Most people in the Western hemisphere know a thing or two about astrology. Their sun sign at the very least, and perhaps their Moon and Rising signs too. It’s not usually taken seriously, though. It’s considered as entertainment, something fun to read at the breakfast table while you drink your morning coffee.
In China, things are very different. Astrology plays a much more crucial role in their culture. For one, the Chinese use the signs for marking off twelve-year cycles. Chinese astrology is an important part of their time-measuring system.
The animal signs in the Chinese zodiac appear frequently in Chinese folklore and stories. They’re an essential part of Chinese history. Where many in the West consider astrology a superstition, millions of Chinese people believe in the Chinese astrology signs with all their heart. Even Chinese people who aren’t firmly in touch with their astrology would still give it the benefit of the doubt.
Chinese astrology actually predates Western astrology. Even so, it’s much more progressive in a number of ways.
Let’s go on a journey through the origins of Chinese astrology signs and its curious role in this vast and ancient country.
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The Chinese zodiac is old, possibly the oldest type of astrology in the world. While there isn’t a consensus, pottery items bearing Chinese zodiac animal signs have been dated all the way back to China’s Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). Furthermore, official identification of the creation of the Chinese zodiac places it at some point during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD).
This means that Chinese astrology is at least over two millennia old.
The origins of the Chinese zodiac tie back to the Silk Road. It’s believed that the Buddhists introduced the Chinese astrology signs to the country in their travels on the old world trade route. However, there are also scholars who place the beginnings of this astrology system well before the Silk Road and Buddhism.
Chinese astrology and Western astrology differ in many ways. One of the most obvious is the 12 animal signs used in the former. Some of the signs in Western zodiac aren’t animals, despite the fact that the word “zodiac” comes from the old Greek word for “sculptured animal figure.”
Another major difference between the two is that the Chinese zodiac’s 12-part cycle refers to years rather than months. Additionally, the animals have nothing to do with constellations or ecliptic planes. There are also a host of differences in terms of functionality, aesthetics, and philosophy.
Clearly, the only thing that’s certain about Chinese astrology is its ancient status. There’s a folk tale about its origin, though. In it, the Jade Emperor (the first god of Daoism) invited all animals in the world to become part of the Chinese lunar calendar. But only the first 12 animals to show up would appear in the horoscope.
Other stories claim that the Jade Emperor summoned these animals to protect humanity.
In any event, the animals took part in a race, and the order in which they finished dictated their spot in the calendar. First came the Rat, then the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Ram, the Monkey, the Chicken, the Dog, and finally, the Pig.
An interesting folk tale describes the Rat and the Cat as very good friends. Then the Cat asked the Rat to save a spot for it, and the Rat forgot. According to another tale, the Rat pushed the Cat into a lake. Either way, the Rat used its smarts to beat out all the other animals and finished first. Since then, the Rat and the Cat have become mortal enemies. Suffice it to say that the Cat didn’t get a place in the Chinese zodiac.
There are many interpretations of this folk tale, but you can probably see some familiar outlines. This tells us how much we’re connected in humanity and how much we’ve probably learned from the Chinese.
Today, Chinese astrology still play a large role in the lives of many people.
Chinese Astrology in the Modern Day
Compared to Western culture, people in China are much more attentive to their zodiac. In part, the Chinese zodiac’s influence on Chinese culture does have to do with belief. Another part is quite peculiar, especially to the Western mind.
As mentioned, Chinese astrology signs change annually, which means that an animal sign is in force for a full year. Unlike the Western zodiac, which considers all the signs more-or-less equal, some of the Chinese zodiac signs are definitely “better” than others.
For instance, the dragon, as the only mythological creature, is a hero. According to the Great Race folktale, the dragon stopped to bring rain to parched farmland and to help the rabbit across the river. That’s why it came in fifth.
The dragon’s qualities are courage, honesty, magnanimity, and power, which tend to manifest in people born in the Year of the Dragon. Every sign has its own upsides and downsides. For instance, Oxen are said to be creative and industrious, but they also make bad communicators and can be stubborn.
In Taiwan, the Year of the Tiger carries a certain stigma. As a sign that questions authority, people born in the Year of the Tiger are somewhat condemned as anti-social. Thus, a person’s date of birth could influence their social life in China and other places that practice Chinese astrology.
Furthermore, the Japanese and Vietnamese zodiacs clearly reflect the Chinese version. The Japanese use the wild boar in place of the pig, the goat for the ram, and the cat for the rabbit. In Vietnam, the water buffalo replaces the ram. In Thailand, the naga (a large snake) replaces the dragon.
Clearly, the Chinese astrology signs have spread their influence to adjacent cultures.
What’s Your Chinese Astrological Sign?
If you’ve read this far, you probably want to learn about your Chinese zodiac sign. Figuring out your sign is easy, but merely reading about the associated traits won’t give you the clearest picture. If you want to know more, you’ll have to delve deeper into the subject.
Another thing to mention is that every sign is either Yin (feminine, passive) or Yang (masculine, active). Yin and Yang balance each other out in Feng Shui. This is an important aspect of the Chinese horoscope and Chinese philosophy in general.
Do any of the traits ascribed to these Chinese zodiac signs strike a chord with you?
First of all, the upcoming Chinese New Year signals the beginning of the year of the Rat. People born in the year 2020 are Rats in the Chinese horoscope. To find out the past and future years of the Rat, you only have to subtract or add 12 to 2020 (12 signs of one year each). So 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, and 2008 are the past years of the Rat.
Rats are said to be crafty, wise, intelligent, inventive, determined, and intense. On the other hand, they can also be ruthless, acquisitive, and prone to nervousness. As the first sign in the zodiac, Rats symbolize new beginnings.
These are the animal years of the Ox: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021. People born under this sign are honest, observant, cautious, contemplative, loyal, and determined. On the flipside, they may also tend to be petty, self-righteous, stubborn, judgmental, egotistical, and overly cautious.
The Tiger sign covers the years 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, and 2022. Tigers are adventurous, outspoken, enthusiastic, and unconventional. The other side of the coin here is that they can be arrogant, aggressive, anxious, short-tempered, and rebellious against authority.
Tigers are prideful, which is why the Tiger zodiac year usually isn’t one celebrated by the Chinese.
Rabbits rule the years 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and 2023. These zodiac animals tend to be calm, gentle, intuitive, faithful, clever, and compassionate. They are also vain, pessimistic, insecure, finicky, and overly cautious.
Rabbits are finicky and withdrawn, yet able to seize the opportunity and triumph. As told in the story of the Great Race, the Rabbit couldn’t swim, so it jumped from stone to stone and used a floating log (with the Dragon’s help) to get to the other shore.
The years of the Dragon are 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, and 2024. It’s the only mythical creature in all of the Chinese astrology signs. This sign is said to be charismatic, courageous, intelligent, and passionate. Its weaknesses are that it can be inflexible, impetuous, and brash.
Dragons are selfless and capable. In the Great Race, the Dragon stopped to provide water for thirsty people and animals. It helped the Rabbit cross the river, even though this meant that the Rabbit would finish ahead of the Dragon.
Snake years are 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, and 2025. They are enigmatic, wise, sympathetic, intuitive, sensual, mesmerizing, and beautiful. On the other hand, they tend to be malicious, hedonistic, vain, materialistic, and duplicitous.
Snakes are cunning and smart. In the Great Race, the Snake noticed the Horse’s potential and hid in its hoof. This is how it managed to come in sixth, ahead of the Horse.
The years of the Horse include 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, and 2026. People born under this sign are easygoing, virile, honest, witty, and generally outspoken. However, they also tend to be impulsive, impatient, and very self-centered.
Horses are carefree but also naïve. In the Great Race, the Snake snuck into the Horse’s hoof and then jumped out and startled the Horse, finishing ahead as a result. Horses are jumpy but full of life, strength, and speed.
The Ram is the Chinese zodiac animal for the years 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, and 2027. They tend to be romantic, charming, intelligent, gentle, and compassionate. The downside with Rams is that they are often lazy, disorganized, pessimistic, indecisive, timid, gullible, and anxious.
Rams aren’t famous for their leadership abilities, but are more than happy to work in groups. In the Great Race, the Ram, the Monkey, and the Rooster decided that they were going to finish the race together.
The Monkey is the sign for the years 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, and 2028. They are charming, confident, exuberant, humorous, and popular. Monkeys are also arrogant, distrustful, erratic, opportunistic, dishonest, and manipulative.
Monkeys are able to untangle anything and maintain their focus on the group energy. In the Great Race, the Monkey and the Ram cleared a raft of weeds and used it to finish the race, together with the Rooster.
The years of the Rooster include 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, and 2029. The bearers of this Chinese astrology sign are witty, charming, blunt, honest, talented, capable, self-reliant, and brave. On the other hand, they tend to be narrow-minded, controlling, selfish, insensitive, and reckless.
In the story of the Great Race, the Rooster was a good leader. This zodiac animal was part of a group with the Monkey and the Ram that managed to find a raft and bring it to the river. Roosters are considered one of the most hardworking and perceptive animals in the calendar.
Dog years include 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, and 2030. They’re likable, sincere, witty, animated, protective, cooperative, and helpful. On the other hand, they tend to be cynical, overly aggressive, pessimistic, paranoid, and stubborn.
Dogs are playful and exuberant. Even though the Dog was one of the strongest swimmers in the Great Race, it stopped to take a bath and play in the water. Dogs are jovial but often lack focus.
The Pig represents the following years: 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, and 2031. Those born in Pig years tend to be thoughtful, responsible, noble, intelligent, creative, and curious. On the downside, they are materialistic, hot-tempered, gullible, and insecure.
Pigs are materialistic but easygoing. In the Great Race, the Pig barely finished the race, on account of stopping to eat and take a nap.
Chinese astrology signs are an interesting take on the horoscope. It’s clear that this type of astrology has inspired other systems, not the least because it’s really old. Unlike the general attitude of Westerners to astrology, millions of Chinese appreciate, respect, and apply the Chinese horoscope to their daily lives.
There are clear differences between the two systems, and you may find that knowing your Chinese zodiac sign can give you some further insight into yourself.
Which sign are you? Do you recognize yourself in the description? What are the traits that you disagree with, if any? Make sure to scroll down and join the discussion.
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