Half the fun of eating Chinese food comes from both the cryptic predictions that sprout from the crunch of a broken fortune cookie and from poring over place mats adorned with the Chinese zodiac. From time immemorial, humanity has searched for meaning in the stars, and many Chinese cultures have read the celestial canvas with curiosity and deeply-held mysticism.

The wisdom of Jupiter

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The Chinese zodiac is based on early observations of the orbit of Jupiter. It is because of this that the zodiac occurs in 12-year cycles in accordance with the 11.85 years of Jupiter’s orbital period. The Chinese zodiac was founded during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 B.C.) and found widespread practice and elaboration during the Han Dynasty starting in 2nd century B.C.

It was during this second renaissance that Chinese astrology incorporated the cultural pillars of the Yin and Yang from Taoism, the concepts of heaven and earth, and Confucian ethics. The principles of Chinese astrology remain an object of fascination to Western cultures and a strong practice in many East Asian nations, including China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Written in the stars

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The Chinese zodiac is based on a strong conviction in destiny predicted from the alignment of the planets during one’s birth.

Your birth year predicts your sign and dictates many aspects of your disposition, romantic compatibility, and relation with your elders. However, in addition to your birth year, your “inner animal” is dictated by month, “true animal” by birthday, and “secret animal” by hour of birth.

Each sign is also associated with a “fixed element,” which interacts with a cycle of elements recurring in 60-year periods. Your birth month is still considered to be one of the most important predictors of your fate and disposition. Because of this, a Chinese astrologer would need to know the specific timing of your birth for a precise prediction. Even then, it is sometimes observed that a person’s behavior conflicts with his or her zodiac. This conflict is known as Tai Sui or kai sui.

The signs

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Each sign corresponds to a year in Jupiter’s 12-year orbital cycle and an associated fixed element, starting with the first orbital year:

  • Rat-Water
  • Ox-Earth
  • Tiger-Wood
  • Rabbit-Wood
  • Dragon-Earth
  • Snake-Fire
  • Horse-Fire
  • Goat-Earth
  • Monkey-Metal
  • Rooster-Metal
  • Dog-Earth
  • Pig-Water
  • Monday-Goat
  • Tuesday-Dragon, Pig
  • Wednesday-Horse, Rooster
  • Thursday-Rat
  • Friday-Rabbit, Snake, Dog
  • Saturday-Ox, Tiger
  • Sunday-Monkey


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  • Wood/Spring is a period of growth and vitality.
  • Fire/Summer is a period of flowering and energy.
  • Earth represents a transitory state between seasons.
  • Metal/Autumn is a period of harvesting.
  • Water/Winter is a period of retreat.
  • First Trine – The Rat, Dragon, and Monkey fall under the first trine, associated with intellect, magnanimity, and charisma, but capable of manipulation, jealousy, and deceit.
  • Second Trine – The Ox, Snake, and Rooster belong to the second trine, characterized by endurance, hard work, modesty, and morality, but capable of self-righteousness, egoism, vanity, and judgment.
  • Third Trine – the Tiger, Horse, and Dog pursue idealism, true love, loyalty, and honor, but may befall rashness, anxiety, and stubbornness.
  • Fourth Trine – The Rabbit, Goat, and Pig of the fourth trine are believed to be characterized by calm and reason, often sensible, creative, and empathetic, but prey to naiveté, pedantry, insecurity, and pessimism.