Your Guide to the Chinese Zodiac in Mandarin

animals in chinese zodiac

Welcome to your complete guide to the Chinese zodiac in Mandarin, your go-to resource for everything you need to know about one of the most enchanting and culturally rich elements of Chinese tradition — the Chinese zodiac. 

Whether you’re a language enthusiast looking to spice up your Mandarin vocabulary or a curious soul fascinated by the characteristics and stories behind the animals in the Chinese zodiac, you’ve landed in the right place.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the animals of the Chinese zodiac, their characteristics, and how they play a pivotal role in shaping personalities, relationships, and even destiny. 

So, whether you’re keen to find out which animal you are in the Chinese zodiac or you’re simply looking to add a fascinating cultural layer to your Mandarin studies, stick around.

Understanding the Chinese zodiac

The Chinese zodiac is a sometimes mysterious, always enchanting system that’s captured the imagination of people both in China and around the globe for centuries. But what exactly is it? Let’s peel back the layers of this ancient tradition and see what makes it tick.

At its core, the Chinese zodiac is a cycle of 12 animals representing different years in a 12-year cycle. These aren’t just any animals, though. Each has been carefully selected for its significance and symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. The cycle begins with the Rat and goes through to the Pig, with each year offering a unique perspective on personality traits, fortune, and compatibility.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting — the Chinese zodiac is deeply intertwined with the lunar calendar, so the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. This celebration marks the transition from one zodiac animal to the next, a time of reflection, prediction, and celebration.

Now, you might wonder, “How did these animals make the cut?” Legend has it that the Jade Emperor called for a race to select the zodiac animals, and the order they finished determined their place in the cycle. From the quick-witted Rat, who arrived first, to the diligent Pig, who completed the lineup, each animal earned its spot with its unique characteristics and determination.

Understanding the Chinese zodiac is more than just knowing your animal sign. It’s a way to gain insights into human nature, the universe’s workings, and even our own personal journey through life.

So, whether you’re a fierce Tiger or a graceful Rabbit, there’s so much to learn and explore within the Chinese zodiac. As we look deeper into each animal’s characteristics and the fascinating world they inhabit, remember that this is more than just folklore — it’s a living, breathing part of Chinese culture that continues to influence and inspire to this day.

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The 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and their year

12 animals in the Chinese zodiac

Welcome to the star-studded lineup of the Chinese zodiac, where each animal brings its unique flavor to the mix. If you’ve ever wondered which animal represents your birth year and what it says about you, you’re in for a treat. 

First, here’s a table to help you determine which Chinese zodiac animal is based on your birth year. Each animal represents a year in a 12-year cycle, starting from 1924 and continuing through to 2031. Find your birth year in the list to discover your zodiac animal:

Rat1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Ox1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Tiger1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Rabbit1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Dragon1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Snake1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Horse1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Goat1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Monkey1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Rooster1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Dog1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Pig1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

This table is a quick guide to help you identify your animal zodiac sign. Once you’ve found your animal, you can look deeper into understanding the characteristics and insights it brings to your personality and destiny. ​

Now, let’s meet the magnificent twelve and learn how to say their names in Mandarin, adding a dash of linguistic fun to our zodiac journey.

Rat (鼠 – shǔ)

Kicking off our zodiac adventure is the clever Rat, known for its quick wit and resourcefulness. Born leaders with an eye for opportunity, those under the Rat sign are something special. If you’re a Rat, you’re likely sharp, resourceful, and have a knack for finding opportunities in the most unexpected places. Rats are also incredibly charming and have a keen sense of social situations, making them excellent communicators.

Ox (牛 – niú)

Steady, reliable, and oh-so-strong, the Ox is a testament to hard work and determination. If you’re born under the Ox sign, you’re known for being a dependable rock in any situation. As an Ox, you’re patient, methodical, and can be counted on to see things through to completion. Your perseverance and hard work often lead to success, and your loyalty makes you a trusted friend and partner.

Tiger (虎 – hǔ)


Brave and confident, Tigers walk through life with a fierce energy that’s hard to ignore. They’re charismatic and adventurous, always ready for the next big challenge. Tigers are natural leaders with a love for challenges. They are often dynamic, inspiring others with their confidence. If you’re a Tiger, you’re likely passionate and willing to fight for what you believe in.

Rabbit (兔 – tù)

The gentle and compassionate Rabbit brings peace wherever it goes. Known for their kindness and reliability, Rabbits create harmony and are cherished friends. If you’re a Rabbit, you prioritize harmony and are adept at creating a calm, peaceful environment. You’re also empathetic and compassionate, making you a beloved friend and confidante.

Dragon (龙 – lóng)

Ah, the Dragon — the most mythical of all the zodiac animals. Dragons are powerful, bold, and endlessly creative — often seen as a symbol of luck and success. As a Dragon, you’re ambitious, driven, and often ahead of your time. Your natural charisma and leadership qualities inspire others, and your boldness in pursuing your dreams is truly admirable.

Snake (蛇 – shé)

The enigmatic Snake is a creature of wisdom and intuition. With a deep connection to their inner selves, Snakes are insightful and sophisticated. With a deep understanding of the world, Snakes are thoughtful and calculated in their actions. Your sophistication and elegance make you stand out, and your insights often provide valuable perspectives.

Horse (马 – mǎ)


Free-spirited and energetic, the Horse loves to roam free, embodying a love for adventure and independence. If you’re a Horse, you’re the life of the party. Horses are always in search of new adventures and experiences. Your positivity is infectious, and your independent nature encourages you to follow your path.

Goat (羊 – yáng)

Creative and gentle, the Goat (or Sheep) symbolizes peace and artistic talent. With a love for beauty and a kind heart, Goats are truly beloved. As a Goat, you’re gentle, kind-hearted, and have a strong sense of empathy. Your artistic talents and ability to create harmony make you a treasured friend.

Monkey (猴 – hóu)

Witty and clever, Monkeys are the tricksters of the zodiac, always full of energy and innovation. If you’re a Monkey, you’re likely a problem solver at heart, and you’re likely curious and able to easily solve complex problems. Your playful nature and ability to adapt quickly make you quick-witted and creative.

Rooster (鸡 – jī)

With a keen eye for detail and a hardworking spirit, Roosters are the epitome of punctuality and fidelity. They’re ambitious and straightforward, shining bright in all they do, with a keen eye for precision. As a Rooster, you’re typically ambitious, often setting high standards for yourself and others. Your honesty and directness are much admired.

Dog (狗 – gǒu)

Loyal and honest, Dogs are the faithful friends of the zodiac, always there when you need them. With a strong sense of justice, Dogs are truly dependable companions. If you’re a Dog, you’re trustworthy, reliable, and always ready to help others. Your strong sense of fairness makes you a valued friend.

Pig (猪 – zhū)


Last but not least is the kind-hearted Pig. With a love for luxury and a heart of gold, Pigs enjoy life to the fullest while being generous and compassionate. With a love for indulgence and a knack for enjoying life, you’re also known for your kindness and willingness to help others. Your warmth and sincerity are your greatest strengths.

There you have it, the grand tour of the Chinese zodiac and how to talk about these amazing animals in Mandarin. Each animal shapes the years they govern and adds a rich layer of meaning and personality. So, whether you’re a “shǔ” or a “zhū,” there’s so much to learn and love about your zodiac sign. 

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The role of elements in the Chinese zodiac

Just when you thought the Chinese zodiac couldn’t get any more fascinating, let’s sprinkle a little elemental magic into the mix. The Chinese zodiac isn’t just about animals — it’s also about the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. These elements are crucial in deepening our understanding of the zodiac, adding an extra layer of personality traits and destiny predictions. 

So, grab your explorer’s hat, and let’s look at how these elements interact with our zodiac animals to paint a more vivid picture of our characters and futures.

How elements work in the Chinese zodiac

In Chinese astrology, each of the 12 animals of the zodiac is associated with one of the five elements. However, unlike the annual cycle of animals, the elements follow a different pattern — they operate on a 60-year cycle. This cycle is based on the combination of 12 animal signs and five elements, each associated with a specific animal sign for two years within a 12-year cycle.

Here’s how it works:

  • Wood: This element is associated with growth, flexibility, and vitality. The Wood element cycles through every 12 years, so if you’re born in a year that’s a multiple of 12 from 1984 (e.g., 1984, 1996, 2008, etc.), you’re a Wood Rat, and similarly for other animals based on their own cycles.
  • Fire: Representing energy, enthusiasm, and dynamism, the Fire element cycles through every 12 years. For instance, you’re a Fire Tiger if your birth year is a multiple of 12 from 1986 (e.g., 1986, 1998, 2010, etc.).
  • Earth: Symbolizing stability, reliability, and practicality, the Earth element appears every 12 years in a year that’s a multiple of 12 from 1988 (e.g., 1988, 2000, 2012, etc.), you’re an Earth Dragon.
  • Metal: This element signifies resilience, strength, and determination. The Metal element years are multiples of 12 from 1990 (e.g., 1990, 2002, 2014, etc.), making someone born in these years a Metal Horse, for example.
  • Water: Associated with wisdom, flexibility, and fluidity, the Water element cycles with years that are multiples of 12 from 1992 (e.g., 1992, 2004, 2016, etc.) being Water years, like the Water Monkey.

To find out your element, you would first identify your Chinese zodiac animal by finding your birth year in the 12-year cycle of animals. Then, you determine your element by locating your birth year within the 60-year cycle that combines these animals with the five elements. Each animal-element combination recurs every 60 years.

For instance, if you were born in 1991, you would be a Metal Goat because 1991 falls into the cycle of Metal years (1990-1991) and coincides with the year of the Goat in the 12-year animal cycle.

If you can’t face the math, or all of this sounds a little complicated, you can also find out your animal and element match using this very useful online Chinese zodiac calculator.

Understanding your element in addition to your zodiac animal gives you a more nuanced view of your personality and fate according to Chinese astrology. It adds layers to the characteristics of just the animal sign, offering a deeper insight into your behavioral patterns, tendencies, and life’s potential path. Here are the main influences of the Chinese zodiac element.

Wood (木 – mù): Nurturer


If your zodiac sign is influenced by Wood, you’re likely a compassionate, growth-oriented person. Wood brings flexibility, warmth, and a natural inclination toward nurturing others. You thrive in environments that allow growth and creativity, like a lush forest supporting diverse life forms. Wood signs are cooperative, generous, and have a strong sense of morality.

Fire (火 – huǒ): Innovator

Fire signs are all about dynamism, passion, and energy. If Fire influences your zodiac animal, you’re probably quite charismatic, with an infectious enthusiasm that draws people to you. Fire brings warmth and an intensity that can translate into boldness and innovation. You’re likely ambitious and can inspire and motivate those around you, just like a crackling fire that lights up the night.

Earth (土 – tǔ): Stabilizer

Earth is all about stability, practicality, and reliability. Influenced by Earth, you’re someone others can depend on, always there with a level head and a practical solution. Earth signs are grounded, patient, and hardworking, much like the soil that nurtures seeds into sprouting. You value loyalty and consistency, creating a solid foundation for any endeavor.

Metal (金 – jīn): Organizer

Metal signifies strength, resilience, and determination. If you’re influenced by Metal, you likely have a strong sense of duty, a keen sense of justice, and an unwavering resolve. Metal signs are organized and like to keep things in order, valuing discipline and structure. You’re ambitious and capable of turning your aspirations into reality, much like metal forged into a useful tool.

Water (水 – shuǐ): Thinker


Water signs are characterized by their intelligence, intuition, and flexibility. If Water influences your zodiac animal, you’re likely adaptable, thoughtful, and insightful, with a deep understanding of the world around you. Water can flow or crash, symbolizing your ability to be calm and powerful when the situation calls for it. You’re a great communicator, able to articulate your thoughts and feelings with clarity and empathy.

Each element interacts with the zodiac animals in unique ways, creating a complex and layered understanding of personality and destiny. Whether you’re a Wood Rat, a Fire Dragon, or an Earth Goat, the combination of your zodiac animal and its element reveals fascinating insights into who you are and your future.

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The Chinese zodiac in Mandarin language learning

Are you currently learning Mandarin? Incorporating the Chinese zodiac into your studies isn’t just a fun detour — it’s a scenic route. Understanding the zodiac signs and their elements in Mandarin can add more depth to your language-learning adventure. Let’s discover how these cultural gems can enhance your Mandarin skills and deepen your appreciation for Chinese culture.

Dive into the culture

The Chinese zodiac is a cornerstone of Chinese culture, deeply embedded in traditions, the many Chinese festivals, and daily life. By learning how to discuss the zodiac in Mandarin, you’re not just memorizing words; you’re discovering stories, beliefs, and the historical significance behind them. This can be a fantastic conversation starter with native speakers, offering a deeper connection to the language and its people.

Expand your vocabulary

Each animal in the zodiac, along with the five elements, comes with its own vocabulary. From the basic names of the animals (like “鼠 – shǔ” for Rat) and elements (such as “木 – mù” for Wood) to phrases describing personality traits and yearly predictions, there’s a wealth of terms to learn. This boosts your vocabulary and improves your understanding of Chinese characters and idioms.

Practice pronunciation

Pronouncing the names of the zodiac animals and elements in Mandarin gives you an excellent opportunity to practice tones and perfect your pronunciation. It’s a fun, engaging way to get comfortable with the sounds of Mandarin, ensuring you sound more natural and confident when speaking.

Cultural insights

Learning about the Chinese zodiac in Mandarin allows you to grasp the cultural nuances that influence communication and social interactions in Chinese-speaking communities. It helps you understand the symbolic meanings behind Chinese numbers, colors, and practices, enriching your cultural fluency and enabling you to engage more meaningfully with Chinese traditions.

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Celebrating the Chinese zodiac

The Chinese zodiac is a vibrant part of celebrations and festivities, especially the Chinese New Year. Knowing about the zodiac and its significance in Mandarin brings you closer to the language and opens up a world of cultural festivities you can participate in, appreciate, and enjoy.

Chinese New Year

The most prominent celebration associated with the Chinese zodiac is, without a doubt, the Chinese New Year. Each year is dedicated to one of the zodiac animals, influencing decorations, gifts, and activities. Understanding the characteristics and stories of the year’s animal can enhance your participation in these celebrations, whether you’re crafting greetings, choosing gifts, or simply enjoying the festivities.

Zodiac compatibility and fortune-telling

The zodiac plays a role in social interactions and personal reflections. Many people consider their zodiac sign’s compatibility with others regarding relationships, friendships, and even business partnerships. 

And, of course, the tradition of reading one’s fortune for the coming year based on their zodiac sign is a popular aspect of Chinese New Year celebrations. Engaging with these practices can provide insight into Chinese cultural values and the importance of harmony and luck.

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Zodiac in daily life

Beyond the New Year, the Chinese zodiac influences art, literature, and culinary traditions. From zodiac-themed artwork and decorations to dishes representing good luck for specific signs, the zodiac’s presence is felt year-round. Learning about these aspects allows you to appreciate the daily expressions of culture and tradition in Chinese-speaking communities.

Incorporating the Chinese zodiac into your Mandarin learning isn’t just about adding words to your vocabulary. It offers a unique perspective on life, traditions, and language. So, as you continue to explore Mandarin, let the Chinese zodiac guide you through the cultural nuances and celebrations that make learning this beautiful language an unforgettable adventure.

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Unleash your Mandarin

It’s clear that learning this ancient system offers more than just insights into personality and destiny. It opens a gateway to deeply engaging with Chinese culture, enhancing your language skills, and appreciating the rich traditions that have shaped China for centuries. But why stop here? 

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