Research: Happy new year, you rats

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I suppose it was the plague.

What else could have given rats such a bad reputation? They’re quite clever and make, as our family discovered, very sweet pets.

And this is their year.

Because Chinese astrology is based on the moon’s cycles, not calendar months, each new year begins on a different date. Inextricable from ancient culture and religion it involves numerology, man’s relationship with nature, the magic of 12 and yes, the planets. All stitched together by the idea that “all phenomena are a differentiation of one infinity.”

Saturday, Jan. 25 begins the Year of the Rat — yours, if your birth year is 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, or 2008.

You’ve probably heard of the 12 animals of Chinese astrology, corresponding with a 12-year cycle. Those 12 repeat five times, totaling 60 years of the Chinese zodiac. Each animal sign has characteristics others likely see in us, but that’s hardly the end of it.

For example, based upon my birth year I am the “diplomatic” sheep/goat but my “inner” animal is a loyal dog. I’m also Yin and the fire element — that has something to do with the month and last digit of my birth year.

Yin (female aspects) and yang (male aspects) are about balance, so ideally each person has aspects of both. If not, such imbalance is associated with health problems. Think of yin and yang not as opposites, but as two inseparable aspects of the same, illustrating another principle in Chinese culture: “All antagonisms are complementary.”

Yin and yang are also applied to the five Chinese elements — metal, water, wood, fire, and earth — which modify the animal sign characteristics and affect qi (“chi” or essence).

Metal: Birth years ending in 0 — yang metal; ending in 1 — yin metal. Metal is associated with autumn, the color white, the respiratory system and lungs, self-reliance and persistence, and creature comforts. And the planet Venus.

Water: Birth years ending in 2 — yang water; ending in 3 — yin water. Water is associated with winter, black, the skeletal and excretory system, diplomacy, compassion, and flexibility. Planet: Mercury.

Wood: Birth years ending in 4 — yang wood; ending in 5 — yin wood. Wood is associated with spring, green, the liver and gall bladder, cooperation, growth-seeking, and idealism. Planet: Jupiter.

Fire: Birth years ending in 6 — yang fire; ending in 7 — yin fire. Fire is associated with summer, red, the circulatory system and heart, passion, restlessness, and leadership. And Mars.

Earth: Birth years ending in 8 — yang earth; ending in 9 — yin earth. Earth is associated with the change of seasons, yellow, the digestive system, patience, stability and service. And Saturn.

Remember, because the lunar year begins between late January and late February, earlier birthdays go with the previous calendar year’s animal. The Press editor was born in January, so while his Western birth year ends in 6, in Chinese astrology he has the previous year’s sheep sign (rather than the 6-year’s Monkey). If you’re wondering, he favors yin and is a wood sign.

Inner animals, affecting love life and inner persona, are based on lunar month (beginning sometime in January or February), so work backward a few weeks to guess yours. Our sheep-editor’s is an ox.

Inner animals in order of first to last lunar month are: Tiger (near February), rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, and ox (look for animal characteristics Tuesday).

Finally, a person’s “secretive” animal, kept more hidden or more subconscious, is based on hour of birth, in two-hour increments. Keep in mind this is Beijing local time — 14 hours ahead of us:

11 p.m. – 1 a.m. rat; 1 – 3 a.m. ox; 3 – 5 a.m. tiger; 5 – 7 a.m. rabbit; 7 – 9 a.m. dragon; 9 – 11 a.m. snake.

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. horse; 1 – 3 p.m. sheep; 3 – 5 p.m. monkey; 5 – 7 p.m. rooster; 7 – 9 p.m. dog; 9 – 11 p.m. pig.

All this adds up to a simplified drop in the large body of Chinese divination. There’s a lot more out there. Start with the charts and birth year calculator at

Next time, a glance at each animal’s personality traits from the Chinese zodiac perspective.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who still misses her favorite rat. Contact her at

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