The Chinese Zodiac (生肖 - shēngxiào) consists of twelve animal signs, each representing a year according to the lunar calendar. The twelve animal signs, along with their Chinese characters and Pinyin pronunciation, are:
- Rat - 鼠 - shǔ
- Ox - 牛 - niú
- Tiger - 虎 - hǔ
- Rabbit - 兔 - tù
- Dragon - 龍 - lóng
- Snake - 蛇 - shé
- Horse - 馬 / 马 - mǎ
- Ram - 羊 - yáng
- Monkey - 猴 - hóu
- Chicken - 雞 / 鸡 - jī
- Dog - 狗 - gǒu
- Pig - 豬 / 猪 - zhū
Each of these signs begin on the first day of the Lunar New Year, which usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. In 2012, the Lunar New Year begins on January 23, and will be the Year of the Dragon, 龍年 (lóng nián) in Mandarin Chinese.
The order of the animals is often explained with a folk-tale about how the animals were summoned to heaven by the Jade Emperor (玉皇 - Yù Huáng). The dragon, as the only animal of the twelve that could fly, was expected to arrive first. But the dragon’s nature is to be helpful, and he stopped to help some villagers and then the rabbit, so he was the fifth animal to arrive for the Jade King's feast.
In Chinese culture, people born in the Year of the Dragon are thought to be lucky (幸運 / 幸运 - xìngyùn) and powerful (權力 / 权力 - quánlì). The dragon is a symbol of good fortune (好運 / 好运 - hǎoyùn) and authority (權威 / 权威 - quánwēi), so those whose sign is the dragon are afforded honor (榮耀 / 荣耀 - róngyào) and respect (尊重 - zūnzhòng).
For this reason, many parents plan to have a child during a dragon year. Consequently, there are more children born during the dragon years than any others. The larger number of children born during these years lead to increased competition for many things such as schooling and jobs, so some have come to believe it is not good luck to be born during the Year of the Dragon.
Some of the positive characteristics of Dragon people are:
- innovative (創新 / 创新 - chuàngxīn)
- enterprising (進取 / 进取 - jìnqǔ)
- flexible (靈活 / 灵活 - línghuó)
- self-assured (自信 - zìxìn)
- brave (勇敢 - yǒnggǎn)
- passionate (熱情 / 热情 - rèqíng)
On the other hand, dragon people are also known to be:
- conceited (自負 / 自负 - zìfù)
- tactless (無禮 / 无礼 - wúlǐ)
- scrutinizing (吹毛求疵 - chuī máo qiú cī)
- quick-tempered (急性子 - jí xìngzi)
The five Chinese elements (五行 - wǔ xíng) vary the qualities of the Zodiac signs. The five elements are Metal (金 - jīn), Water (水 - shuǐ), Wood (木 - mù), Fire (火 - huǒ) and Earth (土 - tǔ), and each are combined with each of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac to create a 60-year zodiac cycle.
The elements are cyclical in the order mentioned above. The Metal Dragon, for example, falls in the years 1940 and 2000, while the Water Dragon appears in the years 1952 and 2012.
Here are the Dragon years with their associated elements:
- Metal Dragon - (金龍 - jīn lóng) - 1940 and 2000
- Water Dragon - (水龍 - shuǐ lóng) - 1952 and 2012
- Wood Dragon - (木龍 - mù lóng) - 1904 and 1964
- Fire Dragon - (火龍 - huǒ lóng) - 1916 and 1976
- Earth Dragon - (土龍 - tǔ lóng) - 1928 and 1988
Each of these various dragon years are tempered by their associated element. Metal, for example, is strong and rigid, and these characteristics are found in Metal Dragon people. Metal Dragons like to lead, but they can be unyielding.
Water, in comparison, is a soothing element, so it serves to calm the aggressive side of the dragon personality. Water Dragons can be patient and good collaborators.
Wood Dragons are the most creative type of Dragons. They are imaginative and get along well with others.
Fire Dragons, as might be expected, are powerful and temperamental, which can be a dangerous combination. If they keep their passions under control, they can exert a great influence on other people.
Finally, Earth Dragons are practical, level-headed, and get along well with others. The Earth element has a grounding effect on the otherwise temperamental and volatile nature of Dragons.