Chinese New Year begins according to the Chinese calendar which consists of both Gregorian and lunar-solar calendar systems. Because the track of the new moon changes from year to year, Chinese New Year can begin anytime between late January and mid-February. Accordingly, the Chinese New Year is Jan 23, 2012, which their zodiac designates as the year of the Dragon.
Interestingly, the chinese zodiac does not use China's most recognizable & most popular animal, the panda, as a sign in the Zodiac.
The following 12 animals represent the rotating 12-year cycle that is the basis for the Chinese Zodiac:
Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, & Pig.