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Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac is also known as Sheng Xiao (生肖) or Shu Xiang (属相). Originated from ancient zoolatry and boasting a history of more than 2,000 years, it plays an essential role in Chinese culture. The 12 Chinese zodiac animals in a cycle are not only used to represent years in China, but are also believed to influence people’s personalities, career, compatibility, marriage, and fortune.

The Chinese zodiac is similar to Western astrology. The main similarity between the two systems is that both of them are based on time periods of birth, and have 12 symbols or signs which are associated with personalities and fortunes. However, there are big differences in their origins and astrological theories.

With regard to the Chinese zodiac, the 12 signs are derived from the ancients’ musings about archetypal animals, their relationships with one another, and years of birth. A myth about a celestial race was later developed to explain the Chinese zodiac sequence. This differs from Western astrology, where the 12 zodiac signs are based on constellations’ positions relative to the earth. The constellations were named according to Greek mythology and astrological theory was developed based on the stars.

The Chinese zodiac features 12 animal signs in this order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. 2022 is the Year of Tiger. Known as the king of all beasts in China, the Tiger is a symbol of strength and bravery. As such, the year of Tiger is generally considered a good year.

The Chinese zodiac is actually an imaginary belief, based on the zodiac animals’ temperament, and combining the traditional Chinese religions, philosophy, astrology, and numerology. In ancient times, the zodiac was said not only to decide people’s destinies, but also to control a year’s harvest and even influence the fortune of the whole nation. Nowadays, the zodiac signs still accompany Chinese people throughout their lives, affecting their personalities, behaviors, fortune, and marriage compatibilities. For example, people who were born in the Year of Tiger are believed to be natural leaders but often like to do things by themselves. They would fight for what they believe to be right even if they lose in the end. 

When coming up with the years of the same zodiac signs of one’s birth year (known as Ben Ming Nian in Chinese), one would be unlucky and should pay great attention to restrain his or her own behaviors to tide over the difficulties. According to Taoism, each year has a certain god called Tai Sui (太岁) who is in charge of the world. People meeting their Ben Ming Nian would conflict with the Tai Sui – Fan Tai Sui (犯太岁). In this case, even if you have not done anything offending Tai Sui, you may not be blessed. People who Fan Tai Sui would go to temples to worship the year’s Tai Sui God to pray for good luck and avoid disasters, and there is also a tradition of wearing in red to exorcise evil spirits.

The zodiac culture is also embodied in Chinese literature and art. You might have been impressed by the Journey to the West, a classical Chinese novel with the leading role of Monkey King. In addition, you might have heard the story of the 12 bronze animal heads of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. In addition, there are a lot of legends, poems, fiction, paintings, sculptures, and traditional Chinese paper-cuttings themed on zodiac animals. Nowadays, the zodiac is considered the mascot of the Chinese New Year, adding entertainment to people’s daily life.

By Suemmer Luo, TBC Intern