Skip to main content

Chinese Zodiac Calendar & Signs

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

© vox vocis. All rights reserved.

Chinese Calendar

The Chinese were the first to perfect the calendar 500 years BCE (Before the Christian Era). Most East Asia uses the Gregorian calendar (introduced in 1912) for day to day activities, and the Chinese calendar is used for marking the traditional holidays in this part of the world including the Chinese New Year also known as the Spring festival. According to lunisolar calendar, the Chinese New Year is on the 1st day of the 1st month (for example, Feb 14, 2010) and the Night of Sevens, something like Valentine's Day is on the 7th day of the 7th month (for example, Aug 16, 2010). The Chinese calendar and the modern world are not completely separate terms - the year 2010 is the year 4707 in the Chinese Calendar. Right before New Year celebration, Chinese families thoroughly clean their homes because of their belief that the cleaning sweeps away bad luck and makes their home ready for good luck to arrive.

The calendar indicates the season if the solar year is taken as tropical (the year defined as the length of time needed for the Sun to return to the same position in the cycle of season, as seen from Earth) and it predicts the constellation near which the full moon may occur if the solar year is taken as sidereal year (time in which the Sun returns to the same position after travelling once around the ecliptic with respect to the fixed stars [any star except the Sun because they don't seem to move in relation to other stars]).

The lunisolar calendar (indicating moon phases and the time of the solar year) is followed by many Asian countries, not just China. Most of lunar calendars are in fact lunisolar: Buddhist, Chinese, Hebrew, Hellenic, Hindu lunisolar, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan (only Islamic calendar is purely lunar and it's used for religious purposes). The Japanese calendar was lunisolar until 1873, also Gaulish Coligny calendar in the first century and Babylonian. It was used by Germanic peoples before their conversion to Christianity. The Julian and Gregorian calendars are solar only (not lunisolar). Their dates do not indicate moon phases but the lunisolar calendar is used to determine Easter date (the most important Christian celebration).

Most years have 12 months and every second or third year has 13 months (even 14) in the lunisolar calendar, in which intercalations of both days and months are required (insertion of a leap day, week or month into some calendar years to make the calendar follow the seasons or moon phases). The number of days in the Chinese calendar vary because the solar year doesn't have a whole number of days which is necessary for a calendar year in a modern world. A common year in solar calendars has a whole number of 365 days and every fourth year is an intercalary year with 366 days (365 days + a ''leap'' day). The Julian and Gregorian calendars do the intercalation in February every fourth year. Some lunisolar calendars rely on direct observations of the state of vegetation, others compare the longitudinal angle of the sun measured eastwards from 0° to 360° (celestial or ecliptic longitude) and the moon phase. The Chinese lunar calendar and the Gregorian Calendar often sync up after a nineteen year cycle.

Ancient Chinese astronomy was independent in its development so the Chinese constellations significantly differ from the modern world´s constellations grouped by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The skywatchers of Ancient China divided the sky into 31 regions: Three Enclosures close to the North Celestial Pole, visible during the whole year, and Twenty-eight Mansions, the zodiacal band corresponding to the 12 zodiacal constellations in the Western Astronomy. The difference is that the Twenty-eight Mansions reflect the movement of the Moon in a lunar month and not the Sun in the solar year.

Most Chinese months are named after plants because of their close connection to agriculture: first month, apricot month, peach month, plum month, guava month, lotus month, orchid month, osmanthus month, chrysanthemum month, good month, hiemal month, last month.

The official Chinese year counting always used some form of a regnal year (the year of a reign of a sovereign) but also the sexagenary cycle based on two counting forms:

10 Havenly Stems associated to Yin Yang and the 5 Elements (recently these 10-year periods began in 1984, 1994, 2004) and

12 Earthly Branches associated with the 12 zodiac signs and with 12 animals (recent 12-year periods began in 1984, 1996 and 2008).  

The resulting 60-year (or sexagesimal) cycle is used figuratively to mean "a full lifespan" and it determines the animal or sign under which a person is born.

The Earthly Branches system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. It identifies the twelve months of the year, twelve animals, directions, seasons, months, and Chinese hour in the form of double-hours. The Twelve animals in the system are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (or goat), monkey, rooster, dog and pig (or boar). The assigned animal sequence is explained by a legend according to which the animals fought over the precedence in a contest held by the Chinese gods. They were given a task of getting to the opposite shore from a river bank. Their order in the calendar is actually the order in which they managed to reach the other side.

Chinese Zodiac Signs

The Chinese zodiac is used in naming years, but it's not used in the actual calculation of the Chinese calendar. Each year is related to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to the Earthly Branches. It differs from the Western zodiac system in the fact that the Chinese 12-part cycle is divided into years rather than months and the animals of the Chinese zodiac are not associated with constellations.


The year YYYY was the year of the ANIMAL

  • 2001 the Year of the Snake
  • 2002 the Year of the Horse
  • 2003 the Year of the Sheep (or Goat)
  • 2004 the Year of the Monkey
  • 2005 the Year of the Rooster
  • 2006 the Year of the Dog
  • 2007 the Year of the Pig
  • 2008 the Year of the Rat
  • 2009 the Year of the Ox
  • 2010 the Year of the Tiger
  • 2011 the Year of the Hare (rabbit)
  • 2012 the Year of the Dragon

Chinese calendar and the modern world

20 Famous Tiger people:

Scroll to Continue

(Alphabetically listed)

  • Agatha Christie, an English crime writer of novels, short stories and plays (born in1890)
  • Alanis Morissette, a Canadian-American singer, songwriter, record producer, actress (1974)
  • Bill Murray, an American actor and comedian (1950)
  • Demi Moore, an American actress (1962)
  • Dwight David ''Ike'' Eisenhower, a five-star general in the United States Army and the 34th President of the United States, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, with responsibility for the invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45, the first supreme commander of NATO (1890)
  • Emily Jane Brönte, an English novelist and poet, now best remembered for her novel ''Wuthering Heights'', a classic of English literature (1818)
  • Hilary Ann Swank, an American actress (1974)
  • Jim Carrey, a Canadian-American actor and stand-up comedian (1962)

  • Jodie Foster, an American actress, film director and producer (1962)
  • Karl Marx, philosopher, political economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, communist, and revolutionary, whose ideas are credited as the foundation of modern communism (1818)
  • Leonardo di Caprio, an American actor and film producer (1974)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, a German composer and pianist (1770)
  • Marco Polo, a merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote Il Milione, which introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China (1254)
  • Marilyn Monroe, an American actress, singer, and model (1926)
  • Mary Queen of Scots, Queen of Scots from 1542 to 1567 crowned at nine months of age (1542)
  • Oscar Wilde, an Irish playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one novel (1854)
  • Penelope Cruz, a Spanish actress (1974)
  • Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen regnant of sixteen independent sovereign states known informally as the Commonwealth realms (1926)
  • Stevie Wonder, an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer (1950)
  • Tom Cruise, an American actor and film producer (1962)

What are the predictions for the Year of the Golden Tiger?

According to predictions, the Year of the Tiger (Feb 14, 2010 - Feb 3, 2011) is characterized by:

  • drama, intensity, change and travel,
  • world conflicts and disasters,
  • far reaching changes for everyone,
  • new inventions and incredible technological advances,
  • seizing opportunities and making the most of our personal individual talents.


coriwbaker on October 23, 2011:

I love China especially the way they have celebrations like New Year. Fun is everywhere! Thanks for sharing this information.

mtsi1098 on January 22, 2011:

just call me rabbit - thanks

DavidLivingston on December 08, 2010:

Thanks for posting this.

Rose Kolowinski on May 23, 2010:

An interesting read. I now know which animal I was born under!

prettydarkhorse from US on April 06, 2010:

they are more advance vox, I mena their dtaes are later than the Roman dates, thank you dear, Maita

Jasmine (author) on February 12, 2010:

To Money Glitch: Thanks for reading the hub! Glad you liked it!

Money Glitch from Texas on February 12, 2010:

Great hub Vox! I really enjoyed the info on the calendar and seeing the celebrities that are Tigers. I am so glad that I stopped by for the read. Thanks for sharing! :)

Jasmine (author) on February 11, 2010:

To TnFlash: Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you found the article useful!

TnFlash from Tampa, Florida on February 11, 2010:

Great explanation for the Chinese Calendar. I enjoyed reading your Hub. Thanks for the good work.

Related Articles