Year of the Tiger: Everything you need to know about the Chinese zodiac

 (iStock/The Independent)
(iStock/The Independent)

Chinese New Year is celebrated by almost two billion people across the globe, synonymous with bright red lanterns, family gatherings and Lazy Susans laden with food for days on end. Each New Year is accompanied by an animal from the Chinese zodiac; last year it was an Ox, this year, it’s a Tiger.

Most Chinese people (along with others in East and South East Asian countries who follow the Lunar calendar) know which animal sign they are born under. Much like Western horoscopes, your animal sign can provide a window into your personality, prospects for your career and love life, as well as your fortune.

The Chinese zodiac’s influence is so important in Chinese cultures that in 2014, it was reported that several provinces in China saw a spike in births in the last few weeks of the year as young couples sought to have children born in the year of the Horse, which was considered more auspicious than the following year, the Sheep.

But for many, the Chinese zodiac is a difficult beast to master. It requires understanding the different philosophical concepts as well as relationships between the Zodiac animals, and learning how these could apply to your own life. Ideologies like yin and yang, characteristic traits of each animal and their corresponding elements, and even “Guardian Gods” all work together to create the wider astrological picture.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Chinese zodiac and how to make the Year of the Tiger work for you:

In the beginning

According to popular legend, the Chinese zodiac came into being when the Jade Emperor - the primary god in Chinese mythology - held a race to determine how time should be measured.

The story has several iterations, but the most commonly told narrative is that the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in the world to take part in the race, but these were the 12 species that made it to the starting line: a rat, ox, tiger, rooster, monkey, sheep, snake, dragon, horse, rabbit, goat, and pig.

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

At the end of the race, the Jade Emperor positioned each animal according to its place in the race, which is why the zodiac begins with the Rat, followed by the Ox, Tiger, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and lastly, the Pig.

The order is cyclical, which means after the Year of the Pig, the following year will belong to the Rat and the cycle will continue. This is why the zodiac is pictured as a circle, to indicate the repeating of the cycle as the years pass.

Jupiter Lai, a Hong Kong-based Chinese astrology expert, says the most common mistake people make is thinking that Zodiac signs represent a year that starts in January and ends in December. In actuality, the Zodiac year starts at the commencement of spring according to the solar calendar, which usually falls on 4 February.

“For example, a baby born on 2 February of this year will still belong to the Ox,” Lai tells The Independent. “A baby born on 4 February will belong to the Zodiac animal of the new year, the Tiger.”

The five elements

The Chinese zodiac also uses five fixed elements to further define the traits of each animal – water, earth, wood, metal and fire. They either complement or contradict one another and lend different attributes to the animals associated with them.

The cycle of the elements works alongside the cycle of the Zodiac, and together, they create a 60-year cycle. This means that the Year of the Water Tiger hasn’t taken place since 1962 – 60 years ago.

Lai says that the element is believed to impart some of its characteristics to the assigned animal according to particular seasons. For example, water is a source of nourishment and symbolises fluidity and movement, which means the Water Tiger may find this year to be a good one for change and moving forward.

Yin and yang

Yin and yang represent feminine and masculine traits. Yin, the black side of the symbol, is female in nature and associated with natural elements like water, the moon and the dark of night.

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Yang, the white side of the symbol, is masculine and characterised as hot, being active and firey. It is also associated the the sun and enlightenment. Even the Chinese characters for the words yin and yang reflect their characteristics, with “yin” containing the components for “hill” and “cloud” and “yang” the components for “sun” and “rays of the sun”.

Each animal sign is associated with alternating yin and yang traits; yang Rat, yin Ox, yang Tiger, yin Rabbit, and so on. This further informs the traits associated with each animal, and therefore person, and represents the philosophy that there cannot be good without bad; light without dark.

Relationships and conflict

The Zodiac animals all have different relationships with one another, which can either be friendly or harmful depending on their position within the zodiac circle.

Each Zodiac animal has two incompatible, or “unfriendly” animals that could lead to interpersonal conflict. For the Tiger, these are the Monkey and Snake. According to astrologer and Feng Shui consultant, Laurent Langlais, those born in the years of the Monkey and the Snake may therefore face a tumultuous year ahead.

“For the Snake… This year generates enemies or incessant fights and you will have to be patient and take it upon yourself,” he says. “Look for inner solutions rather than waiting for someone to tell you.”

Carrying the symbols of friendly animals can help you avoid potential issues with incompatible signs because they balance out the negativity

Jupiter Lai

The Monkey, on the other hand, might be in for a world of trouble - particularly because its position in the zodiac circle is directly opposite the Tiger, suggesting a “collision”.

“Some turmoil is inevitable, but you will live better this year if you show humility and dedication to others,” Langlais advises those born in the year of the Monkey. “Remember that it is in the discomfort that we discover ourselves the most.”

According to Lai, there are ways to “remedy” the conflicting energies between Tigers, Monkeys and Snakes. She recommends carrying or wearing the symbol of other Zodiac animals you are compatible with, whether as an accessory or a figurine.

“For the Tiger, friendly animals include the Horse and Dog, while the Rooster and Ox are beneficial for the Snake,” Lai says. “For the Monkey, the Rat and Dragon have the best relationships.

“Carrying the symbols of these friendly animals can help you avoid potential issues with incompatible signs because they balance out the negativity. Think of it as having supportive friends to help you deal with conflict.”

There is good news for the Dog, the Pig and the Horse, who are considered to be compatible or friendly animals with the Tiger. This means that 2022 could bring people born under these signs plenty of luck in their work and social life.

In terms of romance, however, Langlais says those born in the year of the Goat may be the luckiest in love.

“This is a year that could very well bring you a soulmate. If you are in a relationship, you can also reconnect with passion,” he predicts.

Tiger’s time to shine?

Local residents walk past the tiger lanterns at Taoist Guandu temple on the eve of the Lunar New Year ushering in the Year of the Tiger in Taipei (AFP via Getty Images)
Local residents walk past the tiger lanterns at Taoist Guandu temple on the eve of the Lunar New Year ushering in the Year of the Tiger in Taipei (AFP via Getty Images)

In a bitter twist of fate, the Year of the Water Tiger might not actually be the best year for people born in the year of the Tiger, although it is filled with potential if they play their cards right.

Lai explains: “Each year is preceded over by a ‘Tai Sui’, which means the Guardian God of the Year. There are 60 in total and they take turns to guard each year – and any Zodiac animal whose year it is is considered offensive to the Guardian God presiding over that particular year.”

Offending the Guardian God might lead to poor fortunes, but there are a few things Tigers can do to turn their luck around this year.

“This year is not bad for Tigers but it might be turbulent due to the conflict with the Tai Sui,” Lai says. “However, making a lifestyle change might help – you can close a chapter and start something new, like a new job or move to a new home.

“When there is movement or change, you can relieve the stress of offending the Guardian God.”

More religious believers usually go to Taoist temples to worship the Guardian God, which in turn pleases him and turns his wrath away, Lai adds.