Much like Western Astrology, the Chinese Zodiac is an ancient form of wisdom still consulted by millions of people today. The Chinese Zodiac, which has twelve animals for its signs, repeats itself every twelve lunar years. These signs are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The ancient system runs from year to year, rather than month to month as the western zodiac.
The origin of the Chinese Zodiac is related to the ancient ritual of worshiping animals. The more complete records of the zodiac can be found as early as in the pre-Qin period. The earliest records and the same zodiac records are written in the Eastern Han dynasty’s literature.
With the historical development marrying folklore beliefs in the concept of life and reflected in the different aspects in one’s life such as marriage, life cycle, fortune, etc, each zodiac sign has a rich story, and thus forming a concept interpretation system, becoming the philosophy for cultures such as marriage divinity, temple praying and one’s year of fate, etc. In modern times, the zodiac sign is used as mascots for the Lunar New Year, becoming a symbol for entertainment and cultural activities.
Each animal is assigned a set of characteristics said to represent those born under it. Of the twelve animals, each is considered to be particularly compatible with two others, forming four groups of three, each with similar ways of thinking, temperaments, and characteristics.
The Chinese Zodiac Year Chart
Group 1 – Rat、Dragon、Monkey
The Rat, Dragon, and Monkey are all action-oriented animals, who are positive thinkers and are also highly competitive. Although the Rat is considered to be timid and even cowardly, it is also highly intelligent. The Monkey is cunning rather than clever or brave, while the Dragon is courageous. Together these three make a formidable team.
Group 2 – Ox、Snake、Rooster
The Ox, Snake, and Rooster are the deep thinkers of the Chinese Zodiac. They are steadfast and determined, the type who keeps a goal in mind and persists until it is attained. The Ox has physical and mental stamina, though maybe a little dull and unimaginative, while the snake has guile and diplomacy on his side. The Rooster is the leader of this trio, more outgoing and sure of himself than the other two.
Group 3 – Tiger、Horse、Dog
The Tiger, Horse, and Dog are the free spirits of Chinese astrology, loving their freedom and ability to move around. They are self-determined and sometimes come across as selfish or shallow. The Tiger is highly excitable, passionate, and fierce, whereas the Horse is less fierce though still headstrong and independent. The Dog, while loving his freedom also has a sense of loyalty and honesty often lacking in the other members of this group.
Group 4 – Rabbit、Goat、Pig
Rabbit, Goat, and Pig are the easy-going, people pleasers that round off the zodiac. They are lovers, not fighters, who believe in cooperation and harmony, to the extent of being considered boring, unintelligent, and cowardly at times by the others. They are sensitive souls. While the rabbit has a crafty cunning and a certain detachment, the Goat is the symbol for civility and humble servitude, and the Pig is known as the most generous, sincere, and honorable of all the animals in the zodiac.
In ancient times the zodiac would be consulted prior to arranging a marriage or undertaking a romance to ensure the lovers’ animal signs were compatible, a practice that continues to this day for some Chinese. The following table shows the compatibility among different Zodiacs. Of course, a person’s animal sign is not the only aspect of Chinese astrology, The five element theory is also essential throughout the history of Chinese civilization.
The Origin of the Chinese Zodiac
Many years ago, there existed no calendars, and people had to find a way to keep track of time. For this reason, they felt that the only choice they had was to go to the temple and pray to the Jade Emperor (the ruler of Heaven).
Jade Emperor heard the plea of the people and so he decided to come up with a way that people will be able to measure time. After some serious thought, he finally came up with a good idea. Since humans and animals are such good friends, it would be best if we use the animals to represent each year on the calendar. This will be helpful to humans and easy to remember.
Jade Emperor said, “Inform all animals in the kingdom that there will be a swimming race contest. The first twelve animals to reach the bank will be declared the winners and each of them will represent a year of the zodiac.”
As soon as the animals heard the news they were all excited.
During that time the rat and the cat used to be good friends, the same as brothers, they did everything together. As they talk about the race, the wise and dangerous rat thought: “wouldn’t it be great if I was the first one in the zodiac? But, there’s only one problem, I don’t know how to swim. I will never be able to cross the river.” However, the cat was doing a little bit of thinking of his own and thought: “Of all the animals, the ox is the one that likes to help others, it will be a good idea to ask ox to help us cross the river, he will be happy to help.”
The morning of the race, the rooster was still asleep, however, it has already visited the bank, the rat and the cat was awake already. The ox looked at them, he laughed and said, “Why are you all standing around, hop on my back so that I may take you across the river.” The rat and the cat did not hesitate for even a moment. They both hopped onto the warm back of the ox as he began crossing the river.
While they were crossing the river the rat was thinking to himself: “As soon as we cross the river, all three of us will be first to reach the bank. Oh no! I want to be the first animal in the zodiac, I have to be!” Thus, the clever rat started to move closer to the cat. He said: “Look! Such beautiful clouds!” This distracted the cat. Because the cat was distracted by looking at the clouds, the rat took that as an opportunity to push the cat into the water. Therefore the cat has never represented the Chinese Zodiac.
The ox was unaware of what had happened on his back. The rat witnesses how the cat was struggling to swim in the water and said: “Ox, we are halfway there!” then he jumped onto the ear of the ox. As soon as the ox was close to arriving at the bank, the rat jumped on his head and leaped to the bank to complete the race first. As a result, the rat was declared the first winner of this race. And the ox the second.
Soon after the worn-out tiger arrived at the riverbank, he was very positive that he has been the winner of the race, however, the Jade Emperor said: “you are not fast enough, you arrived the third place.”
One more animal that was taking advantage of the other animals was the rabbit, he too was riding on their backs while crossing the river, and as a result, came fourth. Sad to say, although the rabbit was hopping at full speed, his lip got damaged by branches from the tree, so even now, it still seems like his mouth is separated in the middle.
The dragon came fifth in the race. Next, the snake appeared from the bushes and took sixth place. Since he was running too quickly, he lost his feet in the course of the race, so up until today, snakes have no feet, they crawl on the ground.
The horse came seventh in the race. Soon after the goat, monkey and rooster arrived at the bank, which goat was declared the eighth winner. He met monkey and rooster along the riverside. They have seen a rafting log, therefore they all hopped on the log.
The Monkey sat on the log for a long time, which lead to his butt turning red, so even now, you will notice that all monkey’s butts are red.
In the past roosters used to have four legs, however, two of them had broken by the log, so these day’s roosters only have two.
The naughty dog came swimming up slowly, it seemed as though he was taking a bath. Soon after the pig came, crossing the river slowly. The moment he arrived at the bank, he said loudly,” I’m so tired, I’m so tired.” He came twelfth in the race.