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Chinese Zodiac

A Brief Introduction to Chinese Zodiac
The Sheng xiao (Pinyin: Shengxiao), better known in English as the Chinese Zodiac, is a scheme that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to a 12-year cycle. It has wide currency in several East Asian countries besides China and Taiwan.
Identifying this scheme using the term "zodiac" reflects several similarities to the Western zodiac: both have time cycles divided into 12 parts, each labels at least the majority of those parts with names of animals, and each is widely associated with a culture of attributing influence of a person's relationship to the cycle upon their personality and/or events in their life. Nevertheless, there are major differences: the "Chinese" 12-part cycle is divided into years rather than months; contrary to the association with animals implied in the Greek etymology of "zodiac", actually four of the Western "signs" or "houses" are represented by humans (one such sign being the twins "Gemini") and one is the inanimate balance scale "Libra"; the animals of the Chinese zodiac are not associated with constellations, let alone those spanned by the ecliptic plane.
Zodiac origin stories
The 12 Zodiac animal signs (shengxiao) are, in order, the rat, ox (or cow), tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (or boar). There are many legends to explain the beginning of the zodiac. One of the most popular reads, in summarised form, as follows:
The rat was given the task of inviting the animals to report to the Jade Emperor for a banquet to be selected for the zodiac signs. The cat was a good friend of the rat, but the rat tricked him into believing that the banquet was the next day. The cat slept through the banquet, thinking that it was the next day. When he found out, the cat vowed to be the rat's natural enemy for ages to come.
A variation tells that the cat had asked the rat to wake him up the day of the Race. The rat agreed, but on the said day, he did not wake the cat in his greed to win. When the cat finally woke up and got to the racing ground, he found the race to be over. The cat then swore revenge upon the rat.
Interestingly, the cat does make it into the Vietnamese Zodiac, in place of the rabbit.
Another popular legend has it that a race was used to decide the animals to report to the Jade Emperor.
The cat and the rat were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. Although bad swimmers, they were both intelligent. They decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the ox. The ox, being a naïve and good-natured animal, agreed to carry them across. However, overcome with a fierce competitiveness, the rat decided that in order to win, it must do something and promptly pushed the cat into the river. Because of this, the cat has never forgiven the rat, and hates the water as well. After the ox had crossed the river, the rat jumped ahead and reached the shore first, and it claimed first place in the competition.
Following closely behind was the strong ox, and it was named the 2nd animal in the zodiac. After the ox, came the tiger, panting, while explaining to the Jade Emperor just how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents pushing it downstream all the time. But with powerful strength, it made to shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle.
Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race but the rabbit was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the 4th animal in the zodiac cycle. Coming in 5th place was the dragon, flying. Of course, the Jade Emperor was deeply curious as to why a strong and flying creature such as the dragon should fail to reach first. The mighty dragon explained that he had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore he was held back a little. Then, on his way to the finish line, he saw a little helpless rabbit clinging onto a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the dragon, and he was added into the zodiac cycle. As soon as he had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the horse appeared. Hidden on the horse's hoof is the snake, whose sudden appearance gave the horse a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the snake the 6th spot, while the horse placed 7th.
Not long after that, a little distance away, the sheep, monkey, and rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the ram and the monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named the ram as the 8th creature, the monkey as the 9th, and the rooster the 10th.
The 11th animal is the dog. His explanation for being late��although he was supposed to be the best swimmer amongst the rest��was that he needed a good bath after a long spell, and the fresh water from the river was too big a temptation. For that, he almost didn't make it to finish line. Just as the Jade Emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little pig. The pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, the pig continued the race and was named the 12th and last animal of the zodiac cycle. The cat finished too late (thirteenth) to win any place in the calendar, and vowed to be the enemy of the rat forevermore.
In Buddhism, legend has it that Buddha summoned all of the animals of the earth to come before him before his departure from this earth, but only twelve animals actually came to bid him farewell. To reward the animals who came to him, he named a year after each of them. The years were given to them in the order they had arrived.
The legend of the Zodiac Race, of course, is by far the least credible of all explanations of the origin of the Chinese zodiac. Because the "twelve earthly branches" which correspond with the zodiac, was already in existence as early as the Zhou era, long before the advent of Buddhism. A parallel decimal set of symbols called "ten heavenly stems", corresponding with yin-yang dualism and the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) was in existence in the Shang dynasty as the stems were part of Shang rulers' names. The order of 12 Chinese zodiac animals was based on the number of toes/hooves, alternating between even and odd numbers. Rat was the first because unlike other animals of the Chinese zodiac which all had the same number of toes/hooves on each leg, rat has four toes on the front legs and five on the rear legs, so it was selected to be number one. Ox is second with four hooves on each leg, and tiger is the third three with five toes, hare is the fourth with four toes, dragon is next in line with five fingers on its claw, while snake ranks number six because it lacked any legs and zero is an even number, etc.
The Zodiac, or the "twelve earthly branches" is probably devised together with the ten heavenly stems. However, according to Derek Walters, British scholar and author of several related books, there is no historical evidence for the 12 animals correlation with the Earthly Branches prior to the late Tang or early Song eras. Susan Whitfield asserts that it was not until the Qin Dynasty that the 12 animal cycle was imported along the Silk Road from Buddhist peoples in Khotan, Sogdiana, and India.[3]
As a duodecimal numeral system, the twelve earthly branches is probably evidence for trade between early tribes that later contributed to the Chinese civilization on the one hand, and the Mesopotamian civilization, which perfected duodecimal arithmetics, on the other.
The Chinese zodiac, though not entirely identical with the Greek zodiac, nonetheless shares with it the duodecimal system and the idea of using animals as numerical symbols. This is a hint for the triangular relations between early Chinese, Mesopotamian and Greek cultures.
When the Bulgars, an early Turkic tribe within the Hun tribal federation that invaded Europe at the end of the Roman Empire, brought with them the very same Chinese zodiac. This is a probability that the Chinese zodiac is of northern Chinese origin, commonly shared among Altaic and northern Chinese tribes.
Currently, the Thai and Tibetans use the same zodiac with slight modification, probably due to millennia of contact with the Chinese civilization.
Personalities
Chinese zodiac signs represent twelve different types of personalities. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so (see below). The following are the twelve zodiac signs in order and their characteristics.[1]

1. Rat (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water): Forthright, tenacious, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, sensitive, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, artistic, shrewd. Can be manipulative, vindictive, mendacious, venal, selfish, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.

2. Ox (Water buffalo in Vietnam) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water): Dependable, calm, methodical, born leader, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, steady, modest, logical, resolute, tenacious. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid, demanding.

3. Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish, aggressive, unpredictable.

4. Rabbit (Cat in Vietnam) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Gracious, good friend, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious, artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, astute, compassionate, flexible. Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent, opportunistic, stubborn.

5. Dragon (Snail in Kazakhstan) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, zealous, eccentric, intellectual, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, ambitious, artistic, generous, loyal. Can be tactless, arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, intolerant, dogmatic, violent, impetuous, brash.

6. Snake (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Deep thinker, wise, mystic, graceful, soft-spoken, sensual, creative, prudent, shrewd, ambitious, elegant, cautious, responsible, calm, strong, constant, purposeful. Can be loner, bad communicator, possessive, hedonistic, self-doubting, distrustful, mendacious, suffocating, cold.

7. Horse (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Cheerful, popular, quick-witted, changeable, earthy, perceptive, talkative, agile - mentally and physically, magnetic, intelligent, astute, flexible, open-minded. Can be fickle, arrogant, childish, anxious, rude, gullible, stubborn.

8. Ram (Goat in Vietnam) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Righteous, sincere, sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, creative, gentle, compassionate, understanding, mothering, determined, peaceful, generous, seeks security. Can be moody, indecisive, over-passive, worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer, weak-willed.

9. Monkey (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Inventor, motivator, improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem solver, self-assured, sociable, artistic, polite, dignified, competitive, objective, factual, intellectual. Can be egotistical, vain, selfish, reckless, snobbish, deceptive, manipulative, cunning, jealous, suspicious.

10. Rooster (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible. Can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, opinionated, given to empty bravado.

11. Dog (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Honest, intelligent, straightforward, loyal, sense of justice and fair play, attractive, amicable, unpretentious, sociable, open-minded, idealistic, moralistic, practical, affectionate, sensitive, easy going. Can be cynical, lazy, cold, judgmental, pessimistic, worrier, stubborn, quarrelsome.

12. Pig (Wild boar in Japan and Elephant in Northern Thailand) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water): Honest, gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working, trusting, sincere, calm, understanding, thoughtful, scrupulous, passionate, intelligent. Can be naive, over-reliant, self-indulgent, gullible, fatalistic, materialistic.
A legend about Zodiac
One legend is that the order of animals is the result of squabbles that followed Emperor Xuanyuan's summoning them to be his imperial bodyguards. The rat tricked the cat out of going, and ever since they have been enemies. The rat also managed to drive the elephant away by climbing into his trunk. Of the other animals, the ox took the lead, but the rat jumped onto its back, hitching a ride into first place. The pig, busy complaining about this, came last. Since the tiger and dragon refused to accept the result, the Emperor compensated them with the titles "King of the Mountain" and "King of the Ocean," and placed them immediately after the rat and ox. But the rabbit would not accept this either, so raced and won against the dragon for fourth place. The dissatisfied dog bit the rabbit, and was punished with penultimate place. The other animals filled the other positions in the order in which they arrived.

The use of 12 animal symbols is not unique to the Hans in China. Many minority ethnic groups have their own series with minor differences. For example, Mongolians use tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat and ox; the Dai people use rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and elephant; and the Li people use rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep and monkey. Some believe that the Han inherited their twelve from northern tribes in ancient times. Another possibility is that exchange between different cultures cultivated the various sequences of twelve.

Shengxiao are held to be of great significance by many Chinese, and people tell numerous stories and follow rich and colorful customs associated with the Earthly Branches:

 

 


�� Rat (1924 - 1936 - 1948 - 1960 - 1972 - 1984 - 1996 - 2008 - 2020 - 2032)
Zi means seed, fruit, root and inheritance. It represents due north, the eleventh Chinese lunar month, when many animals begin to hibernate, and 11 PM to 1 AM, when the rat is most active.
ţ Rat (1924 - 1936 - 1948 - 1960 - 1972 - 1984 - 1996 - 2008 - 2020 - 2032)
Zi means seed, fruit, root and inheritance. It represents due north, the eleventh Chinese lunar month, when many animals begin to hibernate, and 11 PM to 1 AM, when the rat is most active.
�� Tiger (1926 - 1938 - 1950 - 1962 - 1974 - 1986 - 1998 - 2010 - 2022 - 2034)
Yin is associated with northeast by east and 3 AM to 5 AM, when the tiger is most ferocious. In the Chinese lunar calendar it represents month one, the time trees begin to sprout.
��
Rabbit (1927 - 1939 - 1951 - 1963 - 1975 - 1987 - 1999 - 2011 - 2023 - 2035)
Mao represents due east and 5 AM to 7 AM, when the moon, the home of the legendary jade rabbit, still hangs in the sky. It also denotes the second lunar month, a time of reawakening and new life. The rabbit's relatively meek temperament makes it an appropriate symbol for the sun just coming up over the horizon.

�� Dragon (1928 - 1940 - 1952 - 1964 - 1976 - 1988 - 2000 - 2012 - 2024 - 2036)
Chen symbolizes southeast by south and 7 AM to 9 AM, believed to be the best time for the magic dragon to generate rain and when the sun strengthens and everything is about to wake up. The dragon is the only mythological animal in the system, and was considered one of the "four sacred animals" along with the phoenix, kylin and tortoise. It was imagined to have a horse's head, snake's body and chicken's claws, with 81 scales on its back. It could fly and swim, and appear and disappear mysteriously. In the Chinese lunar calendar, it represents month three.

�� Snake (1929 - 1941 - 1953 - 1965 - 1977 - 1989 - 2001 - 2013 - 2025 - 2037)
Si represents south by east and 9 AM to 11 AM, when the snake is most lively. It is associated with the fourth lunar month, when green abounds and seedlings begin to grow.
�� Horse (1930 - 1942 - 1954 - 1966 - 1978 - 1990 - 2002 - 2014 - 2026 - 2038)
Wu stands for due south and the time around noon, when the sun is most severe. It is believed that 11 AM to 1 PM is when horses travel best. It also signifies the fifth lunar month, when farmers till the land and everything is full of vigor.

�� Sheep (1931 - 1943 - 1955 - 1967 - 1979 - 1991 - 2003 - 2015 - 2027 - 2039)
Wei represents the sixth lunar month and the height of summer. It also stands for 1 PM to 3 PM, when it is said that if a sheep eats a patch of grass it will grow more luxuriously, and for the direction of southwest by south. The sheep represents love, happiness and perseverance of spirit.

�� Monkey (1932 - 1944 - 1956 - 1968 - 1980 - 1992 - 2004 - 2016 - 2028 - 2040)
Shen's character in Chinese looks like two hands grasping a stick and, with one addition, becomes another shen meaning to stretch, with the implication of using one's mind to the full and with flexibility. 3 PM to 5 PM is believed to be when monkeys play.

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