Another Chinese Spring Festival came and went last month, heralding the end of the Year of the Monkey and the beginning of the Year of the Rooster. While it can be fun to collect zodiac animal toys and use off-color synonyms for “rooster,” this year we thought we’d give you guys a peek into the hows and whys of the Chinese zodiac.


Let’s start with the basics: the Chinese zodiac is a repeating 12-year cycle, and each year has its own animal; each cycle begins with a Year of the Rat and ends with a Year of the Pig. There’s a Chinese folktale involving Emperor Yu Huang that explains the order, in which he asks the animals to race across a river to determine their order. It’s a quick story and, in its own traditional way, pretty wild. It involves some off-the-wall stuff like the Rat betraying his best friend, the Cat, by drowning him in the river (which is why, according to folklore, cats and rats are now mortal enemies, and also why we don’t have a Year of the Cat); the Dragon knows he’s like a thousand times more badass than the other animals and screws around saving villages and literally making it rain, like some kind of baller, scaly Superman before just kind of rolling in like a boss for 5th place; the Dog bathed himself while he had a body of fresh water at his disposal, which sounds bad, but then you find out that the Pig just chows down and goes into a food coma instead of racing at all.

Each animal in the Chinese zodiac has a set of associated character traits and compatibility rankings with other animals, similar to concepts found in the Western zodiac. However, to further complicate things, each 12-year cycle is associated with one of five elements, known in Chinese as the “wuxing” (五行): wood, fire, earth, metal and water. That’s sixty years of wood rats and metal sheep, and would take forever to list out all the nuances and combinations, so let’s skip ahead a bit to talk about what all this means for Roosters.


In the story of the river race, the Rooster came in tenth. Most versions aren’t very detailed as to why that is, mostly saying that he shared a raft with the Goat and Monkey and implying that the Rooster was just feeling super chill that day and let them off first.

As is the case with a lot of astrology, the exact traits of the Rooster can vary depending on who you ask. However, most sources agree that Roosters are outgoing, fastidious and motivated, but may be impatient, overconfident and even a little bit preachy. Roosters are meant to be a good match for other Roosters, Monkeys, Rats, Dogs, Tigers, Horses, Pigs and Goats; great matches with Dragons, Snakes and Oxen; and a less-than-great match with the Rabbit.

2017 is the Year of the Fire Rooster. What the Fire element adds to the mix is trustworthiness, along with a strong dash of punctuality and responsibility. They’re said to become very successful near middle-age.

If you’re a Rooster of any element, this year is what’s known in Chinese as your “benmingnian” (本命年), but you can call it your “circle year”. Don’t get too cocky, Roosters—a “circle year” is bad for every animal in the zodiac. In those years, your animal is “offending” a deity called Tai Sui, so you may be affected by his curses. In an attempt to ward off this bad luck and misfortune, it’s a fairly common practice for people in their circle year to wear some article of red clothing, whether that’s a red bracelet, red socks or, sometimes, red underwear. It’s also recommended that persons in their circle year not get married, because that’s also bad luck.


So, we’ve talked about Roosters, curses and the world’s most insane river race, and all of it begs the question: how much does this stuff play into modern Chinese culture?

The answer is as you might expect. Of course, the Chinese calendar is an immense part of not only Chinese culture, but also in East Asia in general. The aspects of the Chinese zodiac that may be considered more superstitious in nature are more strictly followed by more traditional people, while younger or more modern generations adhere much less closely to these ideas. For example, a couple of years ago during the Year of the Goat, stories were floating around the Internet of parents pressuring their married children not to have children of their own, or in some cases to induce birth while it was still the more auspicious Year of the Horse. Most people, it should be said, are not quite that serious about it.

The Year of the Rooster has nothing so dramatic up its sleeve, preferring just to follow the Monkey, as in the legend. But still, if it’s your circle year, maybe think about getting some red stuff in your life. Better red than dead, right?


Are you doing anything special during the Year of the Rooster?
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