Chinese Astrology Cycles

There are two main components in Chinese Astrology, the animal sign and the element. When you calculate your four animal signs, you will see an element listed with each animal- the five elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth (they follow a cycle in the order listed)

Animal Sign

The animal signs are based on the cycles of the moon for the year and month. The year and the month go by the lunar calendar so every new moon to new moon is a month and that month has an animal sign assigned to it. The year is twelve lunar months, and each year has an animal sign attached to it.

You can see the lunar months and years on our Taoist Calendar and in the lunar calendar PDF on the “Calculate your Chart” page.

For the day and hour, the animals cycle through a 24-hour period. Every two hours of the day, the animal sign changes:

Rat11 p.m. to 1 a.m
Ox1 a.m. to 3 a.m
Tiger3 a.m. to 5 a.m
Rabbit5 a.m. to 7 a.m
Dragon7 a.m. to 9 a.m
Snake9 a.m to 11 a.m 
Horse11a.m. to 1 p.m
Sheep1 p.m. to 3 p.m
Monkey3 p.m. to 5 p.m
Rooster5 p.m. to 7 p.m
Dog7 p.m. to 9 p.m
Pig9 p.m. to 11 p.m


Each year, month, day, and hour has both an animal and an element— the two main components of a sign. One example would be a water (element) dog (animal), which could be referring to a water dog year, a water dog month, or day or hour.

The best way to begin explaining how the elements flow in their cycle and go along with the animal sign cycle is to look at an example:

Say you were born in the year of the Tiger in 1950, and because of how it’s been calculated since the dawn of this system, the Chinese astrological system says that you were born in the year of the metal tiger and therefore you are considered a metal tiger. So as you go through the first twelve years of your life, each year is one of the twelve animal signs, following the order of the cycle. So the next year is the year of the rabbit, then the dragon, the snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, and the ox.

Then your animal sign, the tiger, comes up again, on your twelve year, in 1962. Therefore, 1962 is the next tiger year, and that year will correlate to the next element in the cycle of the elements. Since 1950 was a metal year and since metal turns to water, 1962 is the water tiger year.

Twelve years later, when you are 24 years old, in 1974, the next tiger year, the next element in the cycle is wood, so it’s a wood tiger year. Anyone born in this year would be a wood tiger.

In 1986, twelve years after that, when you’re 36, it’s a fire tiger year.

And twelve years after that, in 1998, when you are 48, it’s a earth tiger year.

Then finally twelve years later, in 2010, when you are 60 years old, the cycle of elements has come full circle and it is a metal tiger year again.

In order to explain further how the elements cycle, we must bring in the last component of your chart …

Yin and Yang

As to how that cycling of elements takes place from one year to the next, every two years the element changes, and during those two years of that element, one of those years is yin and one of them is yang.

So 1950 was the year of the yang metal tiger, and the following year. And 1951, was the year of the yin metal rabbit.

Since the yin and yang keep flowing in the same pattern, yang then yin, then yang then yin. Since yin and yang are two categories and the animal signs are twelve categories, and both are even numbers, each animal sign always correlates to the same aspect, whether that’s yang or yin. So that means every rabbit year is a yin rabbit year and every tiger is a yang tiger year, etc.

This combination of animal with their yin or yang aspect can be shown in the “12 Earthly Branches,” an important organizing concept in Taoism and in the I Ching.

The 12 Earthly Branches listed in terms of the corresponding animal:

  • Zi is Rat (Yang)
  • Chou is Ox (Yin)
  • Yin is Tiger (Yang)
  • Mao is Rabbit (Yin)
  • Chen is Dragon (Yang)
  • Si is Snake (Yin)
  • Wu is Horse (Yang)
  • Wei is Goat (Yin)
  • Shen is Monkey (Yang)
  • You is Rooster (Yin)
  • Xu is Dog (Yang)
  • Hai is Pig (Yin)

Another related organizing concept in Taoism and in the I Ching is the “Ten Heavenly Stems,” which are comprised of one yin plus one yang of each of the five elements.

10 Heavenly Stems:

  • Jia (1st stem) is Yang Wood
  • Yi (2nd stem) is Yin Wood
  • Bing (3rd stem) is Yang Fire
  • Ding (4th stem) is Yin Fire
  • Wu (5th) is Yang Earth
  • Ji (6th) is Yin Earth
  • Geng (7th) is Yang Metal
  • Xin (8th) is Yin Metal
  • Ren (9th) is Yang Water
  • Gui (10th) is Yin Water

As you can see, the elements keep cycling—two years on one element, then continuing onto the next element for two years, and on it goes. Returning to the example, when we left off we had just gone from the yang metal tiger in 1950 to the yin metal rabbit year in 1951. Continuing on from there…

The following element in the cycle after metal is water. Therefore, the next year (two years after the metal tiger year) it turns to the next element. So in 1952 it is a water dragon year. And since the last year was metal, this year is yang. So in 1952, it turns to a yang water dragon.

The following year, 1953, is the year of the snake, and it is the second water year, the yin year of the pair, therefore it is a yin water snake year.

This same cycling of elements with their yin and yang counterparts also applies to the month, the day, and the hour.

Putting It All Together

In summary, within the Chinese Zodiac system you have three patterns that are always cycling through—the animal, the element, and the yin or yang components.

These rotations of animal signs, elements, and yin and yang lead to every twelfth year, month, day, or hour being the same animal sign with the next element in the cycle.

Finally, these patterns lead to every 60 years, 60 months, 60 days or 60 hours (and can even be applied down to the 60 minutes of an hour and the 60 seconds of a minute) returning back to the same animal with the same element, completing a cycle of the Chinese Zodiac.

The Three Patterns

1. Yin and Yang

2. Elements: 

3. Animals:

Here is a sample of a period of twelve years you can use to identify the rotations of the patterns through the twelve-year cycle. After looking at this you can probably guess what the next yin/yang aspect, element and animal are for the following year. 

1950—Yang Metal Tiger
1951—Yin Metal Rabbit
1952—Yang Water Dragon
1953—Yin Water Snake
1954—Yang Wood Horse
1955—Yin Wood Goat
1956—Yang Fire Monkey
1957—Yin Fire Rooster
1958—Yang Earth Dog
1959—Yin Earth Pig
1960—Yang Metal Rat
1961—Yin Metal Ox
1962—Yang Water Tiger

In conclusion, this has been a guide to understand in a simplified way what the components of your Chinese astrological chart are, and how they are calculated.

For explanations of what these elements and animal signs mean, you can find a wealth of information by searching on google, or we recommend the book, Taoist Astrology: A Handbook of the Authentic Chinese Tradition by Susan Levitt to learn more about your animal and element signs in depth.

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