The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme that assigns an animal and its reputed attributes to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle.

The 12-year cycle is an approximation to the 11.85-year orbital period of Jupiter, the largest planet of the Solar System.

It and its variations remain popular in many Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand.

The Chinese zodiac is also called Shēngxiào in Mandarin. Identifying this scheme using the generic term “zodiac” reflects several superficial similarities to the Western zodiac: both have time cycles divided into 12 parts, each labels at least the majority of those parts with names of animals, and each is widely associated with a culture of ascribing a person’s personality or events in his or her life to the supposed influence of the person’s particular relationship to the cycle.

Nevertheless, there are major differences between the two: the animals of the Chinese zodiac are not associated with constellations spanned by the ecliptic plane.

The Chinese 12-part cycle corresponds to years, rather than months. The Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 animals, whereas some of the signs in the Western zodiac are not animals, despite the implication of the etymology of the word zodiac.

Signs

The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat. The following are the twelve zodiac signs (each with its associated Earthly Branch) in order and their characteristics. Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water as five natural elements.

  • Rat – (Yin, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water)
  • Ox – (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Earth)
  • Tiger –  (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
  • Rabbit – (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
  • Dragon – (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Earth)
  • Snake – (Yang, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
  • Horse – (Yin, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
  • Goat – (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Earth)
  • Monkey – (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
  • Rooster –(Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
  • Dog – (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Earth)
  • Pig – (Yang, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water)

In Chinese astrology, the animal signs assigned by year represent how others perceive you or how you present yourself.

It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs, and many Western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called “inner animals”), by day (called “true animals”) and hours (called “secret animals”). The Earth is all 12 signs, 5 seasons.

While a person might appear to be a Dragon because they were born in the year of the Dragon, they might also be a Snake internally, an Ox truly, and a Goat secretively.

A conflict between a person’s zodiac sign and how they live is known as Tai Sui or kai sui.

Four Pillars

The Four Pillars method can be traced back to the Han dynasty (201 BC – 220 AD) and is still much used in Feng shui astrology and general analysis today. The Four Pillars or columns chart is called such as the Chinese writing causes it to fall into columns.

Each pillar or column contains a stem and a branch—and each column relates to the year, month, day and hour of birth. The first column refers to the year animal and element, the second to the month animal and element, the third to the day animal and element, and the last to the hour animal and element.

Within the Four Pillars, the year column purports to provide information about one’s ancestor or an early age, and the month column about one’s parents or growing age.

The day column purports to offer information about oneself (upper character) and one’s spouse (lower character) or adult age, and the hour column about children or late age.

Four Animal Trines

  1. First Trine. The first Trine consists of the Rat, Dragon, and Monkey. These three signs are said to be intense and powerful individuals capable of great good, who make great leaders but are rather unpredictable. The three are said to be intelligent, magnanimous, charismatic, charming, authoritative, confident, eloquent and artistic, but can be manipulative, jealous, selfish, aggressive, vindictive, and deceitful.
  2. Second Trine. The second Trine consists of the Ox, Snake, and Rooster. These three signs are said to possess endurance and application, with the slow accumulation of energy, meticulous at planning but tending to hold fixed opinions. The three are said to be intelligent, hard-working, modest, industrious, loyal, philosophical, patient, good-hearted and morally upright, but can also be self-righteous, egotistical, vain, judgmental, narrow-minded, and petty.
  3. Third Trine. The third Trine consists of the Tiger, Horse, and Dog. These three signs are said to seek true love, to pursue humanitarian causes, to be idealistic and independent but tending to be impulsive. The three are said to be productive, enthusiastic, independent, engaging, dynamic, honorable, loyal and protective, but can also be rash, rebellious, quarrelsome, anxious, disagreeable, and stubborn.
  4. Fourth Trine. The fourth Trine consists of the Rabbit, Goat, and Pig. These three signs are said to have a calm nature and somewhat reasonable approach; they seek aesthetic beauty and are artistic, well-mannered and compassionate, yet detached and resigned to their condition. The three are said to be caring, self-sacrificing, obliging, sensible, creative, empathetic, tactful and prudent, but can also be naive, pedantic, insecure, selfish, indecisive, and pessimistic.

Zodiac origin stories

There are many stories and fables to explain the beginning of the zodiac. Since the Han Dynasty, the 12 Earthly Branches have been used to record the time of day.

However, for the sake of entertainment and convenience, they have been replaced by the 12 animals. The 24 hours are divided into 12 periods, and a mnemonic refers to the behavior of the animals:

Earthly Branches may refer to a double-hour period. In the latter case it is the center of the period; for instance (Horse) means noon or a period from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

  • Rat (Zishi): 23:00 to 00:59. This is the time when rats are most active in seeking food. Rats also have a different number of digits on front and hind legs, thus earning Rat the symbol of “turn over” or “new start”.
  • Ox (Choushi): 01:00 to 02:59. This is the time when oxen begin to chew the cud slowly and comfortably.
  • Tiger (Yinshi): 03:00 to 04:59. This is the time when tigers hunt their prey more and show their ferocity.
  • Rabbit (Maoshi): 05:00 to 06:59. This is the time when the Jade Rabbit is busy pounding herbal medicine on the Moon according to the tale.
  • Dragon (Chenshi): 07:00 to 08:59. This is the time when dragons are hovering in the sky to give rain.
  • Snake (Sishi): 09:00 to 10:59. This is the time when snakes are leaving their caves.
  • Horse (Wushi): 11:00 to 12:59. This is the time when the sun is high overhead and while other animals are lying down for a rest, horses are still standing.
  • Goat (Weishi): 13:00 to 14:59. This is the time when goats eat grass and urinate frequently.
  • Monkey (Shenshi): 15:00 to 16:59. This is the time when monkeys are lively.
  • Rooster (Youshi): 17:00 to 18:59. This is the time when roosters begin to get back to their coops.
  • Dog (Xushi): 19:00 to 20:59. This is the time when dogs carry out their duty of guarding the houses.
  • Pig (Haishi): 21:00 to 22:59. This is the time when pigs are sleeping sweetly.

The Great Race

An ancient folk story tells that Cat and Rat were both very bad at swimming. Although they were poor swimmers, they were both quite intelligent. To get to the meeting called by the Jade Emperor, they had to cross a river to reach the meeting place.

The Jade Emperor had also decreed that the years on the calendar would be named for each animal in the order they arrived at the meeting. Cat and Rat decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of Ox. Ox, being kindhearted and naive, agreed to carry them both across.

As the Ox was about to reach the other side of the river, the Rat pushed the Cat into the water, and then jumped off the Ox and rushed to the Jade Emperor.

It was named as the first animal of the zodiac calendar. The Ox had to settle in second place. The third one to come was the Tiger. Even though it was strong and powerful, it explained to the Jade Emperor that the currents were pushing him downstream.

Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the Rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another, in a nimble fashion.

Halfway through, it almost lost the race, but it was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the fourth animal in the zodiac cycle. In fifth place, was the flying Dragon. The Jade Emperor was wondering why such a swift airborne creature such as the Dragon failed to come in first.

The Dragon explained that it had to stop by a village and brought rain for all the people, and therefore it was held back. Then, on its way to the finish, it saw the helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log, so it did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore.

The Jade Emperor was astonished by the Dragon’s good nature, and it was named as the fifth animal. As soon as it had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the Horse appeared.

Hidden on the Horse’s hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance gave it a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the Snake the sixth spot, while the Horse placed seventh. After a while, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster came to the heavenly gate.

With combined efforts, they managed to arrive at the other side. The Rooster found a raft, and the Monkey and the Goat tugged and pulled, trying to get all the weeds out of the way.

The Jade Emperor was pleased with their teamwork and decided to name the Goat as the eighth animal followed by the Monkey and then the Rooster.

The eleventh animal placed in the zodiac cycle was the Dog. Although it should have been the best swimmer and runner, it spent its time to play in the water. Though his explanation for being late was because it needed a good bath after a long spell. For that, it almost did not make it to the finish line.

Right when the Emperor was going to close the race, an “oink” sound was heard: it was the Pig. “Lazy little Pig” originated from this story. The Pig felt hungry in the middle of the race, so it stopped, ate something and then fell asleep. After it awoke, it finished the race in twelfth place, and became the last animal to arrive. The cat eventually drowned, and did not make it in the zodiac. It is said that this is the reason cats always hunt Rats.

Another folk story tells that the Rat deceived the Ox into letting it jump on its back, in order for the Ox to hear the Rat sing, before jumping off at the finish line and finishing first.

In Chinese mythology, a story tells that the cat was tricked by the Rat so it could not go to the banquet. This is why the cat is ultimately not part of the Chinese zodiac.

In Buddhism, legend has it that Gautama Buddha summoned all of the animals of the Earth to come before him before his departure from this Earth, but only 12 animals actually came to bid him farewell.

To reward the animals who came to him, he named a year after each of them. The years were given to them in the order they had arrived.

The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were developed in the early stages of Chinese civilization; it is difficult to investigate its real origins.

Most historians agree that the cat is not included, as they had not yet been introduced to China from India, with the arrival of Buddhism.

Chinese zodiac in other countries

The Chinese zodiac signs are also used by cultures other than Chinese. For one example, they usually appear on Korean New Year and Japanese New Year’s cards and stamps.

The United States Postal Service and those of several other countries issue a “Year of the ____” postage stamp each year to honor this Chinese heritage.

The Chinese lunar coins, depicting the zodiac animals, inspired the Canadian Silver Maple Leaf coins, as well as varieties from Australia, Korea, and Mongolia. The Chinese zodiac is an internationally popular theme, available from many of the world’s government and private mints.

The Chinese zodiac is also used in some other Asian countries that have been under the cultural influence of China. However, some of the animals in the zodiac may differ by country.

Asia

The Korean zodiac is essentially identical to the Chinese zodiac, but the Sino-Korean word yang normally refers specifically to a sheep in the Korean language, although the Chinese source of the loanword yang may refer to any goat-antelope.

The Japanese zodiac includes the Sheep instead of the Goat (which would be yagi), and the Wild boar  instead of the Pig. Since 1873, the Japanese have celebrated the beginning of the new year on January 1 as per the Gregorian calendar.

The Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to the Chinese zodiac except the second animal is the Water Buffalo instead of the Ox, and the fourth animal is the Cat instead of the Rabbit.

The Cham zodiac uses the same animals and order as the Chinese zodiac, but replaces the Monkey with the turtle (known locally as kra).

Similarly, the Malay zodiac is identical to the Chinese but replaces the Rabbit with the mousedeer (pelanduk) and the Pig with the tortoise (kura). The Dragon is normally equated with the nāga but it is sometimes called Big Snake (ular besar) while the Snake sign is called Second Snake (ular sani).

The Thai zodiac includes a nāga in place of the Dragon and begins, not at Chinese New Year, but either on the first day of the fifth month in Thai lunar calendar or during the Songkran festival (now celebrated every 13–15 April), depending on the purpose of the use.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.