Not Just A Rooster

Katie Lin
Katie Lin
Feb 6, 2017 · 4 min read

By Katie Lin

If you weren’t already aware, 2017 Lunar New Year was celebrated on Saturday, January 28, welcoming in another Year of the Rooster. However, did you know that this year was a Fire Rooster year?

Wait, a fire rooster? What’s that?

Chinese astrology follows a sexagenary cycle, or a 60-year cycle, formed by the 60 unique combinations of the 12 zodiac animals and 5 elements.

Hold up. I’ve heard of the animals, but what are these elements you speak of?

The 5 elements — wood, fire, earth, metal, and water — are seen as the building blocks of nature. The elements are not fixed, but are seen as ever changing and representing various seasons, directions, planets, colors, mythological animal rulers, and parts of the body. The elements, in their yin and yang forms, form the cycle of ten heavenly stems in Chinese astrology. The 10 heavenly stems repeat 6 times in the sexagenary cycle: 5 elements each paired with every one of the 12 animals (also known as the 12 earthly stems), which are aligned to either a yin or a yang, once. For those of you who want to see the math: 5 (elements) * 12 (animals) = 60.

Wait, what are the animals again?

The animals best known to the Western world are those of the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig. There are two commonly told variations of folk stories that tell of the selection of these animals, though both involve a race to be the first to arrive. In one, the Jade Emperor summons the animals saying that the calendar months will be named after the first 12 animals to arrive. In the other, the animals are the only that come to see the Buddha off and are rewarded for their faithfulness.

However, the animals vary depending on the country based on cultural norms. For example, in the Korean zodiac, the sheep replaces the goat. In the Vietnamese zodiac, the water buffalo replaces the ox, and the cat replaces the rabbit. The Japanese zodiac uses a sheep instead of the goat as well, but replaces the pig with the wild boar. The Thai zodiac replaces the dragon with the nāga (a water deity with a snake form). European Huns also used the Chinese zodiac with cultural modifications leading to a 13 year Bulgarian pagan calendar (one additional animal), and 12 year cycles for both Mongolia and Kazakhstan (who also replaces a few animals according to their cultural mythologies).

In Chinese astrology, however, the animals form the cycle of twelve earthly stems that repeat 5 times in the sexagenary cycle.

So what does this mean?

The start of the sexagenary cycle is always the Yang Wood Rat, followed by the Yin Wood Ox, the Yang Fire Tiger, the Yin Fire Rabbit, the Yang Earth Dragon, and so on to the Yin Water Pig. Combining the cycles means the animals in the zodiac are fixed to either yin or yang. The fixed signs were determined by counting the number of toes/claws/hooves per limb an animal had. Odd numbers were thought of as yang signs, and even were yin. Thus, the yang signs are the rat, tiger, dragon, monkey and dog each with 5 toes and horse with 1 toe. Note that the rat has 5 toes on hind legs and 4 toes on front legs, but the combined number of toes (9 toes per side total) is still odd. The yin signs are the ox, rabbit, sheep, rooster, pig with 2 toes and snake with its forked tongue. The yang and yin signs are arranged in an alternating yang-yin pattern.

So, basically I’m not just a Rooster, I’m a Fire Rooster if I was born in 2017 or turn 60 this year?

Yes…and no. Chinese astrology also assigns an animal to each month of the year as well as every two hours of the day. Chinese astrologists use the different signs to ascertain different parts of your personality during different stages of your life. So it’s a lot more complicated than what you read on a place mat in a Chinese restaurant!

If you’re interested in learning more about your zodiac animals, I recommend checking out a few of the sources below that I used to help inform myself about the Chinese zodiac.

Sources: Author’s Note: I know! Wikipedia is a terrible source…but it does a great job of synthesizing a lot of information about Chinese astrology so I felt that it deserved recognition as a great jumping off point for learning more about the zodiac and your sign.

Feel free to hit the recommend button (♡ icon below) or share if you enjoyed this article! Thanks for reading! #SASEPrints

Originally published at

Katie Lin

Written by

Katie Lin

Thinker, dreamer, doer. Problem-solver in training. I write for The Thought Lab, SASEPrints, and for myself.


The official blog of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers

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