Guide to the Elements of Chinese Astrology

You may be familiar with the element of your Sun sign according to Western astrology, but do you know the element of your Chinese zodiac sign? This can reveal a layer of your personality which offers you more room for improvement as well as hidden skills you can capitalize on.

While many people will be familiar with the twelve animals associated with Chinese Astrology, fewer are aware of the 5 elements (compared to Western Astrology’s 4 elements) also involved. If you are a Rabbit, you are not simply a Rabbit. You may be a Fire Rabbit or a Water Rabbit. If you are a Snake, you are not just a Snake. You may be a Wood Snake, a Metal Snake, or an Earth Snake.

Since these systems are noted for their accuracy, there’s no reason to get hung up on debating which system is right. When dealing with emotional landscapes, there is room for two truths (or maybe more!) to coexist. For example, have you ever wanted and hated something at the same time?

The 5 elements of the Chinese Zodiac have a powerful effect on us. They are also known as the 5 Movements, 5 Phrases, 5 States of Change, and 5 Steps. They move around in either the Generating Cycle (positive) or the Controlling Cycle (negative).

What this means is that the Generating Cycle shows the positive relationship between the elements. This is the mothering, nurturing, and supportive cycle as you can see from the following:

Water makes Wood grow > Wood makes Fire burn > Fire creates Earth > Earth bears Metal > Off Metal runs Water.

Then there is the Controlling Cycle. This is a cycle of destruction, where two forces oppose one another. This can be seen from the following:

Water controls Fire > Fire melts Metal > Metal chops down Wood > Wood breaks the Earth > Earth soaks up Water and blocks its flow.

This is one way of determining which characters get along with each other in the Chinese Zodiac and which ones are mortal enemies. Let’s take the Tiger and the Monkey, for example, two traditional enemies. The Tiger is ruled by Wood and the Monkey is ruled by Metal. From the Controlling Cycle, we can see that ‘Metal chops down Wood’ – or rather, ‘Monkey chops down Tiger!”

Though it isn’t quite as simple as all that. Let’s say you have a Metal Tiger who befriends a Monkey – there’s a good chance the two would get along like a house on fire because the Metal element in this particular Tiger is friendly with the Monkey’s natural element. Similarly, animals in the same trine will often share an affinity for one another, regardless of their individual elements.

Learn more about Chinese Astrology in Chinese Zodiac 101.

Discovering Your Element

Your Chinese astrology element is based on the year you were born. The elements can help reveal your approach to social interactions, projects, life changes, and communication. It’s interesting to read about each element and see if it does indeed speak to you and your inner emotional landscape. Additionally, you are either a yin or yang, which means you’re either more intuitive and introverted or extroverted and logic-minded. Discover if you’re a yin or yang sign and which planet rules your Chinese zodiac element on this page.

It’s a bit like understanding the nine times table, really, where all the answers add up to nine! If you want to know what your own personal element is, take the last number of your birth year and then follow the formula below.

Element Formula

If the last number of your birth year is

  • 0 or 1, yours is a Metal element.
  • 2 or 3, yours is a Water element.
  • 4 or 5, yours is a Wood element.
  • 6 or 7, yours is a Fire element.
  • 8 or 9, yours is an Earth element.

What Is Your Chinese Zodiac Element?

When your Chinese zodiac sign rules a year, it means you’ll have a year with extra growth opportunities (some people call these challenges). You also have a lucky element which can bring a year of good luck. If you know your Chinese zodiac animal, check out which year will bring you good luck below. For example, this year, 2018, is the year of the earth dog, so it’s an extra fortunate year for oxes, dragons, dogs, and goats.

Earth: Ox, Dragon, Dog, Goat

Metal: Rooster, Monkey

Wood: Rabbit, Tiger

Fire: Horse, Snake

Water: Rat, Pig

Now let’s find out what your element is based on the year you were born (which is different than your lucky element). It does, however, reveal some special and useful things about you that you will be happy to hear.

How About Personality Traits?

Each element bestows a defining set of characteristics onto a person. In the Chinese Zodiac, you will naturally be one of five elements, as well as the natural element of your sign. Imagine you are a Fire Horse – that is one fiery person, as Fire is also the Horse’s natural element. If you are a Water Horse, your natural Fire may be somewhat tempered by the Water in you.

Here’s how the different elements can have an effect on your overall character. Each element is also represented by a totem animal:


Wood people are idealists and highly gifted. They are planners who like to know which direction they’re going in. They’re not the biggest fan of surprises. While everyone else is running around like headless chickens, Wood people are calm in the knowledge that they have a good plan mapped out. Others see them as a source of inspiration.

You’re flexible and passionate with a warmth and a charm. People can be drawn to you and you’re a person who enjoys interactions. You like to help others and often step into leadership roles. You think about expanding and growing and are known for being a person of patience and compassion. People describe you as a stable and loving person.

Totem animal: Owl


Water people are sensitive, sympathetic, and excellent at coordinating. They are not as feisty as other elements, but they have a quiet sort of power which can be lethal when unleashed. Water people are always willing to lend an ear or a helping hand, but people should be careful not to take advantage of them or take them for granted.

You are marked by your empathy. You take the time to reflect and choose your words wisely. You are observant and probably not an attention seeker as you choose to understand how people interact. You have inner strength and wisdom that becomes evident to people when they see you’re unswayed by fleeting temptations. You are a good judge of character.

Totem animal: Chameleon


Fire people are brave and resourceful. Just like the element of Fire, they tend to leave a trail-blaze everywhere they go! The Fire person is an excellent researcher, able to delve into vast amounts of information and find a way to make sense of it. Fire people tend to have strong leadership abilities.

You know what you want and you go after it. You are likely to be good at many things as long as they interest you. You’re brave, easily take risks and charismatic. Your passion drives you and you are not easily convinced to change your mind. You’re energetic, creative, and know-how to inspire people.

Totem animal: Koala


One of the kindest elements, Earth people are known for their compassion and integrity. They are the most tolerant of all the signs and most likely to listen to another person’s side of the story. This is a fair and just sign which does not allow emotions to run away with them. They are cool-headed honest people and make good and reliable leaders.

Your feathers don’t ruffle easily. You are constantly helping others and known for your ability to calm things down. You are protective and always looking out for the best interest of others. You are practical and dependable. You’re more motivated to be a good person than a known person most likely. You probably think through decisions and find people come to you for advice.

Totem animal: Peacock


This is an element of immense strength. Metal people are the most dogged and persistent of the elements and it is rare for them to give up. They can be workaholics sometimes and they have the ability to sway crowds with their strong opinions and intense stares. This is a magnetic element that often draws people to them through sheer charisma.

You are very hardworking and capable of accomplishing a lot. You are a risk-taker, a natural leader, and confident. You’re practical, organized and an independent person. You have the ability to see long projects through to completion and can see the steps you need to take to accomplish big goals. You’re not easily swayed by other people’s opinions and not inclined to make emotional decisions. You’re tough like metal.

Totem animal: Tiger


Be sure to pay attention to the dates of the Chinese year because the Chinese New Year does not begin on January 1st. This could alter your element and lucky element. The Chinese new year occurs anywhere between January 21 and February 20, depending on the year. In 2019, Chinese New Year will fall on February 5. It’s a lunar event, meaning it’s timed by the Moon and will occur on the New Moon that falls between those dates.

Now you have another layer to add to your astrology study! Try making a list of the positive traits of your Chinese zodiac animal and the positive qualities imbued in you from your element. How do you use these strengths right now and how could you improve?

You see, Chinese Astrology isn’t just great for discovering your dream career or figuring out which era you’re most suited to – just like any other form of astrology, it is made up of many complexities and intricacies, and the more we dig, the more we get to find out about ourselves. Adding the Chinese elements factor to this only broadens our knowledge and helps us understand both ourselves and those around us even better.

Related Article: Understanding Yin & Yang: A Philosophy of Balance

* Editor’s note: This article was previously published September 14th, 2019 and has been updated for astrological accuracy.

About The Author

Iberia Tor

Iberia Tor is a harmonious Libra Sun, Conflicted Scorpio rising, and a Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac.A whirlwind writer with a passion for Tarot cards and Astrology in all forms, she is fascinated by other realms and experiencing both the negative and positive that goes with its inhabitants. Sarah believes the imagination knows no boundaries; it is not just a gift, but a privilege also, one utilized as a tool of exploration to penetrate the very core of our existence.Iberia has authored three novels, and currently writes Astrology Answers’ Daily Money and Chinese Zodiac Horoscopes, as well as articles.
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