The History Behind the Chinese Zodiac Calendar

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For people of Chinese heritage, and other Asian countries, the Chinese zodiac represents an integral cultural tradition with origins in ancient China. The Chinese zodiac cycle is inexplicably linked to the Chinese lunar calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon unlike the modern Gregorian calendar. Many people the world over turn to the Chinese zodiac to help them uncover the various possible paths of their futures.

What is the Chinese Zodiac Calendar?

The Chinese zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao in Mandarin, follows a 12-year cycle that assigns a certain animal to each year. While similar to the Western zodiac, the Chinese zodiac calendar cycle is a 12-part cycle and is not connected to any constellations. 

The Chinese zodiac consists of the following animal signs (in order) – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. These animals correspond to years, but are also assigned to months, days, and hours, for more exact astrology readings. In this way, people can be born in one year, but also be influenced by the signs corresponding to the month, day, and hour they were born.

The Development of the Chinese Zodiac

Sources date the Chinese zodiac back almost 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty. Many people during the North Zhou Dynasty in the 6th century A.D. used it to determine their birth year, which is a practice still commonly practiced to this day.

The Great Race Origin Story

The origin of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac dates back to a myth involving a grand race, involving an assortment of animals common to China. In order to win the race and be placed in the zodiac, each animal needed to cross a river with a strong current.

Two competitors, the cat and the rat, were fierce enemies. They were driven by their hatred for each other to constantly fight. Both the cat and the rat asked the ox to take them across the river during the race, but the rat pushed the cat into the river. For this reason, there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac.

Meanwhile during the race, the rat jumped ahead of the ox to come first. Other animals fell in different positions within the race and the zodiac due to other circumstances. For instance, the pig stopped halfway to nap and came last. Each piece of this origin story thus explains how some of the attributes were given to the different animals.

The Chinese Zodiac in the Present Day

Many people all around the world, not simply in China, still follow the changing cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Because certain attributes and elements are associated with each animal that makes up the zodiac, people pay attention to how a person’s personality might be affected by the zodiac sign of their birth year. 

People in many Asian countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia, go to astrologers to help makes sense of their future using details related to their zodiac sign. Similarly to horoscopes and the idea of certain signs being more romantically compatible, people born under different Chinese zodiac years might better suit certain people. In addition, each animal corresponds to a certain element, either metal, wood, earth, fire, or water, and each year also receives an elemental designation.

In this way, people can attempt to forecast their luck in romance, business, and other important life milestones. These practices may lead some families to plan to have children during auspicious years or to omit certain people from attending gatherings like weddings and funerals.

What Does Your Zodiac Say About You?

Even if you’re not interested in using your zodiac sign to determine your perfect match or other important life events, you might learn something about your personality by studying the animal zodiacs. You can perhaps learn insights into why you act the way you act, such as rats being hardworking but thrifty.

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