In Chinese culture, the tiger is a symbol for caution. When you look at the open ferocity of the tiger, the world caution may not come to mind–but if you study the animal closely, you will realise that it acts slowly and carefully while it stalks its prey.

The Tiger is the third animal in the Chinese Zodiac and represents a time or place when yang masculine energy is awakening. As a solar animal, the tiger is associated with spring, summer and the element of fire. To balance this naturally strong yang energy requires the tiger person to choose the right environment and timing to accomplish its soul task on earth.

The tiger holds a very special place in Chinese mythology and you will often see it guarding the entrances of temples and other establishments. Tigers are seen as one of the four ‘super-intelligent’ creatures – along with the dragon, the phoenix, and the tortoise. The tiger, in particular, is prized for its beauty and majesty as well as its power and daring. A subject of awe and fear, the ancient Chinese dubbed it ‘The King of the Mountain’.

The Tiger at the entrance of Yueh Hai Ching Temple in Singapore

As the biggest of all cats, the tiger is an apex predator. Much like the human fingerprint, the tiger’s black-striped pattern is unique to each individual. Tigers can swim long distances; and back in the day, they used to swim across the Strait of Johor into Singapore. Tigers can live up to 20 years in the wild and cubs learn to hunt from their mothers till they reach almost two years old.

The tiger, like all cats, is a wild animal and no matter how much we try to domesticate it, a part of his or her nature will refuse to be tamed. As highly territorial creatures, tigers need a big space or territory to live and hunt. The tiger may watch its prey very carefully from afar while it plans its attack, but once it has zeroed in on its target–it will move swiftly and with great power.

The Year of the Tiger

To the Chinese, some years of the zodiac are considered ‘better’ than others when it comes to making the decision to have children. Despite the reverence and respect that the Chinese have for tigers, there is a marked decline in fertility rate in the Year of the Tiger in countries with large Chinese populations. This stems from a belief that individuals born under this sign do not respect authority and therefore are more likely to get in trouble. In East Asia, where the culture is still very collectivist, going against authority is not viewed as a desirable quality in a person.

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but there are certain realities and trends that stem from these beliefs that I simply cannot ignore–because they have real-life consequences. If a culture has a known propensity towards certain ‘more favourable’ time periods; then schools, hospitals and kindergartens will have to know how to deal with these foreseeable sharp spikes and declines.

If we study animals and apply those characteristics to people born under a certain time period, then there are certain conclusions we can come down to. However, before we continue, I would like to add as a caveat that these personality profiles can be applied to anyone regardless of the year they were born in. To me, these are archetypes of ancestral knowledge and I don’t consider them facts, but rather choose to see them as a living and breathing part of my culture and tradition.

The Traits of a Tiger

Generally speaking, people can find tiger energy a bit off-putting. Tiger people innately have difficulties taking advice from others and have a hard time with people who display authority. Tigers are naturally direct and forthright when they communicate with others and they (often incorrectly) see their own individual truth as the universal truth. This can lead them to impose their opinion on others which in turn can lead other parties to retaliate in self-defence. Learning to stay calm and flexible when dealing with others is a trait that the tiger person must inculcate for their own good.

As an apex predator, the tiger person is born to be a leader. But being a leader in a society or an organisation is not about imposing one’s will or getting what one wants; but about showing restraint in outward displays of aggression as well as sensitivity towards the differences that exist among people.

Tiger people can display overconfidence in their capabilities which makes it difficult for them to do well in situations that require team work. They love to win, so they can argue with people even on tiny little matters. If their opinions do not ‘win’, they can get very aggressive without realising it. Easily frustrated by ‘failures’, they end up focusing on ‘quick successes’ and ‘instant benefits’ as they choose ‘the easy path’ and refuse to work hard over the long haul.

brown striped tiger lying on ground

For those of us who live in urban societies, we eventually realise (whether we like it or not) that there are rules that we need to follow and social norms we need to abide by. Tiger people can struggle with understanding limits imposed by society and can rebel without considering the consequences of their actions. As tigers are solitary animals, having a tiger person as a subordinate can be very contentious–as they will question and go against the authority of their superiors. If you are a leader, I can imagine that even if this person is incredibly talented–you may not want them on the team as they will create trouble for both you and everyone else.

A naturally aggressive animal, the tiger cannot stand being a doormat. People under the influence of this energy must cultivate a sense of flexibility and tranquility or will find themselves on the receiving end of a lot of resentment. Their ego can really get in the way of their success. They have a way of making those ‘below’ them–and even ‘above’ them–feel undervalued or disrespected.

Their innate tendency to dominate must be tempered. They must learn to deal with their anger and not take it out on the wrong people. Trying to dominate and diminish your boss is generally not a good idea. They must learn to honour the achievements of others as much as they do their own–but will have a hard time doing so. Managing, controlling and regulating that strong inner fire is the antidote to getting others to assist you–as opposed to oppose you–so that you can reach your destination.

Once a tiger person learns how to respect and appreciate different opinions, agendas and viewpoints; there is no limit to what the tiger person can achieve. As they are natural-born leaders, people will look to them to lead and guide the way. Once they have a proven track-record of success under their belt, people will also come to respect; as opposed to resent their leadership. Sometimes in life, we need a strong leader who is prepared to be unpopular and the tiger can definitely embody that energy quite easily. You never have to be afraid of a tiger pandering to the popular vote.

Tigers have strong instincts, excellent vision and are deeply perceptive when it comes to finding and creating big opportunities that can benefit everyone. To do this, they need to think long-term and not just go for the quick-kill.

The biggest advice for those under the influence of the tiger is to be humble about the power that they were born with. Chinese cosmology is always ultimately about balance. When you are born under such a powerful animal, the key takeaway is to know that others will only respect you–if you learn to respect them first.

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3 thoughts on “The Terrifying Tiger of the Chinese Zodiac

  1. I suppose people want the destination, but not the journey? Even an animal as powerful (and dangerous) as the tiger can’t have an easy journey before arriving at its destination.

  2. It’s incredible how an animal that is so revered can be looked upon in such a negative light at the same time.

    1. In Hinduism, the tiger is associated with Durga. I suppose the two traditions are quite complementary. The tiger’s power cannot be handled by just anyone.

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