rabbit to the other side.

The Dragon swooped past the finish line after the Rabbit, earning fifth place. When asked by the Jade Emperor why such a swift, flying creature had not finished in first place, the Dragon explained that it had stopped to create rain to help all the people and creatures on the earth. Additionally, it had spotted a helpless rabbit clinging to a log, so the Dragon had decided to give a puff of wind to help the rabbit ashore.

Next, the Horse climbed out and galloped towards the finish line. Just before the Horse crossed the finish line, the Snake unraveled from one of the Horse’s hooves. Startled, the Horse jumped backwards, giving the Snake the chance to slither forward and win sixth place with Horse settling for seventh.

Not long afterwards, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster arrived on a small raft, which the Rooster had spotted amongst the river weeds. The Goat and the Monkey had cleared away the weeds, and the three animals had worked together to paddle the raft to the other shore. Pleased at the animals’ teamwork, the Jade Emperor awarded eighth place to the Goat, ninth place to the Monkey, and tenth place to the Rooster.

The eleventh animal to finish the race was the Dog. It was the best swimmer, but had been distracted by playing in the river. Finally, after a long wait, the Pig arrived at the finish line; it had gotten hungry during the race, so it had stopped to eat but had fallen asleep after its meal. Nevertheless, it still managed to win twelfth place.

And the poor Cat? By the time the Cat finally managed to crawl onto the opposite bank, the race was long over, so it was never able to get a year named after itself. The Cat has never forgiven the Rat for its dirty trick, and, to this day, cats still chase rats to try to get revenge.

(Note: There are variations of the story between the Cat and the Rat. One version says that they had agreed to wake each other up before going to the race, but the Rat purposely left the Cat, which led to it completely missing the race. In another version, the Rat accidentally forgets to wake the Cat. The most famous version of the story involves the Rat pushing the Cat into the water, which also explains why cats are afraid of water.)


Below are the animals with their attributes, some of the years they fall under, and famous people born during those years.

Find your zodiac sign and see what your sign says about you! Do you think your sign’s description is accurate?


chinese-new-year-rat-616Rat (鼠)

Quick-witted, resourceful, and versatile, Rats quickly respond and adapt to their environments, so they can easily take advantage of various opportunities. They possess a strong sense of curiosity and an active nature, and they are meticulous about their work. Rats are outgoing and enjoy making new friends, but they seldom further their relationships with others. Additionally, they can be picky, stubborn, and narrow-minded, and their lack of courage and command skills hinder their leadership capabilities.
Years: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Famous Rats: Al Gore, Ben Affleck, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Katy Perry, Prince Harry, Scarlett Johansson, Shaquille O’Neil, Truman Capote, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Zhuangzi


chinese-new-year-cow-616Ox (牛)

The most dependable of the zodiac signs, the Ox is known for its honesty, diligence, patience, and determination. Oxen possess strong ideals and ambition, and they always prepare a definite, detailed plan before taking action. They have a keen eye for detail and a strong devotion to their work, but their stubbornness in doing things in accordance with their own ideas and capabilities makes them inflexible and spending too much time in their work. Oxen are also poor at communicating with others, which may make them seem distant and antisocial, but they cherish their friends and family.
Years: 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Famous Oxen: Napoleon Bonaparte, Barack Obama, Charlie Chaplin, Vincent van Gogh, Walt Disney, Heinz Christian Anderson, Kiera Knightley, Rosa Parks, George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, Li Bai


chinese-new-year-tiger-616Tiger (虎)

Independent and self-confident, Tigers are powerful leaders who boldly express themselves and have the fortitude to handle any challenges that may arise. Their leadership skills are enhanced by their courage and love for challenges. However, due to their authoritative and dominant nature, they dislike obeying others and tend to use commanding means when dealing with interpersonal relationships. Additionally, their stubborn personalities and tough judgment can backfire by making them seem arrogant and short-tempered.
Years: 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Famous Tigers: Ludwig von Beethoven, Marco Polo, Karl Marx, Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Penelope Cruz, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Sun Yat-sen, Zhang Yimou


chinese-new-year-rabbit-616Rabbit (兔)

Rabbits impress others with their grace and gentleness, and they are easily likable because of their considerate, sensitive natures. They avoid confrontation; instead, they seek solutions through compromise and negotiation, which makes them capable of converting enemies into friends. Rabbits are alert and work skillfully and efficiently, but they tend to be overly cautious and hesitant, which may cause them to miss good opportunities. Additionally, Rabbits can be superficial, melancholy, and overly discreet.
Years: 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Famous Rabbits: Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Whitney Houston, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Lisa Kudrow, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jet Li


chinese-new-year-dragon-616Dragon (龍)

The Dragon is the most powerful creature in the zodiac, possessing great confidence, tenacity, and ambition. People born under this sign enthusiastically embrace challenges and are not afraid to take risks, which leads them to be very enterprising. However, their dominant natures are often perceived to be aggressive, and they are infamous for their hot tempers and sharp tongues. They can be over-confident and conceited, which makes them unreceptive to criticism, and their frank, forthright style of communication can come off as tactless.
Years: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Famous Dragons: Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Louisa May Alcott, Florence Nightingale, Robin Williams, John Lennon, Salvador Dali, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, Bruce Lee, Deng Xiaoping


chinese-new-year-snake-616Snake (蛇)

Regarded as intelligent, albeit enigmatic, creatures in Chinese mythology, the Snake is a symbol of wisdom and wit. Snakes are the most intuitive of all the creatures in the Zodiac, and their calm, extremely analytical natures allow them easily to solve complex problems and thrive under tight deadlines. They are humorous, creative, and diligent; however, they easily become bored and can come off as overly laid-back. Snakes easily become jealous and suspicious, and they tend to be materialistic and need to feel a strong sense of security.
Years: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Famous Snakes: Abraham Lincoln, Audrey Hepburn, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Picasso, Martha Stewart, Shakira, Daniel Radcliffe, Liu Bang, Mao Zedong


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