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What is the Chinese Zodiac?

The Chinese zodiac is a fascinating aspect of Chinese culture that revolves around a 12-year astrological cycle. Each year is assigned a zodiac animal, and with the arrival of each Chinese New Year, the zodiac...

The Chinese zodiac is a fascinating aspect of Chinese culture that revolves around a 12-year astrological cycle. Each year is assigned a zodiac animal, and with the arrival of each Chinese New Year, the zodiac animal progresses to the next in the lineup. This ancient belief system holds great significance, not just as a tool for deciding one's destiny, but also as a gateway to understanding the rich traditions and complexities of Chinese culture.

What is the Chinese Zodiac? Image: What is the Chinese Zodiac?

Why Learn About the Chinese Zodiac?

Learning about the Chinese zodiac is not only a fun and engaging activity for those studying the Chinese language, but it also offers valuable insights into the beliefs and traditions that shape Chinese culture. By exploring the personality traits associated with each zodiac animal, one can gain a deeper understanding of the intricate world of Chinese culture.

Overview of the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac, known as "生肖" (shēngxiào) in Chinese, operates on a 12-year cycle based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Each year is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals. As we approach Spring Festival on February 12, 2021, the second animal in the rotation, the Ox (牛 niú), will take center stage.

Chinese Zodiac Origin Story (or rather, stories)

The origins of the Chinese zodiac can be traced back to the Warring States Period (475 BCE to 221 BCE), but it was during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE to 202 CE) that its popularity began to grow. There are various theories surrounding the origin of the zodiac animals, each offering a unique perspective.

One theory suggests that the zodiac animals were introduced to China by Indian Buddhists along the Silk Road trade routes. Another popular theory revolves around the legendary Jade Emperor, who invited all the animals to a banquet. Only 12 animals arrived, and as a result, he dedicated a year on the Chinese calendar to each of these animals. Additionally, there is a story that claims Buddha himself called forth 12 sacred animals to protect his palace, and they now represent the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.

The traditional order of the 12 zodiac animals is as follows:

  1. Rat (2020)
  2. Ox (2021)
  3. Tiger (2022)
  4. Rabbit (2023)
  5. Dragon (2024)
  6. Snake (2025)
  7. Horse (2026)
  8. Ram (2027)
  9. Monkey (2028)
  10. Rooster (2029)
  11. Dog (2030)
  12. Pig (2031)

For a quick overview of one of the myths behind the Chinese zodiac, check out the video below:

Ted-Ed video

An Emphasis on Birth Year, Not Month

While Western astrology places importance on the day and month of birth, the Chinese zodiac considers the birth year as the most influential factor in determining one's fate. The zodiac animal associated with an individual's birth year is believed to influence their personality traits and significant life events.

The Five Elements of the Chinese Zodiac

In addition to the zodiac animals, each lunisolar year is also associated with one of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These elements, influenced by the delicate balance of Yin and Yang, hold symbolic meanings. For example, 2021 is the Year of the Ox and Yin Metal, while 2022 will be the Year of the Tiger and Yang Water.

  • Wood: Symbolizes warmth, elegance, sensitivity, and generosity.
  • Fire: Symbolizes decisiveness, innovativeness, dynamism, and joy.
  • Earth: Symbolizes honesty, prudence, and hard work.
  • Metal: Symbolizes independence, ambition, and strength.
  • Water: Symbolizes flexibility, diplomacy, kindness, and persuasiveness.

Find Your Chinese Zodiac Animal

To identify your Chinese zodiac sign, simply match your birth year with its corresponding zodiac animal. This will not only reveal your zodiac sign but also help you determine the element associated with your sign.

Zodiac Animal Element Recent Years
Rat Water 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Ox Earth 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Tiger Wood 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Rabbit Wood 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Dragon Earth 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Snake Fire 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Horse Fire 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Ram Earth 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Monkey Metal 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Rooster Metal 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Dog Earth 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Pig Water 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

The Chinese Zodiac and Interpersonal Compatibility

For centuries, fortune-tellers have used the Chinese zodiac to guide individuals in matters of fate and fortune. This includes determining compatibility between individuals in romantic relationships. Each zodiac animal is believed to interact positively or negatively with others.

The Personality Traits of China's 12 Zodiac Animals

In Chinese culture, each of the 12 zodiac animals is associated with a set of favorable and unfavorable traits. These traits are believed to influence the personalities of individuals born in specific zodiac years.

1. Rat

Positive traits: Smart, curious, clever, persuasive, and generous.

Negative traits: Uptight and monotonous.

Representative individuals: Katy Perry, Prince Harry.

Compatibility: Rat, Monkey, Dragon.

2. Ox

Positive traits: Reliable, protective, leadership skills, and goal-oriented.

Negative traits: Private and holding grudges silently.

Representative individuals: Barack Obama, George Clooney.

Compatibility: Ox, Rooster, Snake.

3. Tiger

Positive traits: Natural-born leader, powerful, brave, and warm-hearted.

Negative traits: Moody and hot-tempered.

Representative individuals: Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe.

Compatibility: Tiger, Dog, Horse.

4. Rabbit

Positive traits: Sensitive, compassionate, kind, and popular.

Negative traits: Unable to defend themselves in an argument.

Representative individuals: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt.

Compatibility: Rabbit, Pig, Goat.

5. Dragon

Positive traits: Natural leadership, power, charisma, and luck.

Negative traits: Self-centered.

Representative individuals: Rihanna, Bruce Lee.

Compatibility: Dragon, Rat, Snake.

6. Snake

Positive traits: Generosity, mental sharpness, analytical skills, and financial acumen.

Negative traits: Distrustful, jealous, and insecure.

Representative individuals: Muhammad Ali, Daniel Radcliffe.

Compatibility: Snake, Ox, Rooster.

7. Horse

Positive traits: Self-reliant, energetic, and a love for travel.

Negative traits: Impatient.

Representative individuals: Katie Holmes, Kristen Stewart.

Compatibility: Horse, Tiger, Dog.

8. Ram

Positive traits: Loving, supportive, creative, and beautiful.

Negative traits: Unorganized and unrealistic expectations.

Representative individuals: Bruce Willis, Nicole Kidman.

Compatibility: Ram, Rabbit, Pig.

9. Monkey

Positive traits: Excellent listening skills, energy, and cheerfulness.

Negative traits: Fear of commitment and being a heartbreaker.

Representative individuals: Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig.

Compatibility: Monkey, Dragon, Rat.

10. Rooster

Positive traits: Straightforwardness, honesty, practicality, and perfectionism.

Negative traits: Materialistic.

Representative individuals: Kate Middleton, Britney Spears.

Compatibility: Rooster, Ox, Snake.

11. Dog

Positive traits: Loyalty, sensitivity, attention to detail, and honesty.

Negative traits: Emotionally insecure and judgmental.

Representative individuals: Madonna, Winston Churchill.

Compatibility: Dog, Horse, Tiger.

12. Pig

Positive traits: Good manners, intelligence, and tastefulness.

Negative traits: Incapable of making tough choices.

Representative individuals: Hillary Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Compatibility: Pig, Goat, Rabbit.

The Chinese Zodiac Clock

Comparing Chinese zodiac animals based on their positions on the zodiac clock is another way to determine compatibility. Animals that are four hours apart are believed to be more compatible than those that are six hours apart.

The Chinese zodiac clock system divides the 24-hour day into 12 windows, with each window assigned a zodiac animal:

  • 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM: Hour of the Rat
  • 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM: Hour of the Ox
  • 3:00 AM to 5:00 AM: Hour of the Tiger
  • 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM: Hour of the Rabbit
  • 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM: Hour of the Dragon
  • 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM: Hour of the Snake
  • 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM: Hour of the Horse
  • 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM: Hour of the Goat
  • 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM: Hour of the Monkey
  • 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM: Hour of the Rooster
  • 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM: Hour of the Dog
  • 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM: Hour of the Pig

The Legend Lives On

The Chinese zodiac tradition continues to captivate and connect with thousands of years of civilizational and cultural development. It is a testament to the enduring legacy of Chinese culture, which continues to thrive in the modern world. We hope that this guide has sparked your interest and that you will consider joining us in Guilin to further explore the Chinese language with CLI as your guide. Until then, keep studying and keep growing.