Chinese zodiac elements & animals and their characteristics

The Astrology of the East is an intricate, complex science that requires a good deal of time and patience to fully appreciate it’s many intriguing subtleties. The system works on a multiplicity of levels, each fascinating in it’s own right. As a whole, it offers a wealth of information and invaluable insights into every aspect of an individual’s character and way of life.




At the heart of it’s complexity lies the Oriental system of reckoning time, the key players being the Sun, Moon and Jupiter, which are seen to traverse the heavens at vastly different speeds to one another. The year is based on the movement of the Moon and calculated according to the lunar phases. So, New Year’s Day can fall between late January and the end of February.

Days are arranged into groups of ten, with twenty-four fortnights, each fifteen days long, forming a solar year. To confuse matters further, the twelve year period it takes Jupiter to orbit the Sun is known as a ‘Great Year’. Five Great Years group together to form a grand sexagesimal cycle, which begins the process all over again, once it has run it’s course.

Familiar to all Chinese people are the exotic Animals of Oriental Astrology, each representing one year of the twelve yearly cycle. The Animals run in strict sequence, beginning with the Rat, and followed in turn by the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Monkey, Sheep, Rooster, Dog, and finally, the Pig. Each Animal stands as a symbol , denoting the essential ‘character’, ‘colour’, and ‘flavour’ that influences all things that come into being in any one year.

For example, people born in the year of the Ox will have markedly different natures, talents, temperaments, and even different destinies to those who are born in the year of the Snake, Monkey or Rooster. This notion of an individual’s character being influenced by the year of birth is absolutely fundamental to Chinese Astrology, since it is the framework upon which an individual’s personal horoscope is built.

Of course, to describe a person solely by the characteristics of their Animal sign would be to paint with a very broad brush, for no two Tigers are identical or two Dogs exactly alike, even though they may have been born in the same year. So, in order to explain the subtleties of personality that differentiate one person from another, it is on the refinements of the sophisticated Oriental system that we must concentrate. Most salient of these are the Elements that govern the years, the Yin-Yang polarity of each year and the hour in which the individual is born.

According to Chinese philosophy, five Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water (in that order) form the essential building blocks of all living things. Each Animal sign within it’s sixty year framework is ruled by a different Element. Each successive appearance of the Animal sign is modified by the characteristics of the next Element in turn, which help to distinguish one year’s nativity from another under the same Animal sign. The characteristics of each of the Elements are as follows:

Element
Key Characteristics
Wood
Warm,
Generous, Considerate, Elegant, Cooperative.
Fire
Dynamic,
Decisive, Inovative, Joyful, Lucid.
Earth
Honest,
Patient, Responsible, Industrious, Prudent.
Metal
Strong,
Moral, Ambitious, Energetic, Independent.
Water
Flexible,
Persuasive, Diplomatic, Creative, Kind.

The dynamic complementary forces that keep the universe in balance are known as Yin and Yang. Yin, seen as feminine and receptive, is associated with water, night and the Moon. Yang, considered to be masculine and active, is associated with day, fire and the Sun. Yin contains a seed of Yang, and vice versa, as represented by the central spots in the Yin-Yang symbol. The two forces interrelate, dominating and yielding in turn, waxing and waning like the day and night, summer and winter, birth and death. Balance between the two is the key to harmony.

Each Animal year is designated either as Yin or Yang, and therefore confers either a receptive or dominating undercurrent to the nature according to when an individual is born. Since the aim is to achieve equalibrium, recognizing which force underpins our birth time will enable each one of us to find ways of avoiding excesses, or shoring up a dearth of either in our lives.

The hour in which we are born adds yet another differentiating facet to our character. Like the years, the twelve double hours are also ruled by the same sequence of Animals, beginning with the Rat who rules the time between 11pm-1am. So, an individual who is born in a Tiger year and in the hour of the Rabbit, will have Tiger characteristics tempered by those of the Rabbit.

Animal Profiles

Rat Charming, Charismatic, Active,
Intuitive, Lucky.
Ox Honest, Solid, Practical, Steadfast,
Down-to-earth.
Tiger Courageous, Passionate, Enthusiastic,
Optomistic.
Rabbit Imaginative, Sensitive, Artistic,
Fussy, Wise.
Dragon Dynamic, Colourful, Original, Confident,
Popular.
Snake Subtle, Shrewd, Persipicacious,
Stylish, Proud.
Horse Busy, Volatile, Witty, Vivacious,
Independent.
Sheep Arty, Cultured, Gentle, Loving,
Self-indulgent.
Monkey Ingenious, Intelligent, Versatile,
Quick-witted.
Rooster Passionate, Focused, Industrious,
Tidy.
Dog Reliable, Caring, Honest, Devoted,
Unselfish.
Pig Sincere, Gregarious, Generous,
Materialistic.