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. As there are twelve animal signs, they occur in 12-year cycles, always in the same order. The Year Of The Rabbit, 兔年 (tù nián) in Mandarin Chinese, occurs in 1999, 2011, 2023, and 2035.
Because the Lunar New Year varies according to the position of the moon, the actual dates of the Year Of The Rabbit are as follows:
- February 16, 1999 – February 4, 2000
- February 3, 2011 – January 22, 2012
- January 22, 2023 – February 9, 2024
- February 8, 2035 – January 27, 2036
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 journey involved crossing a swift river, and both Cat and Rat decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hitch a ride on the back of Ox. Ox agreed to carry them both across, but when they reached the middle of the river, Rat pushed Cat into the water. As Ox approached the far bank of the river, Rat jumped ahead and ran to the meeting place, earning first place in the zodiac. Ox arrived shortly afterwords, then Tiger, who had great difficulty navigating the strong currents of the river.
Rabbit was the fourth to arrive, and explained to the emperor that he had crossed the river by hopping from one stone to another. Halfway through, though, he lost his balance and fell into the water. Rabbit was lucky to catch a floating log that eventually washed him to shore.
These stories of how the animals arrive to the Jade Emperor's meeting reveal something of the character of each animal, with the rabbit having good luck and being able to get out of difficult situations.
In Chinese culture, people born in the Year of the Rabbit are thought to be lucky (幸運 / 幸运 - xìngyùn) and good at solving problems (解決問題 / 解决问题 - jiějué wèntí). Those born in the Year Of The Rabbit dislike fighting and aggression, prefering instead to find solutions through compromise and negotiation. They tend to avoid surprises and risky situations, which may lead to lost opportunities.
Some of the positive characteristics of Rabbit people are:
- kind and friendly (親切 / 亲切 - qīnqiè)
- sensitive (敏感 - mǐngǎn)
- graceful (優雅 / 优雅 - yōuyǎ)
- cautious (謹慎 / 谨慎 - jǐnshèn)
- artistic (藝術 / 艺术 - yìshù)
- agile (靈活 / 灵活 - línghuó)
On the negative side, Rabbit people can be:
- detached (獨立 / 独立 - dúlì)
- superficial (粗淺 / 粗浅 - cūqiǎn)
- moody (悶悶不樂 / 闷闷不乐 - mènmènbúlè)
- stubborn (固執 / 固执 - gùzhí)
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 Rabbit, for example, falls in the years 1951 and 2011, while the Water Rabbit appears in the years 1963 and 2023.
Here are the Rabbit years with their associated elements:
- Metal Rabbit - (金兔 - jīn tù) - 1951 and 2011
- Water Rabbit - (水兔 - shuǐ tù) - 1963 and 2023
- Wood Rabbit - (木兔 - mù tù) - 1915 and 1975
- Fire Rabbit - (火兔 - huǒ tù) - 1927 and 1987
- Earth Rabbit - (土兔 - tǔ tù) - 1939 and 1999
Each of these various rabbit years are tempered by their associated element. Metal, for example, is strong and rigid, and these characteristics are found in Metal Rabbit people. Metal Rabbits are ambitious, but that ambition can harm personal relationships.
Water, in comparison, is a soothing element, so it emphasizes the rabbits natural inclination to avoid conflict. Water Rabbits are sociable and relaxed, but can be easy targets for unscrupulous people.
Wood Rabbits very generous and sociable. They express their kindness in many small actions, but sometimes do not know how to say "no".
Fire Rabbits try to live life to its fullest, allowing full reign to their curiosity and creativity. They work hard to avoid conflict, but watch out if they are provoked to anger.
Finally, Earth Rabbits are down-to-earth, practical, level-headed, and realistic. They make good councilors, since they are able to see all sides of a problem. They enjoy their creature comforts, taking pride in their homes and possessions.