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The Wonders of the Zodiac

A subject that never fails to peak the interest of Chinese people is the Chinese Zodiac. As the chronological record of the Chinese Lunar New Year, it is the longest chronological record in history. Although the Chinese have adopted the Western calendar in 1911, the lunar calendar is still frequently used for birthdays and festive occasions, such as the Chinese New Year. Many Chinese calendars are published with both solar and Chinese lunar dates.

   Origin: A 12-Year Circle


The actual date of the origin of Chinese astrology is not known. According to legend, the Yellow Emperor introduced the first cycle of the zodiac in 2,600BC to record the Chinese Lunar New Year. Ancient Chinese people invented the 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches for chronological purposes. By combining one stem and one branch, the stems and branches are used to indicate a specific hour, date and year according to the Chinese traditional system. The 12 branches match the number of months in a year and hours in a day.  With each of the stems and branches combining once sequentially, a complete cycle takes 60 years. Consequently, almost everyone can experience the exact same year again only once in a lifetime.


The theory of 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches represents a cyclical concept of time rather than the Western linear concept of time. In the West, time was recorded from the birth of Jesus Christ; the year 1977, for example, means 1,977 years after the birth of Christ. This represents a linear perception of time, where time proceeds in a straight line from the past, present and future. In ancient China, dating methods were cyclical, where something is repeated time after time according to a pattern. A popular folk technique that reflects this cyclical method of recording time is the Twelve Animal Signs where every year of birth is assigned an animal. Every 12 years the same animal reappears; the 60-year circle is made up of five 12-year cycles.


Like the Western calendar, the Chinese Lunar Calendar is an annual one. The Chinese zodiac consists of a 12-year circle, each divided into 12 months. However, since most primitive people were illiterate, 12 animals were designated to symbolize the 12-year cycle, or 12 earthly branches, for example. The lucky animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig successively.


   How did the Animals come to represent the Zodiac?


But how did the 12 animals come to represent the 12 earthly branches? There are different explanations. According to one myth, on the Chinese New Year Buddha convened the animal kingdom to determine how to restore order in the world; however, only 12 animals showed up. Thus the 12 animals came to represent the Chinese zodiac cycle, each presiding over one year. The order of the 12 signs was determined by Buddha at the celebration based on the chronology of the animals’ arrival to the meeting: the first was the rat, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig successively.


Based on this order of arrival, Buddha gave each animal a year of its own, bestowing the nature and characteristics of each animal on people born on the corresponding year.


According to another legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day over who would be the head of the cycle. So the gods decided to hold a contest: whoever reached the opposite bank of the river first would be the leader and the rest would follow in turn. All the animals gathered at the riverbank and jumped in. Unbeknownst to the ox, the rat jumped on his back. As the ox was about to climb ashore, the rat jumped off its back and won the race. The lazy pig finished last. The rat, therefore, is the first animal in the cycle; the ox is second; and the pig, last.


It is also said that Buddha promised to designate the first 12 animals as the signs of a year in order of appearance at the convention. One night before the event the cat and his pal the rat agreed that the first to wake the following morning would wake the other. However, the rat broke his promise and arrived at the meeting first. The ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig followed respectively. When the cat finally awoke and hurried to the meeting place, it was all over. According to legend, this is why cats prey on rats.


   Zodiac Culture


Horoscopes have developed around the animal signs just like monthly horoscopes in the West were developed for the different moon signs -- Pisces, Aries, etc. For example, a Chinese horoscope may predict that a person born in the Year of the Horse is "cheerful, popular and quick to compliment others". The year of a person's birth is considered the primary factor in determining a person’s personality, physical and mental attributes, ability and level of success and happiness throughout his or her lifetime. Events and occurrences in a given year are influenced by the nature of that year's animal.


Animal signs also have a useful social function for determining someone’s age. Instead of asking directly how old a person is, the Chinese often ask about his or her animal sign, which places a person within a cycle of 12 years. This is a popular way to socialize.





 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032. 2044

charming, ambitious, overly critical, power-hungry, honest, generous, quick-tempered and thrifty; gets along with dragons and monkeys but not horses


1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, 2033, 2045

unyielding, upright, inspiring, easy-going, reliable and dependable; gets along with snakes and roosters but not sheep.


1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022, 2034, 2046

sensitive, aggressive, charming, emotional, courageous; gets along with horses and dogs but never a monkey


1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023, 2036, 2047 

affectionate, talented, good-tempered, conscientious, successful in business, cautious, clear-sighted; gets along with sheep and pigs but not roosters 


1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024, 2036, 2048

intelligent, bossy, energetic, flamboyant, determined, lucky, a leader; gets along with snakes and roosters but not sheep 


1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2015, 2037, 2049

intelligent, passionate, determined, romantic, careful, refined; gets along with roosters and oxen but not pigs


1918, 1930, 1942, 1954,1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026, 2038, 2050

hardworking, intelligent, talkative, popular, impatient; gets along with tigers and dogs but not rats


1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027, 2039, 2051

 creative, artistic, passionate, timid, fastidious, indecisive; gets along with rabbits and pigs but not oxen


1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028, 2040, 2052

inventive, witty, popular, good-humored, versatile; gets along with dragons and rats but not tigers


1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029, 2041, 2053

aggressive, talented, alert, hardworking, shrewd; gets along with snakes and oxen but not rabbits


1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030, 2042, 2054

honest, intelligent, generous, stubborn, loyal and faithful; gets along with tigers and horses but not dragons


1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2020, 2031, 2043

honest, reliable, sincere, tolerant, shy, productive, kind, and short tempered; gets along with sheep and rabbits

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