2017, Zodiac Calendars, and Roosters

Illustration for 2017 being the “Year of the Rooster”.

We are here in the New Year and it’s time for a fresh start.  For those who follow the Chinese Zodiac calendar are aware that 2017 is the “Year of the Rooster”. The Chinese Zodiac calendar is part of a pretty ancient astrological system, where its role in this case is keeping track of the years and predicting how each would unfold. Japan and other Asian countries adopted this system hundreds of years ago, while other countries in the West have familiarized with it as well. What does this mean for this year, and why is it significant? Let’s take a look at some points regarding this Chinese Zodiac Calendar, the rooster, and the projection for 2017.


A stone carving of the 12 Animals used in the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Photo taken by Felix Andrews. From Wikipedia.
  • Dates back to the Shang (Yin) Dynasty¹ in ancient China around 1700 b.c., based on written records from that time.
  • The Chinese Zodiac Calendar incorporates a 12-year cycle, which then resets after the cycle finishes in accordance to the complete solar orbit of Jupiter.
  •  Each year in this 12-year cycle is made up of 1 of 12 Zodiac signs, written as “十二支” in Chinese (pronounced “Juunishi” in Japanese). These 12 signs are labeled as “Earthly Branches”, due to their connection to human traits.
  • These 12 Zodiac signs are each represented by an animal. Collectively, these 12 Animals are written as “十二生肖” in Chinese (pronounced “Juuniseisho” in Japanese). These 12 Animals are the following in order according to the zodiac calendar used in China²: rat, ox, rabbit, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig.
  •  Each of these animals bear their own personalities, traits, and qualities, which not only identify people who are born in one of these animal years, but determine fortune and daily perspectives people should follow.
  • Along with the 12 Animals, there are 5 Elements used in this calendar. Written as “五行” (pronounced “Gogyo” in Japanese), these 5 elements are the following: fire, water, wood, metal, and earth.
  • Each of the 12 Animals are naturally associated with one of these 5 elements, which further affect each animal’s given traits.
  • Each single 12-year cycle also has the 5 Elements tied to each animal year in a particular pattern, creating a single elemental type of each animal. What this means is that there are 5 elemental types of each animal sign.
  • All 5 Elements will play out completely when each animal sign has had all 5 elemental types appear in 5 12-year cycles. The elements + animals combined makes the Chinese Zodiac calendar a full 60-years cycle before it resets completely, just to repeat the cycle again.
  • The Chinese Zodiac system, including the use of the calendar, made its way to Japan and believed to have been in use as early as Yayoi period³ (300 bce – 300 ce).
  • In Japan the term for observing each year is called “Eto” (干支), which is a combination of the 12 Earthly Branches (十二支), the 5 Elements (五行), and 10 Calendar Signs also referred to as “10 Heavenly Stems” (十干, which is pronounced “Jikkan”).
  • The use of the Chinese Zodiac calendar in Japan is very old and intricate as its use in China, for it is also used to tell the time of the day (時刻 jikoku), the Lunar month (陰暦 inreki), direction (方角 houkaku), and season (季節 kisetsu)⁴.


Artistic work featuring a rooster and a hen. Art piece is entitled “紫陽花双鶏図 (Rooster and Hen with Hydrangeas)”. Produced by Ito Jakuchu in the 18th century. From Wikipedia.
  • In accordance to the Lunar New Year (based on the rotation of the Moon), the rooster year begins from January 28 of 2017 and ends in February 15th of 2018.
  • The rooster is the 10th sign in the Chinese Zodiac calendar. In according to this sign (as how the calendar is used in Japan) are the following: The Lunar month is August, time of day is between 5 pm to 7 pm, direction is West, and season is Fall.
  • This year in Japanese is read as “Hinoto Tori” (丁酉), for both the rooster sign (酉) and the “Fire” element (丁) are next in the zodiac calendar. Together they indicate that 2017 is the “Fire Rooster” year, as well as being the 34th year in the 60-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac calendar before it starts over completely.
  • The animal zodiac sign for the rooster is written as “酉” in Chinese. This same written style is used in Japan.
  • This zodiac character “酉” in Japanese is pronounced “tori”, which is the same phonetic sound for another Chinese character that stands for bird (鳥). While it does refer to birds, this zodiac character for the calendar actually represents the rooster (鶏), which is pronounced “niwatori”.
  • Originally the zodiac character “酉” didn’t stand for rooster. In fact, the 12 zodiac signs never had any relations to animals in its conception!
  • The zodiac signs were originally standard labels representing people’s predetermined personalities and traits. For example, “酉” is the radical used with the water (水) radical to make up the word for alcohol (酒).
  • The inclusion of 12 animals representing a zodiac sign came much later in China’s history, as a means to help people remember the signs much easier5. To determine which sign got which animal was based on the pronunciation of the sign and which animal was closest to the sound.
  • The rooster is a symbol for hard work, trustworthy, and dedication, due to the rooster’s nature of waking early and crowing at day’s break almost everyday. Also, the pronunciation of rooster (鶏) in standard Chinese6 is the same as fortune (吉), which is “ji”, making it a favorable sign to the masses.

Now, for some projections made for 2017:

  • The rooster represents hardwork, honesty, and doing one’s best. So, we should incorporate these traits along with the traits of our own personal animal sign.
  •  It is advised that we put our best foot forward and focus on our dreams and goals with no hesitation. It is important to seize the opportunity to “take” good fortune and success7.
  • 1st impression matters in having a successful year, so give it your 100%
  • This year is especially profitable for business owners of all kind. How one markets and advertises their products and services can win over customers very easily.
  • People under the rooster sign beware! Things will not look good for you if you don’t tread carefully!8
Another illustration for 2017.

Here’s looking forward to a prosperous 2017 for all!

1) 殷代

2) Depending on the habitat, culture, and story used, the animals vary in different cultures. For example, in Japan the pig is replaced by a boar, while in Vietnam the cat replaces the rabbit.

3) 弥生時代

4) The Chinese Zodiac is a very intricate, and rather complex system that, in ancient times, played a huge role in determining one’s day, activities, luck, and so on. Based on astrological factors and imagery, it has a multitude of uses. Along with the 12 Animals (Earthly Branches), 5 Elements, and 10 Calendar Signs (Heavenly Stems), the Chinese Zodiac is also made up of, or works in conjunction with, many more subsystems that can be daunting. All in all, it has a pretty straight forward pattern in whatever field of interest is used, it just takes some familiarity and practice.

For this post, its use in a calendar system (along with small hints in its usage regarding time, direction, etc.) is presented. To cover the other uses along with the other subsystems would have to be done in a separate post.

5) One of popular folktales state that the Jade Emperor (ruler of heaven in Chinese lore) wished to appoint 12 animals to one of the 12 zodiac signs. He set up a foot race between all(?) of the earthly animals, stating that the 1st 12 will be chosen, and appointed according to which place they came in. The race had different outcomes for each of the animals, where it either brought out their best qualities (i.e. the ox waking very early in attempt to beat the faster animals and come in first, which sorta worked…), defined their personality in accordance to the sign it represents (i.e. the rat being cunning & resourceful by hanging onto the ox’s horn during the race to *officially* be 1st), to defining animals’ relationship with one another (i.e. cats hating rats due to the rat breaking a promise prior to the race, dogs hating roosters due to the rooster cheating by flying at the last moment to beat the dog).

Note that this is not *the* official version of the story. Actually, there may be no official version due to how old it was when incorporated into the Chinese Zodiac and how certain details may have been changed due to the times. There are other versions of the tale that paints the story with variations in regards to how the animals were chosen, from where the race involved crossing a stream, being a swimming race, a selection of animals to be guardians of heaven, down to a festival where only 12 animals were invited.

6) Pinyin

7)  In Japanese the pronunciation of the zodiac sign “酉” also has the same sound as the word “take” (取り). As a play on words, it is advised to “take in” (取り込み) as much good you can out of the year.

8) Actually, this is said for every zodiac sign, when one’s animal sign matches the the animal for the New Year. On a fantastical level, it is the way for the Jade Emperor to punish each animal when their year comes up due to doing such a poor job. On a more theoretical level, it is sometimes explained that the year that matches one’s animal sign brings out the best in us, which in turn can backfire tremendously. Thus it is advised that we be careful when our animal year comes around, and take certain steps to avoid misfortune, such as avoiding certain colors.

2 thoughts on “2017, Zodiac Calendars, and Roosters

  1. Pingback: 2018: Year of the Earth Dog – Light in the Clouds

  2. Pingback: 2019: Year of the Pig (Boar) – Light in the Clouds

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