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  • Writer's pictureYina Luo

The Tales of The Chinese Zodiac

Here at ReDefiners World Languages, we teach our students to learn more about the cultural influences of the language they are learning. In Mandarin, zodiacs play a significant role in speech and linguistic attributes. You could often hear Chinese people ask “What’s your sign?” (你属什么[ní shu shén me]) instead of “How old are you?” (你几岁[ní jî suì]). People can tell your age by your sign and the year you were born. Isn’t that interesting? Let’s take a look at the Chinese Zodiac!

There are two rows of six red animals, each representing a Chinese Zodiac Sign. Underneath each animal is a Chinese character in red, as well as the English name in black. The top row, from left to right, has a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, and a snake. The bottom row, from left to right, has a horse, a goat, a monkey, a rooster, a dog, and a pig.
Each of the Chinese Zodiac Signs

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Do You Know Why There Are No Cats in the Chinese Zodiacs?

A long time ago, people always forgot which year they were born in and could not figure out exactly how old they were. The Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝 [yù huáng dà dì]) came up with an idea for twelve animals to represent the year. Later, the 玉皇大帝 asked the Earth God (土地公 [tû dì gōng]) to give all the animals instructions on how to compete for one of the twelve zodiac spots.

The River-crossing Race

从:土地公 (From: The Earth God) “All animals are welcome to compete. The first twelve animals across the finish line will be chosen as the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.”


After the announcement, all the animals were excited and discussed the race. At that time, Cat ( [māo]) and Rat ( [shû]) were good friends. They got together to discuss how to cross the river because they couldn't swim. To gain more assistance in their endeavors, they decided to find Ox ( [niú]) to help them cross the river. The Ox promised the Rat and Cat that it would help in their journey to cross the river.

By the next morning, before the rooster (鸡 [jī]) woke up, the Ox, the Cat, and the Rat were already at the riverside. The Cat and the Rat climbed onto the back of the Ox, and they began to cross the river. The Cat began to sleep because he got up too early, and the Rat was desperate to win first place.

A cartoon image of a red Ox swimming through the river with a yellow cat and tan rat on his back.
Cat and Rat Crossing the River with the Help of the Ox

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When Ox was a few seconds away from the opposite bank of the river, Rat pushed Cat into the water and went into Ox’s ear.

As Ox climbed ashore and ran to the finish line, Rat jumped out of his ear and hurried to the finish line to win first place, and Ox came in second. Unfortunately, Cat never caught up to the rest of the animals competing for a space in the zodiac pantheon.

In order, the ranking of the zodiac is Rat(鼠 [shû]), Ox(牛 [niú]), Tiger([]), Rabbit(兔 [tù]), Dragon(龙 [lóng]), Snake(蛇 [shé]), Horse(马 [mâ]), Sheep(羊 [yáng]), Monkey(猴 [hóu]), Rooster(鸡 [jī]), Dog(狗 [gôu]), and Pig(猪 [zhū]).


What is Your Sign?

The Chinese zodiac (生肖 [shēng xiāo]) is a repeating cycle of years. To determine your astrological sign, you would find the set of months that corresponds to your birthday. However, the Chinese zodiac is not synonymous with the term “astrological sign.” On the Western end, astrological signs refer to the month-by-month breakdown of the animal order while Chinese zodiacs are on a year-by-year basis. Each zodiac animal’s year occurs every twelve years. The zodiac sign years are shown below:

A table with the title "Which Chinese zodiac are you?" There are twelve columns in the table. At the top of each column is a cartoon picture and the name of each sign. From left to right, the columns are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each year repeats every 12 years. The years for Rat range from 1900 to 2008. The years for Ox range from 1901 to 2009. The years for Tiger range from 1902 to 2010. The years for rabbit range from 1903 to 2011. The years for dragon range from 1904-2012. The years for snake range from 1905 to 2013. The years for Horse range from 1906 to 2014. The years for goat range from 1907 to 2015. The years for monkey range from 1908 to 2016. The years for rooster range from 1909 to 2017. The years for dog range from 1910 to 2018. The years for pig range from 1911 to 2019.
Find your birth year in one of the columns

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Chinese zodiac signs are a major influence on the Mandarin language. If you would like more information about how these influences affect the Mandarin language, consider taking a course with ReDefiners! We offer courses in Mandarin, Arabic, English, and Spanish. For more information, please contact

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