Year of the Rat: Chinese Zodiac Meaning and Years

Close-up of a rat
iStock.com/Sonsedska

Written by Dayva Segal

Updated: May 23, 2023

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The Chinese Zodiac uses 12 animal symbols to describe each year, on a rolling 12-year cycle. So, each year corresponds to an animal symbol. The first animal in this cycle is the rat. It’s important to note that in Chinese, the word shu, which refers to the year of the rat, can actually be used to describe a rat or a mouse.

The Chinese Zodiac cycles through five elements:

  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Earth
  • Air

Each year of the rat is also associated with one of these elements. Depending on which year it was, it would be called “wood rat,” “fire rat,” and so on.

Each animal symbol corresponds to:

  • An element
  • Lucky and unlucky directions
  • Lucky days and months
  • Lucky and unlucky numbers
  • Lucky and unlucky colors
  • A season
  • Either yin or yang energy
  • An hour of the day
  • Certain personality characteristics

The element associated with that year further specifies the personality characteristics associated with people born in that year. For example, someone born in a “water rat” year would have different characteristics than someone born in an “earth rat” year.

The Chinese Zodiac follows the lunar calendar. So, the year starts on the Lunar New Year, also called the Chinese New Year, which falls on a different day on the Gregorian calendar each year.

Chinese Zodiac rat symbol

The Chinese Zodiac uses 12 animal symbols to describe each year with the first animal in this cycle being the rat.

Was I Born In The Year Of The Rat?

How can you tell if you were born in the year of the rat? The following table shows past and future rat years along with their associated elements. Also included are the dates of rat years on the Gregorian calendar.

DatesElement
January 31, 1900 – February 18, 1901Metal Rat
February 18, 1912 – February 5, 1913Water Rat
February 5, 1924 – January 23, 1925Wood Rat
January 24, 1936 – February 10, 1937Fire Rat
February 10, 1948 – January 28, 1949Earth Rat
January 28, 1960 – February 14, 1961Metal Rat
February 15, 1972 – February 2, 1973Water Rat
February 2, 1984 – February 19, 1985Wood Rat
February 19, 1996 – February 6, 1997Fire Rat
February 7, 2008 – January 25, 2009Earth Rat
January 25, 2020 – February 11, 2021Metal Rat
February 11, 2032 – January 20, 2033Water Rat
January 30, 2044 – February 16, 2045Wood Rat
February 15, 2056 – February 3, 2057Fire Rat
February 3, 2068 – January 22, 2069Earth Rat
January 22, 2080 – February 8, 2081Metal Rat
February 7, 2092 – January 26, 2093Water Rat

Lucky Symbols And Times

Each symbol in the Chinese Zodiac has both lucky and unlucky associated symbols. It is said that people should avoid these unlucky ones and may use the lucky ones to give them an advantage in any situation. There are also certain hours and days that are lucky for people who were born in the year of the rat. Here are the lucky things that people who were born during the year of the rat may find brings them good fortune.

  • Lucky numbers: 2 and 3, as well as any number that combines the two like 23 or 32
  • Lucky colors: Blue, gold, and green
  • Lucky flowers: Any type of lily
  • Lucky directions: Southeast and northeast
  • Lucky directions for love: West
  • Lucky directions for money: Southeast and east
  • Ruling hour: 11pm-1am
  • Lucky days: The fourth and thirteenth day of each lunar month

Unlucky Symbols And Times

Just as there are lucky symbols, there are also unlucky ones people born in the year of the rat may want to avoid including:

  • Unlucky numbers: 5 and 9
  • Unlucky colors: Yellow and brown

It is also said that when any person returns to their Chinese Zodiac year, they will have bad luck. So rats may want to look out for negative events in the rat years following their birth.

An unlucky color for the year of the rat is brown

Just as there are lucky symbols, there are also unlucky ones people born in the year of the rat may want to avoid such as the color brown.

Does The Year Of The Rat Have Yin Or Yang Energy?

Many people are familiar with the symbol of yin and yang. This represents the balance between two types of energy that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe we have in each of us. These practitioners believe that many illnesses result from an imbalance in these energies.

Yin energy has the characteristics of being feminine, cooling, accepting, and restful. Yang energy is masculine, warming, and action-oriented.

The year of the rat is associated with yang energy.

yin yang symbol

The year of the rat is associated with yang energy.

Which Element Is Associated With The Year Of The Rat?

The year of the rat is associated with water. In traditional Chinese philosophy, water has yin energy and is associated with stillness, as well as a downward or inward motion. In this philosophy, water is associated with the color black, with winter, and with the black tortoise.

Because of this, the associated season for the year of the rat is winter.

Rat near water's edge

The year of the rat is associated with water.

Which Heavenly General Is Associated With The Year Of The Rat?

Each animal (and year) of the Chinese Zodiac is associated with one of the 12 heavenly generals. These generals are protective divine figures found in the East Asian Buddhist religion. The one associated with the year of the rat is known as Vikala in Sanskrit, and 毘羯羅 or Vikaralamon in Chinese.

Personality Traits

People born under the year of the rat have certain personality traits that may show up. As previously mentioned, the element associated with that specific year can also have an effect on the personality strengths and weaknesses of someone born in a rat year.

Rats are cunning creatures who know how to survive in many circumstances and get out of a jam. Because of this tendency, people born in the year of the rat are said to be intelligent and even shrewd. The positive side of this is that they can be very adaptable and have strong critical thinking skills. They know how to survive in any kind of situation and usually come out relatively unscathed.

However, rats are also very skittish creatures. Because of this, one of the more tricky aspects of a rat personality can be fear-based decision-making that ends up looking like greed or conservative thinking. Additionally, people born in the year of the rat have a hard time trusting people. They may become suspicious of their romantic partners, or gossip about their friends.

In business, rats are usually successful if they put their mind to something. They are often successful in professions like finance, sales, and politics.

Rats are also very prolific creatures when it comes to reproduction. Because of this, people born in the year of the rat may have special luck when it comes to fertility.

Brown rat on rope

People born in the year of the rat are said to be intelligent and even shrewd.

Wood Rat Personality Traits

In addition to the above traits, people born in a year of the wood rat may also be:

  • Confident
  • Independent
  • Ambitious
  • Easily annoyed

Fire Rat Personality Traits

People born in a year of the fire rat may also be:

  • Friendly
  • Courageous
  • Energetic
  • Stern at times

Earth Rat Personality Traits

People born in a year of the earth rat may also be:

  • Extra adaptable
  • Humble yet confident
  • Honest

Metal Rat Personality Traits

People born in a year of the metal rat may also be:

  • Self-aware
  • Family-oriented
  • Irritable or strong-tempered

Water Rat Personality Traits

People born in a year of the water rat may also be:

  • Conservative-minded
  • Observant
  • Intelligent

Famous People Born During The Year Of The Rat

Some well-known figures who were born during a rat year include:

  • Al Gore
  • Rosa Parks
  • Tim Cook
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
  • Scarlett Johansson
  • William Shakespeare
  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • T.S. Eliot
  • George Washington
  • Cameron Diaz

What Other Chinese Zodiac Signs

Are Compatible With Rats?

The most compatible signs for rats are other rats, oxen, dragons, and monkeys. The least compatible signs with rats are rabbits, horses, and roosters.


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About the Author

Dayva is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering astrology, animals, and geography. She has over 12 years of experience as a writer, and graduated from Hofstra University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Music and a Minor in French. She has also completed course work in Core Strengths Coaching, Hypnotherapy, and Technical Communication. Dayva lives in the SF Bay Area with her cute but very shy cat, Tula.

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