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The 12 Signs of the Chinese Zodiac

by Hannah Lockett | January 22, 2020

Like so many ancient traditions, the origin is unclear and the stories vary.

Some say that the Buddha (or Jade Emperor) called on all animals to help mankind and only 12 responded. Others say that a Great Race was held to determine which animals would be placed in the zodiac for eternity. This guide is based on the ancient origin story of the Great Race, which determined each animal’s position in the zodiac.

The 12 animals, in the order they finished the race are; Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Which Zodiac Animal Are You?

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1. Rat

According to legend, in the competition held by the Jade Emperor to decide the zodiac animals, the quick-witted rat asked the diligent ox to take him on a ride to cross the river and jumped down before the ox crossed the finish line, so the rat won the race and became the first of the zodiac animals.

Years of the Rat

1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

Rat Characteristics

Rats are quick-witted, resourceful, and smart but lack courage. With rich imaginations and sharp observations, they can take advantage of various opportunities.

In Chinese culture, rats represent working


Dragon, Ox, or Monkey


Horse or Rooster



2. Ox

According to legend, if it wasn’t for Ox’s innately kind, generous nature – and for Rat’s guile – Ox would be first in Sheng Xiao.

In the famous race that determined this zodiac, Rat utilized not only Ox’s kindness but also her capability. Knowing her strength and steadiness both on land and in water, Rat made a deal with Ox to ride across the water on her back, only to jump off near the finish line and win.

Years of the Ox

1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Ox Characteristics

Oxes are known for diligence, dependability, strength, and determination. Having an honest nature, Oxes are strongly patriotic, have ideals and ambitions for life, and attach importance to family and work.

These reflect traditional conservative Chinese characteristics.


Snake, Rat, or Rooster


Goat, Horse, or Dragon

3. Tiger

Tiger is a prideful creature. After struggling to the shore in the last leg of the race that determined his place in the zodiac, Tiger was panting and exhausted in third place. He explained how difficult it was to swim against the current, and boasted about how strong he was to have succeeded.

Years of the Tiger

1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Tiger Characteristics

People born in a year of the Tiger are brave, competitive, unpredictable, and confident. They are very charming and well-liked by others. But sometimes they are likely to be impetuous, irritable, and overindulged.


Dragon, Horse, or Dog


Ox, Snake, or Monkey

4. Rabbit

Although Rabbit couldn’t swim, she was still able to finish the all-important race that secured her position in the zodiac. She came in fourth by jumping from stone to stone past mid-river, and then was lucky enough to find a floating log to ride to the opposite shore (with Dragon’s generous help, of course). Typical Rabbit – sizing up the situation and calmly making it work with a dose of good luck.

Years of the Rabbit

1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Rabbit Characteristics

Rabbits tend to be gentle, quiet, elegant, and alert as well as quick, skillful, kind, patient, and very responsible. However, they might be superficial, stubborn, melancholy, and overly-discreet.


Dog or Pig



5. Dragon

This magical and selfless being finished the Jade Emperor’s race in fifth place because, while flying to the finish line, he saw how thirsty the people, animals, and land were. Knowing that he could assuage the suffering of humanity, Dragon stopped and made it rain. Then he noticed Rabbit stuck in the middle of the river on a log and blew her to shore, enabling Rabbit to finish ahead of Dragon.

Years of the Dragon

1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Dragon Characteristics

Gifted with innate courage, tenacity, and intelligence, Dragons are enthusiastic and confident. They are not afraid of challenges, and willing to take risks.

However, Dragons are sometimes regarded as aggressive, and angry Dragons are not open to criticism. They don’t consider themselves irritating and arrogant. Instead of following tradition, they strive for a smooth future.


Rat, Tiger, Snake, or Monkey


Ox, Sheep/Goat, or Dog

6. Snake

It is said that Snake managed to come in sixth place only by hiding in Horse’s hoof, demonstrating that she plans meticulously and does whatever is necessary to achieve a goal.

Years of the Snake

1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Snake Characteristics

In Chinese culture, the Snake is the most enigmatic of the 12 zodiac animals. People born in a year of the Snake are supposed to be the most intuitive.

Snakes tend to act according to their own judgments while remaining private and reticent. They are determined to accomplish their goals and hate to fail.

Snakes represent the symbol of wisdom. They are intelligent and wise. They are good at communication but say little. Snakes are usually regarded as great thinkers.


Rooster, Ox, or Dragon



7. Horse

It is said that Horse would have finished the race in sixth place, but Snake snuck a ride in the equine hoof, unbeknownst to the host. When Snake jumped ashore, she startled Horse. In typical Horse fashion, this majestic creature reared back, and Snake slithered across the finish line first. This story exemplifies how Horse may run with full speed, strength, and intent after goals, promises, and love interests, but can also scare easily.

Years of the Horse

1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Horse Characteristics

People born in a year of the Horse are extremely animated, active and energetic. Horses love to be in a crowd, and they can usually be seen on such occasions as concerts, theater performances, meetings, sporting events, and parties.

With a deft sense of humor, Horses are masters of repartee. They love to take center stage and delight audiences everywhere.


Tiger, Sheep/Goat, or Dog


Rat, Ox, or Rooster

8. Sheep / Goat

It is said that three animals worked together as a team to cross the finish line of the Jade Emperor’s race: Rooster, Monkey, and Sheep/Goat.

Rooster found a raft, and Sheep/Goat and Monkey cleared it of weeds and carried it to the water. The three sailed to the opposite shore and crossed the finish line together.

Years of the Sheep/Goat

1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Sheep/Goat Characteristics

People born in a year of the Sheep/Goat are generally believed to be gentle, mild-mannered, shy, stable, sympathetic, amicable, and brimming with a strong sense of kindheartedness and justice.

They have very delicate thoughts, strong creativity, and perseverance, and acquire professional skills well. Although they look gentle on the surface, they are tough on the inside, always insisting on their own opinions in their minds. They have strong inner resilience and excellent defensive instincts.


Horse, Rabbit, or Pig


Ox, Tiger, Dog, Rat, or Snake

9. Monkey

In the great race that secured their spots in the Zodiac, it’s said that Rooster, Sheep, and Monkey worked together to cross the finish line. Rooster found a raft, then Monkey and Sheep cleared it of weeds and carried it to the water. The three animals sailed the raft to the opposite shore and crossed the finish line together. Monkey was accorded the ninth position.

Years of the Monkey

1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Monkey Characteristics

People born in a year of the Monkey have magnetic personalities and are witty and intelligent. Personality traits like mischievousness, curiosity, and cleverness make them very naughty.

Monkeys are masters of practical jokes because they like playing most of the time. Although they don’t have bad intentions, their pranks sometimes hurt other people’s feelings.

Monkeys are fast learners and crafty opportunists. They have many interests and need partners who are capable of stimulating them. While some like the eccentric nature of Monkeys, others don’t trust their sly, restless, and inquisitive nature.

Although they are clever and creative, Monkeys can’t always exhibit their talents properly. They like to accept challenges and prefer a city life to a rural one.


Rat or Dragon


Tiger or Pig

10. Rooster

Leader of the legendary team of Sheng Xiao, Rooster is the one who found the raft that carried Monkey and Sheep across the river to finish the race that determined their places in this Zodiac.

Years of the Rooster

1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Rooster Characteristics

People born in a year of the Rooster are very observant. Hardworking, resourceful, courageous, and talented, Roosters are very confident in themselves.


Ox, Dragon, Snake, or Pig


Rat, Rabbit, Dog, Tiger, or Rooster

11. Dog

Even though he is one of the strongest swimmers, Dog came in eleventh because he stopped to play and bathe in the water.

Years of the Dog

1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Dog Characteristics

Dogs are loyal and honest, amiable and kind, cautious and prudent. Due to having a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, Dogs will do everything for the person who they think is most important.

As Dogs are not good at communication, it is difficult for them to convey their thoughts to others. Therefore, Dogs tend to leave others with the impression that they have a stubborn personality.


Horse, Rabbit, Tiger, or Pig


Rooster, Dragon, or Sheep/Goat

12. Pig

In the great race that determined the animals’ position in the Zodiac, Pig barely made twelfth place. Why? She stopped to eat and take a nap in the middle of the competition – demonstrating the easygoing nature of this sign.

Years of the Pig

1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

Pig Characteristics

Pigs are diligent, compassionate, and generous. They have great concentration: once they set a goal, they will devote all their energy to achieving it. Though Pigs rarely seek help from others, they will not refuse to give others a hand. Pigs never suspect trickery, so they are easily fooled.


Tiger, Rabbit, Goat or Dragon


Snake or Monkey

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