If you're well-versed in Western astrology, you likely read your horoscope each month, you brace yourself whenever Mercury goes retrograde (a.k.a. right now!!), and you get excited every time your Sun sign's season rolls around. But while you might know your natal chart like the back of your hand, you may be less familiar with your Chinese zodiac sign and how it reflects your personality.
While Western and Chinese astrology differ in the time periods assigned to each sign—Western astrology is based on months, while Chinese astrology is based on years—the two share many similarities, says Laura Lau, who co-wrote The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes with her late mom, Theodora Lau. "I view both [types of astrology] kind of like languages," she explains. "In my life, people will say, 'Oh, well, he's a Gemini,' or 'She's just such a Capricorn.' And you kind of invert that with Chinese horoscopes...my family has always said, 'Well, this person's just impulsive. They're a Horse—what can you expect?'"
Chinese astrology uses 12 different animal signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. "They all have big reputations," says Lau.
Okay, so how can I find out my Chinese zodiac sign?
Your main animal sign correlates with the year you were born (and repeats on a 12-year cycle), but Lau encourages those interested in learning more about their Chinese zodiac sign to dig deeper.
"Most people's first experience with [Chinese astrology] is finding out which animal you are by looking up your birthday in some sort of chart or a placemat at a restaurant," she says. "...But just like charts in Western astrology, when you do your chart in Chinese astrology, there's an animal that corresponds to the month, day, and hour that you were born. When you look up your month or your hour [in addition to your year]...you can see how there are shades of those other personalities within your character."
For example, you might have been born in the year of the Ox but the hour of the Rooster, and that can explain a part of yourself that you didn't quite understand before. (FYI: You can quickly find your sign with this calculator.)
"There are also elements that go through a cycle alongside the animals," says Lau. That means that every year, the reigning animal sign also has an association with one of five natural elements: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. For example, "2022 is the year of the Water Tiger," explains Lau.
Because there are twelve signs and five elements, it takes 60 years for an animal sign and element combination to repeat. (1962 was the last time it was the year of the Water Tiger.) "The elements can also change the energy of the animal sign, so that adds another layer, too," says Lau.
What are the characteristics of each Chinese zodiac sign?
Born in 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
"The Tiger is known for being a really dynamic, idealistic animal and [is] extremely impulsive," says Lau. "[This sign] has a big personality, a huge ego, is a big procrastinator, really likes to be right." Tigers also tend to have a lot of relationships and are very spontaneous and romantic, says Lau. But, even when they make a mistake, they don't really regret it. "If they feel like they're going into a situation where they're being treated with respect... [they approach it with the perspective of] 'Let's just try it out, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. At least I tried,'" says Lau.
Because this is the year of the Water Tiger, Lau expects the natural element's "intuitive energy" to create "a more thoughtful Tiger." She also thinks 2022 will be an interesting time for championing causes and movements because the Tiger is one of the big activist signs. "I will be curious to see what it inspires in people to do," Lau says. "The Tiger is a very passionate animal, and so, it will be a time that people are going to really go with their gut in making decisions."
But, if you were born in the year of the Tiger, "this is a year to be cautious, because it's difficult to kind of read yourself," says Lau. "It's like interacting with somebody who's really close to yourself. And... it's hard to see what's in front of you." She advises Tiger signs to pause and not be as spontaneous this year, because when it's the year of your own sign, it creates a kind of natural blind spot. Bottom line: Proceed with caution.
Born in 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
"Typically, Rats are known for being very family-focused," says Lau. "They'll stay close to home." If you were born in the year of the Rat, you’re also known for being clever, funny, creative, and optimistic—but frugal, adds Susan Levitt, a professional astrologer based in San Francisco, and author of Taoist Astrology.
Rats tend to be super observant, are quick to take action, and love having friends and family around, per Levitt. Your charm and humor quickly help you win over other people, and you’re pretty good at fitting in no matter the situation.
Born in 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Oxes are steady and loyal, and you value honesty and integrity in people, says Levitt. You’re also persistent and aren’t swayed by others' opinions. A big fan of cozy evenings at home, Oxes don’t need huge romantic gestures to feel loved.
You believe in hard work and dedication, and like getting recognized for being awesome at your job. Just don’t let that get you down if your office isn’t that kind of place—you know your worth and, if you feel underappreciated, it may be better to go someplace where you know you’ll be valued.
Born in 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011
"Rabbits are known to have great taste and are lovers of the fine arts," says Lau. People born under this animal sign are also friendly, sensitive, artistic, and even-tempered, making them popular with friends, adds Levitt. You love being around other people and hate being alone, prompting you to try to adapt in any social situation. You love romance and are great in relationships—but you’re not into confrontation, and go out of your way to avoid conflict.
Born in 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012
The Dragon is the most popular animal sign (meaning, there's a baby boom every year of the Dragon) because it's associated with legends and is known for having strength and leadership qualities, says Lau.
Dragons are also super independent and love their freedom, which may explain why they tend to marry later in life, if at all, says Levitt. People born in the year of the Dragon want to make a big impact on the world, but can get frustrated if their dreams aren’t realized. Still, there’s a lot they can do when they put their mind to it.
Born in 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013
Snakes are an interesting animal sign, says Lau, because their personalities are so mysterious to some, while to others, they're like an open book.
Snakes are social when they want to be, but they also know when they just need some "me time," says Levitt. If you were born in the year of the Snake, you’re also extremely determined and are great at making careful plans to achieve your dreams. While a Snake's mysterious personality can make them seem aloof, when they do let others get close to them, they see how sensitive, compassionate, and funny the Snake really is.
Born in 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014
"Horses are generally known to have a very adventurous [spirit]," says Lau. They've also got a rep for having "wild teen and young adult lives," she adds. So, if you're a parent of someone born during the year of the Horse, buckle up.
Horses are also bright, open, and cheerful, and naturally charm the heck out of people wherever they go, says Levitt. They love being around people and are always up for a good party. If you're a Horse, you likely have strong opinions and aren’t afraid to share them, but sometimes that can turn people off. You love feeling carefree and tend to succeed at whatever you try to achieve, thanks to your amazing instincts.
Born in 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015
If you were born in the year of the Sheep, you are kind, empathetic, and naturally creative, says Levitt. You love beauty and like to surround yourself with it. You also know the importance of having some quality alone time and need those moments to recharge.
While you’re generally pretty mild-mannered and calm, you tend to have an independent streak. You don’t like to be put in tough situations, but when push comes to shove, you can handle it, explains Levitt. You also don’t like to be told what to do and hate to compromise, which can be a sticking point in relationships.
Born in 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016
"Monkeys are known to be very clever—they're problem-solvers and inventors," says Lau. If you were born in the year of the Monkey, you're also good at going after what you want, adds Levitt. You have strong leadership potential, which easily earns you the trust of others. However, you don’t like being told what to do, which can be tricky sometimes in group situations.
You can be playful and romantic in relationships, but you may have trouble staying committed to one person because you're always looking for the next exciting thing.
Born in 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017
Roosters are known for being perfectionists, says Lau. That can serve you well...and frustrate you when things don’t go your way. You also have a sense of duty, dignity, and pride, and like to be noticed—you hate blending in, adds Levitt. Those born in this animal year excel at communicating, have great judgment, and a strong work ethic. Because you strive for perfection, you hate wasting time or money, says Levitt. You’re quick and flexible and can be thrown into situations at the last minute and still thrive.
Born in 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018
You’re loyal, honest, and trustworthy, which is why so many people love being in your orbit, says Levitt. People born in the year of the Dog don’t hesitate to make sacrifices for people and ideas they believe in, and they always see through the commitments they make, she explains. If this is your animal sign, you’re direct and frank, and can’t be bothered with silly little details. You also like to be spontaneous and love making last-minute plans. However, you're very by-the-book, and you prefer that other people do the same.
Born in 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019
Pigs are kind, honest, and peaceful, says Levitt. You hate arguments but won’t hide your emotions, even if it leads to a conflict. If you were born in the year of the Pig, you’re optimistic and fun-loving, and you’re generous with your friends, she adds. You’re also quick to forgive when people screw up and are willing to make sacrifices for those you love. You go out of your way to make people feel at home and like to surprise friends with little gifts to show them how much you care. You prefer to keep a close circle of friends, who appreciate the kindness and love you show them on the reg.
Which Chinese zodiac signs are most compatible?
Chinese astrology is often used to assess the potential success of a couple, says Lau. "In the past, we've looked to it for matchmaking and unions," she adds. (Some people even look at the dates two businesses were founded to see if they're compatible before pursuing a merger.)
Within the Chinese zodiac, there are four groups of animals that typically have an affinity for each other, according to Lau:
- Rat, Dragon, and Monkey
- Ox, Rooster, and Snake
- Tiger, Dog, and Horse
- Rabbit, Sheep, and Boar
Which Chinese zodiac signs are least compatible?
It's easy to tell which animals have conflicting relationships, says Lau. All you have to do is look at a Chinese zodiac sign wheel—the animals that are right across from each other are kept that far apart for a reason. For example, right across from the Tiger is the Monkey. Turn the wheel to the next year, which is the Rabbit, and right across from it is the Rooster.
But just because these signs are on opposite sides of the wheel doesn't mean they have opposing characteristics. In fact, the conflict often stems from everything they have in common. "You know the saying, 'Oh, you guys are so much alike. Of course you couldn't get along.'?" says Lau. "It's a different shade of a personality. So, it's like you're either going to get along great, or you're going to hate one another."
In Chinese culture, when opposite signs date, people often think they won't last that long, but Lau isn't surprised by the mutual attraction. "There's always a little bit of chemistry in your frenemy. There's something that draws you to each other to even want to have a disagreement," she says. "So, I don't think it's a surprise that, in romance, people try it out, and, a lot of times, it's fiery in the result."
Okay, so what does all this mean for the year of the water Tiger?
How well you fare this year is based on the relationship between your animal sign and the animal who is "running" the year, says Lau. Basically, they're the "boss," and all the other animals just have to learn how to deal with that personality for the year. "It'll be a harder year for the Monkey," says Lau, since that animal sign is directly across from the Tiger.
Watch this to learn more about Lunar New Year traditions and celebrations:
But it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Tiger signs, either. "The general belief is that when it's your sign, it's a year to be cautious because it's difficult to kind of read yourself," says Lau. Two signs—the Dog and the Horse—have received the luck of the draw. Because they're in an affinity triangle with the Tiger, it's likely that they'll have an easier year.
But, regardless of your sign, understanding how to navigate the year of the Water Tiger is essential for everyone. "This animal has a big personality, a huge ego, is a big procrastinator, and really likes to be right," says Lau. "Once you see that, you have to go, 'Okay, well, that's the person running the show this year, so how do I get to my objective?'" Monkeys can still have a great year; they just need to get a little ~creative~ when it comes to accomplishing their goals. Maybe they take the less direct route to get there because the Tiger doesn't have the patience to go that way, says Lau.
On the relationship front, the year of the water Tiger also has big implications for love, especially if you're single. "Tigers have a lot of relationships and are known to be very spontaneous and romantic," says Lau. If a Tiger makes a mistake in their dating life, or a connection doesn't go they way they hoped, they don't really sweat it. Instead, they're proud of themselves for trying, because at least it seemed like a good decision in the moment.
"That may be a great guiding principle for dating, [because] we all need to be kind to ourselves around the fact that, I think, our instincts are a little bit clouded because we haven't been around people as much [in recent years]," says Lau. But, she encourages people to channel their inner Tiger and trust in the fact that if you're feeling chemistry with someone, and it seems like a healthy potential relationship, just go for it. If it doesn't work out, at least you know you tried.