Explainer: Everything You Need to Know About the Rooster Year

By Rachel Deason, January 26, 2017

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The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.

When it comes to the Year of the Rooster, no one can agree upon just one legend. Some involve rain-breathing dragons. Others concern crafty centipedes. However, there is one commonality among the tales: all contain anthropomorphized, talking animals.

So take this with a grain of salt, would you?

Our legend begins with the ancient Jade Emperor, who created a calendar based on the cycles of the moon. Just as he was putting the finishing touches on it, he thought that it lacked a certain animal presence. He decided to assign 12 animals to the calendar, one for each cycle.

“But how will I select the 12 animals?” he wondered. “I know! I will find the wisest, most beautiful, the kindest and the most heroic.”

“No,” he thought. “That wouldn’t be the fairest way.”

Then, a better idea struck him.

“I’ll call a meeting. Whichever animals make it to me the fastest will be awarded places.” So he sent an edict out to all the animals in the land about a mighty race across a river. Thirteen animals set out on the course.

The rat came in first place, having hopped on the back of the ox, who came in second. The tiger was named the third animal in the cycle after it used its strength to push through the raging current. Next came the rabbit, thumping into fourth place. In fifth place was the dragon, followed by the snake and the horse.

But how was the rooster supposed to secure a spot on the calendar? He was not cunning like the rat nor strong like the tiger. He tired easily, unlike the horse.

Rooster explainer

“What do I have that the other animals haven’t?” the rooster pondered. He thought about his golden voice, which he could use to call others to action. He fluffed his feathers and remembered that their beauty made him popular. He then knew what he must do.

After the horse made it to shore with the snake hidden in its hoof, the rooster spotted a raft. Being too weak to pull it himself, he used his voice to get the attention of the sheep and the monkey. In exchange for allowing them to place ahead of him on the calendar, the rooster convinced the two animals to pull him to victory on the raft. The sheep and the monkey cleared the weeds, and tugged the raft to where the emperor sat waiting on the other side.

“I’m pleased with your efforts,” the emperor declared. “You’re very resourceful, rooster. You will be the tenth animal on the calendar.”

The rooster relaxed in the palace hall and was soon joined by the dog and the pig. The cat drowned and never made it.

Rooster Birth Years

1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017

What are they like?

Observant, hardworking, resourceful, courageous, talented, self-confident, active, amusing, popular, talkative, outspoken, frank, open, honest, loyal, center-of-attention, vain, boastful

Roosters make excellent…

Teachers, journalists, medical professionals, public servants, restaurateurs, hairdressers, public relations officers

Most compatible with…

Ox and snake

Mortal enemies with…

Rat, rabbit, horse, pig

Rooster Idioms

闻鸡起舞: “Rise at rooster’s crow.” Meaning: Diligent and self-disciplined

鸡飞蛋打: “The hen has flown the coop and the eggs are broken.” Meaning: A dead loss

鸡毛蒜皮: “Chicken feathers and garlic skins.” Meaning: Trivialities

鸡鸣狗盗: “Crowing like a rooster and stealing like a dog.” Meaning: Get up to mean or petty tricks

鸡犬升天: “Roosters and dogs rise to heaven.” Meaning: Ride someone’s coattails to success

杀鸡儆猴: “Kill the chicken to warn the monkey.” Meaning: To punish an individual as an example to others

小肚鸡肠: “Small belly, chicken’s gut.” Meaning: Petty

Fellow Crowers

Li Longji, Prince Philip, Yoko Ono, Ye Jianying, Faye Wong, Li Xiaopeng, Tie Ning, Peter Drucker, Natalie Portman, Beyonce Knowles, Britney Spears, Matthew McConaughey

Famous Roosters


For more of The Explainer, click here.

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