An Introduction to the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac


An Introduction to the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac

by Gary Quelch

Chinese Astrology has become very popular and it can be fun to look at yourself and your friends as dashing Dragons or sensual Snakes, but these popular animals represent many more aspects of Chinese philosophy than most people realise. 

As in Western Astrology, certain animal signs are more compatible with some than others and one of the main reasons why people are attracted to astrology is the hope that it will help them find the right partner or ‘soul mate’. In the Chinese system, there are firm rules that help to establish how the animals combine with each other, or not, as the case may be.

The first group of animals that are in harmony with each other, are the ‘trinities’ and it is interesting to note, that these groups directly to Western.

Astrological ‘Sun Signs’. The main differences come about because unlike Western Astrology which uses the 4 element system of Earth, Fire, Water and Air, Chinese Astrology like all Chinese metaphysical sciences relies on the 5 element theory of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.

The Tiger, the Horse and the Dog can be compared to the ‘Air Signs’, because the Tiger represents the month of February, which relates to Aquarius, the Horse represents the month of June which relates to Gemini and the Dog represents October which relates to Libra. These animals are all Yang or masculine as in the case of their Western counterparts, but unlike the Western system, all three represent a different element. The Tiger represents Wood, the Horse, Fire, and the Dog, Earth.

The Monkey, the Rat and the Dragon can be compared to the ‘Fire Signs’, the Monkey represents the month of August which relates to Leo, the Rat represents December which relates to Sagittarius and the Dragon represents the month of April which relates to Aries. These animals are also Yang like their Western  counterparts, however, the  Monkey represents Metal, the Rat, Water and the Dragon, Earth.

The Snake, the Rooster and the Ox can be compared to the ‘Earth Signs’, the Snake represents Fire, the Rooster, Metal and the Ox, Earth.

The Pig, the Rabbit and the Sheep can be compared to the ‘Water Signs’,  can be compared to the ‘Water Signs’, the Pig represents the month of November, which relates to Scorpio, the Rabbit is the month of March which relates to Pisces and the Sheep represents July which relates to Cancer. 

These animals are also in Yin like their Western equivalents and the Pig represents the element Water the Rabbit, Wood and the Sheep, Earth. 

These groups of animals provide the basis _ of what most popular Chinese Astrology books would describe as ‘ideal’ partners, so if you were born in the year of the Tiger, you could do a lot worse than have a Horse or a Dog as a partner. Similarly, if you were born in the year of the Sheep, then your compatible partners would be considered to be either a Pig or a Rabbit.

Another group of ‘trinities’ which is less known are those animals which combine according to the seasons and as a result, they are also compatible with each other. The Tiger, the Rabbit and the Dragon represent the three months of Spring; the Snake, the Horse and the Sheep represent the three months of Summer; the Monkey, the Rooster and the Dog represent the months of Autumn and the Pig, the Rat and the Ox represent the Winter months. 

Ox represents the Winter months. 
One of the fundamental rules in the principles of Yin and Yang is that Yin generates Yang and this is very evident in Chinese Medicine. The spleen is considered to be Yin Earth which supports the stomach which is Yang Earth. The heart which is associated with Yin Fire supports the small intestine which is considered to be Yang Fire. It is not surprising then that the Rooster and the Monkey are compatible since the Yin Metal of the Rooster supports the Yang Metal of the Monkey and similarly, the Yin Fire of the Snake supports the Yang Fire of the Horse. The Pig and the Rat are compatible because the Pig is Yin Water and the Rat, Yang Water; and the Yin Wood of the Rabbit supports the Yang Wood of the Tiger. 

I have read a number of popular Chinese Astrology books that say that the Rat and the Ox don’t really get on and that those who are born in the year of the Snake clash with those born in the year of the Monkey. There is no foundation to these statements and in fact, there is another group of combinations that are also very harmonious but these are probably the least known and least understood.

The Rat and the Ox combine, because the Yang Water of the Rat or ‘Rain Water’ is what feeds Earth and these two components are both vital for life.

The Dragon and the Rooster combine because when the Earth is healthy, it is able to provide us with many things, not least of all Metal or minerals which are again vital for our well being. The Monkey and the Snake combine because although Metal is very useful, without the Yin Fire of the Snake, we would be unable to make use of this valuable resource. The Pig and the Tiger combine, because Yin Water, or ‘Underground Water’ is what feeds plants and trees enabling the Wood of the Tiger to grow and flourish. The Rabbit and the Dog combine, because without Earth, the Yin Wood of the Rabbit would be unable to grow, after all, even with an abundance of Water, without any Earth, there would be nothing to plant trees in. Finally, the Horse and the Sheep combine, because, without the light and heat of the Sun, which is the Yang Fire of the Horse, Earth would remain cold, dark and incapable of sustaining life. 

When it comes to animals that ‘clash’ ‘ the only fundamental rule that applies is that opposites clash, even if they do ‘attract’, but it is interesting to note that Yang clashes with Yang and Yin clashes with Yin. Based on this, the Fire of the Horse clashes with the Water of the Rat and the Fire of the Snake clashes with the Water of the Rat and the Fire of the Snake clashes with the Water of the Pig. 

The Metal of the Monkey clashes with the Wood of the Tiger and the Wood of the Rabbit clashes with the Metal of the Rooster.  When it comes to the four animals that represent Earth, the Yang Dog clashes with the Yang Dragon and the Yin Ox clashes with the Yin Sheep.

So what do you do when you find out that you are a Tiger and your partner is a Monkey? In some popular Chinese Astrology books, it is suggested that in this instance, if you and your partner had a child born in the year of the Rat, this would bond the family together. This suggestion is based on very sound reasoning, because in a situation where the Metal of the Monkey clashes with the Wood of the tiger, the introduction of Water, which is after all the Rat, transforms this confrontation into harmony. Metal generates Water, and the introduction of Water enables the energy of the Metal to be directed away from attacking the Wood. The Water which has been strengthened by the Metal can now feed and generate the Wood, which was previously under attack from the Metal.

This is again another example of how the same rules that are applied to Chinese Medicine can be used to strengthen our personal relationships and how other influences in our lives are often responsible for our own personal wellbeing. Harmony is the name of the game and often when there is chaos or dispute, only by introducing additional elements can we expect to fully resolve the situation. If you were born in the year of the Rat and your partner turns out to be a Horse, a partnership that most people would shudder at the thought of, take heart, because all is not lost and the introduction of the Wood element would provide the perfect outlet for the Rat’s Water and the Wood would generate the Horse’s Fire and that way, everyone should be happy. It is fun and often informative to read Chinese Astrology books, but it is important to remember that although it is always interesting to read different interpretations, only by knowing the principles can we ever hope to fully understand the concepts that govern not only Chinese Astrology, but also Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and even Feng Shui.

Gary Quelch is a Feng Shui Consultant, Chinese Astrologer and the author of “Feng Shui Horoscope for Health Wealth and Happiness”.