Drawing of a Chinese zodiac

6 Things You Might Not Know About the Chinese Zodiac

Lunar New Year is coming! Up your Spring Festival knowledge by checking out six things you might not know about the Chinese zodiac.

The order of the animals was determined by a race

The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals. But how were those animals chosen? Mythology says it was the doing of the Jade Emperor, the god of all gods, who, depending on the version of the myth, either needed a way to measure time or wanted some guards. The order the animals as they arrived at the finish line (the rat was first and the pig, dead last) determined their order on the zodiac.

The rat and the cat were former besties

So why is there no cat on the zodiac? You can blame it on the rat. The friends became frienemies when the opportunistic rat decided it really wanted to win the race. Depending on the myth, the rat pushed the cat off their ride, the gullible ox, while they crossed a river, or the rat neglected to wake the cat the morning of the race. Either way, the hapless kitty lost its chance for a place on the zodiac, and felines and rodents have been enemies number one ever since.

Each zodiac animal has distinct personalities

Just like the animals on the Western zodiac, each animal on the Chinese one has a particular personality. Check out our posts on the cunning rat, the calm and diligent pig, and the loyal and clever dog.

As for the other animals, the tiger is said to be brave, unpredictable, and stubborn. The rabbit is gentle, elegant, and alert, but can also be superficial and stubborn. The lucky dragon is confident, intelligent, and aggressive. Wise and determined, the enigmatic snake is private and likes alone time, and can also be materialistic.

Somewhat self-centered, the horse is energetic and witty. The gentle goat brims with kindness and sympathy, and while might seem too soft, is resilient and tough. Meanwhile, the monkey unsurprisingly is intelligent, curious, mischievous, and naughty. Finally, the rooster is the extroverted jock of the zodiac who can also be vain and boastful attention seekers. 

Your Chinese zodiac sign also has an element

One of five elements — wood, fire, earth, water, or metal — corresponds with a zodiac animal depending on the year (check out this Refinery29 article for recent years by element), each with different qualities.

Wood. Orderly with a great sense of purpose and morality, those born during wood years have a strong work ethic when inspired.

Fire. Fire signs can be aggressive and are quick decision makers.

Earth. Those born during earth years may seem overly serious. However, they're also focused, organized, responsible, and success oriented.

Metal. Stubborn and perhaps too rigid in their beliefs and convictions, metal signs can also have magnetic personalities.

Water. People born during water years are especially empathetic and observant. As a result, they can connect with others easily and get them to see things from their perspective.

Some signs are a match made in heaven — and some aren’t

With such distinct personalities, some animal signs are bound to get along better than others. Visit our Chinese zodiac guide to love and see the best match for your sign!

If it’s the year of your zodiac animal, you might be in for some bad luck

The years of your birth animal are called benming nian and are supposed to be unlucky. To protect yourself, you're advised to wear something red every day if possible, whether a red string bracelet or red underwear.

Want even more about the Lunar New Year? Check out all our posts.

[Photo: "Mary's Art Room" by Linda Carpenter via Flickr, CC BY 2.0]


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