Chinese Zodiac Signs — A Comprehensive Introduction

When did the 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs form?


The earliest unearthed artifacts that recorded animals of Chinese Zodiac Signs are Bamboo Slips of Qin State from Shuihudi and Fangmatan. 


That proved that the Chinese Zodiac Signs had already formed in the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC); the actual origin era, however, is still unknown.


What are the 12 Earthly Branches or Terrestrial Branches?


Together with 10 Heavenly Stems, the 12 Earthly Branches have been used to count and record numbers since the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), whose oracle inscriptions clearly documented this system. 


The Ecliptic is divided into 12 sections, and there are 12 months in a year; hence, 12 Earthly Branches were invented to represent each section, year, month, and hour. 

The 12 Earthly Branches are:

子(Zi) 丑(Chou)  寅(Yin) 卯(Mao) 辰(Chen) 巳(Si)

午(Wu) 未(Wei) 申(Shen) 酉(You) 戌(Xu) 亥(Hai)

Read more about Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches, and Chinese Calendar


How do Chinese Zodiac Signs connect with Earthly Branches?

In ancient China, one day was divided into 12 Shichen, each Shichen contains two hours. Hence, each Shichen was represented by one Earthly Branch signal. 

For most civilians in an ancient agricultural society, animals were easier to remember and use. Therefore, 12 animals were used to represent the 12 Earthly Branches. 


What’s the order of animals in Chinese Zodiac Signs and why?

Among many animals, the rat is quite special. A rat has four toes on each forefoot, and five toes on each hindfoot.

In ancient Chinese culture, four is Yin, five is Yang, which made rat a perfect representative of transferring from Yin to Yang and from an old day to a new day.  

Besides, the rat is adaptable, multiparous, and is quite active at midnight. Therefore, the rat is the animal of midnight and the first one in the Chinese Zodiac Sign.

Then, based on other animals’ living habits and active hours, they were set and linked to the 12 Earthly Branches to tell time.


  • Rat: 23:00 ~ 1:00 (Zi). Most active time for rats to seek food.

  • Ox: 1:00 ~ 3:00 (Chou). Oxen usually eat and ruminate during these hours.

  • Tiger: 3:00 ~ 5:00 (Yin). Ferocious tigers usually hunt and howl at dawn.

  • Rabbit: 5:00 ~ 7:00 (Mao). Rabbits like eating grass with morning dew.

  • Dragon: 7:00 ~ 9:00 (Chen). This is the foggiest time of the day, and dragons like to fly among fog and cloud. 

  • Snake: 9:00 ~ 11:00 (Si). Cold-blooded snakes will leave their caves and started to hunt for food in the warm morning. 

  • Horse: 11:00 ~ 13:00 (Wu). Horses usually run and quite active at noon.

  • Goat: 13:00 ~ 15:00 (Wei). Best time for herding goats that love dried grass.

  • Monkey: 15:00 ~ 17:00 (Shen). Monkeys usually roar lively before sunset.

  • Rooster: 17:00 ~ 19:00 (You). Time to get roosters to go back to their henhouses and feed them. 

  • Dog: 19:00 ~ 21:00 (Xu). When people are getting ready to rest, the dogs start their duty by being alert and guarding houses. 

  • Pig: 21:00 ~ 23:00 (Hai). In quiet midnight, the most obvious sound would be pigs rooting in their food tanks or pigsties. 


Some Fun Facts about animals of Chinese Zodiac Signs.

  • Among 12 animals, only the dragon doesn’t exist in today’s world. It is possible that dragons had evolved, or used to represent another animal, or they had been living in our world. But the real reason is still unset. 

  • Among the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac Sign, 6 of them are domestic and beneficial, while the other 6 are wild ones that would harm agriculture. 

This reveals an important idea in Chinese philosophy, the balance of Yin and Yang, good and bad. 


What is my Chinese Zodiac Sign and what it represents?

Gradually, ancient Chinese people use these 12 animals to represent years. 

Based on one’s birth year, every person has a Zodiac Sign that represents certain personalities. 

Click to Know Your Chinese Zodiac Sign


Rat: adaptable, smart, agile, thrifty, thoughtful, suspicious.

Rat and Bitter Gourd (Gua Shu Tu), Xuande Emperor Zhu Zhanji (1399 — 1435) Painted to Celebrate the Birth of His First Boy — Palace Museum

Ox: diligent, responsible, ambitious, straightforward, stable, stubborn.

Stone Cattle Unearthed from Tomb of Queen Fu Hao (? — 1200 BC) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Tiger: brave, independent, firm, passionate, adventurous, capricious.

Tiger Shaped Certificate (Hu Fu) of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC — 210 BC) to Deploy Forces — National Museum of China

Rabbit: gentle, cautious, responsible, elegant, chill, conservative.

Rabbit Shaped Bronze Wine Container (Zun) of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045 BC — 771 BC) — Poly Art Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Dragon: mysterious, competitive, talented, energetic, confident, impatient. 

Dragon Shaped Jade Decoration of Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Snake: calm, organized, firm, intelligent, ambitious, suspicious.

Snake Shaped Belt Hood (Dai Gou) of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) — Sanxia Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Horse: talkative, energetic, decisive, optimistic, practical, unstable. 

Tri-coloured Glazed Pottery Horse (Tang San Cai) of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Goat: benign, polite, creative, reliable, endurance, irresolute.

Jade Sheep of the North and South Dynasties (420 — 589) — Tianjin Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Monkey: competitive, smart, romantic, fun, passionate, jealous.

Playful Apes (Xi Yuan Tu) Painted by Xuande Emperor Zhu Zhanji (1399 — 1435) — Taipei Palace Museum

Rooster: sharp, straightforward, sincere, helpful, creative, capricious.

Tri-coloured Glazed Pottery Rooster (Tang San Cai) of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — Guangdong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Dog: faithful, honest, righteous, organized, diligent, obstinate.

Painted Pottery Dog of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) — Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Pig: calm, amiable, innocent, honest, optimistic, irritable. 

Pig Shaped Pottery Cooking Utensils (Gui) of Dawenkou Culture (about 4500 BC — 2500 BC) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Which Chinese Zodiac Signs are benefactors of each other?

In Chinese culture, based on the Generate Theory of the Five Elements, the aura of people of certain zodiac signs could influence others in positive ways.


They are more likely to attract, help, coheres, beneficial to each other. Meanwhile, wearing benefactor-shaped accessories is believed can bring good luck.

There are two types of fortunate benefactors’ combinations.

  •  Monkey — Rat — Dragon;

Snake — Rooster — Ox;

Tiger — Horse — Dog;

Pig — Rabbit — Goat.


  •  Rat — Ox;


Tiger — Pig; 

Rabbit — Dog; 

Dragon — Rooster;

Snake — Monkey;

Horse — Goat.


Which are the least compatible Chinese Zodiac Sign combinations for marriage?

Here list most incompatible zodiac signs for marriage.


However, nothing is definitive nor permanent. A good marriage requires more than just a good zodiac sign.

Rat ✖ Horse

Ox ✖ Goat

Tiger ✖ Monkey

Rabbit ✖ Rooster

Dragon ✖ Dog

Snake ✖ Pig


What are the uneasy years of each Chinese Zodiac Sign?

Because of influences among zodiac signs, some people may find themselves not quite lucky nor easy in certain years. They might encounter big changes, or not smooth in career, health, or relationships. 

  • Rat in the year of Rat, Horse, Rabbit, Rooster;

  • Ox in the year of Ox, Goat, Dragon, Dog;

  • Tiger in the year of Tiger, Monkey, Snake, Pig;

  • Rabbit in the year of Rabbit, Rooster, Horse, Rat;

  • Dragon in the year of Dragon, Dog, Goat, Ox;

  • Snake in the year of Snake, Pig, Monkey, Tiger;

  • Horse in the year of Horse, Rat, Rooster, Rabbit;

  • Goat in the year of Goat, Ox, Dog, Dragon;

  • Monkey in the year of Monkey, Tiger, Pig, Snake;

  • Rooster in the year of Rooster, Rabbit, Rat, Horse;

  • Dog in the year of Dog, Dragon, Ox, Goat;

  • Pig in the year of Pig, Snake, Tiger, Monkey.

Click to Check Chinese Zodiac Year


How can we reconcile in uneasy years?

  • It’s always good to stay organized and careful;

  • Wear something red in one’s zodiac animal year (Ben Ming Nian), like a red bracelet, belt, or socks;

  • Wear benefactor-shaped animals’ decorations.


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