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In the Chinese zodiac, each lunar year (which starts in late January or early February is represented by one of twelve animal signs. These have existed in Chinese folk tradition since the sixth century BC, though it wasn’t until the third century BC that they were incorporated into a formal study astrology and astronomy (True Chinese astrologers, however, eschew the use of the animal signs in isolation to analyze a person’s life, seeing the zodiac signs as mere entertainment.) Quite why animals emerged as the vehi­cle for Chinese horoscopy is unclear: one story has it that the animals used are the twelve which appeared before the command of Buddha, who named the years in the order in which the animals arrived. Another says that the Jade Emperor held a race to determine the fastest animals. The first twelve to cross a chosen river would be picked to represent the twelve earthly branches which make up the cyclical order of years in the lunar calendar.

Born under time sign of a particular animal, you will have certain characteris­tics, ideal partners, lucky and unlucky days. The details below will tell you the basic facts about your character and personality, though to go into your real Chinese astrological self, you need to take your precise date and time of birth along to a Chinese astrologer – in China, you’ll find plenty of amateurs plying their trade around city parks. The animals always appear in the same order, so that if you know the animal for the current year you can always work out which one is to influence the following Chinese New Year.

The Rat

Characteristics: Usually generous, intelligent and hard working, but can be petty and idle: has lots of friends, but few close ones: may be successful, like, challenges and is good at busi­ness, but is insecure, generally diplo­matic tends to get into emotional entanglements.

Partners: Best suited to Dragon, Monkey and Ox ; doesn’t get on with Horse and Goat.

The Ox

Characteristics: Healthy; obstinate: independent: usually calm and cool, but can get stroppy at times; shy and conservative; likes the outdoors and old-fashioned things; always finishes a task.

Partners: Best suited to Snake, Rat or Rooster; doesn’t get on with Tiger, Goat or Monkey.

The Tiger

Characteristics: Adventurous, creative and idealistic, confident and enthusias­tic; can be diplomatic and practical; fearless and forward, aiming at impossi­ble: goals, though a realist with a force­ful personality.

Partners: Best suited to Horse for marriage; gets on with Dragon, Pig and Dog; should avoid Snake, Monkey and Ox.

The Rabbit

Characteristics: Peace-loving; socia­ble but quiet; devoted to family and friends; timid but can be good at business, needs reassurance and affec­tion to avoid being upset; can be vain; long-lived.

Partners: Best suited to Pig, Dog and Goat; not friendly with Tiger and R ooster.

The Dragon

Characteristics: Strong, command­ ing, a leader; popular, athletic; bright, chivalrous and idealistic, though not always consistent; likely to be a believer in equality.

Partners: Best suited to Snake, Rat, Monkey, Tiger and Rooster: avoid Dog

The Snake

Characteristics: Charming, but pos­sessive and selfish; private and secretive; strange sense of humor; mysterious and inquisitive; ruthless: likes the nice things in life; thoughtful: superstitious.

Partners: Best suited to Dragon, Rooster and Ox; avoid Snake, Pig and Tiger.

The House

Characteristics: Nice appearance and deft; ambitious and quick-witted; facours bold colours; popular, with a sense of humor, gracious and gentle; can be good at business; fickle and emotional.

Partners: Best suited to Dragon, Rooster and Ox; avoid Snake, Pig and Tiger.

The Goat

Characteristics: A charmer and a lucky person who likes money; unpunctual and hesitant, too fond of complaining; interested in the super natural.

Partners: Best suited to Horse. Pig and Rabbit; avoid Ox and Dog.

The Monkey

Characteristics: Very intelligent and sharp, an opportunist: daring and confident, but unstable and egoistic: entertaining and very attractive to others: inventive: has a sense of humor but little respect for reputa­tions.

Partners: Best suited to Dragon and Rat; doesn’t get on with Tiger and Ox.

The Rooster

Characteristics: Frank and reckless, and can be tactless; free with advice; punctual and a hard worker: imagina­tive to the point of dreaming; likes to be noticed: emotional.

Partners: Best suited to Snake, Dragon and Ox; doesn’t get on with Pig, Rabbit and Rooster.

The Dog

Characteristics: Alert, watchful and defensive; can be generous and is patient; very responsible and has good organizational skills, spiritual, home-­ loving and non-materialistic.

Partners: Best suited to Rabbit, Pig, Tiger and Horse: avoid Dragon and Goat.

The Pig

Characteristics: Honest: vulnerable and not good at business, but still materialistic and ambitious; outgoing and outspoken, but naive: kind and helpful to the point of being taken advantage of; calm and genial.

Partners: Best suited to Dog, Goat. Tiger and Rabbit, avoid Snake and Rooster.