Each Chinese year is represented by one of twelve animals. Each animal has certain characteristics, and people born under each sign are said to act like that animal in life. Because the moon¡¯s cycles begins again after every twelve years, there are twelve animals. The twelve animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
According to legend, the cat slept while the animals went to see Buddah so is not represented. This year is the year of the pig.
Background and Concept
The Chinese animal signs are a 12-year cycle used for dating the years. They represent a cyclical concept of time, rather than the Western linear concept of time. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, and is constructed in a different fashion than the Western solar calendar. In the Chinese calendar, the beginning of the year falls somewhere between late January and early February. The Chinese have adopted the Western calendar since 1911, but the lunar calendar is still used for festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year. Many Chinese calendars will print both the solar dates and the Chinese lunar dates.
According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.
All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox"s back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last
Origin of Chinese Zodiac
In ancient times, our ancestors counted the years with 10 celestial stems and 12 terrestrial branches. Although this was scientific, most people were illiterate and could not memorize or calculate easily. Thus the animals that influenced people"s lives were chosen to symbolize the terrestrial branches: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Legend has it that one day the gods ordered that animals be designated as the signs of each year with the twelve who arrived first selected. At that time, the cat and mouse were good friends and neighbors. When they heard of this news, the cat said to mouse: "We should arrive early to sign up, but I usually get up late." The mouse then promised to awaken his friend and to go together. However, on the morning when he got up, he was too excited to recall his promise, and went directly to the gathering place. On the way, the mouse encountered the tiger, ox, horse, and other animals that ran much faster. In order not to fall behind them, he thought up a good idea. He made the straightforward ox carry him on condition that he sang for the ox. The ox and mouse arrived first. The ox was happy thinking that he would be the first sign of the years, but the mouse had already slid in front, and became the first lucky animal of the Chinese zodiac. Meanwhile his neighbor the cat was too late; when it finally arrived, the selections were over. That"s why other animals appear behind the little mouse and why the cat hates mice so much that every time they meet, the cat will chase and kill the mouse.
It is also said that this order of the zodiac originated in the Han Dynasty (206 - 220) according to the 12 time periods of a day:
The first period is from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the time rats actively seek food;
The second one is from 1 to 3 a.m., a time that oxen regurgitate;
From 3 to 5 a.m. tigers hunt prey and display their fiercest nature;
From 5 to 7 a.m., based on tales, the jade rabbit on the moon was busy pounding medicinal herb with a pestle;
From 7 to 9 a.m. dragons were said to hover in the sky to give people rainfall;
From 9 to 11 a.m. snakes start to leave their burrows;
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the day is flourishing, as vigorous as an unconstrained horse;
From 1 to 3 p.m. it was said that if sheep ate grass at this time, they would grow stronger;
From 3 to 5 p.m. monkeys become lively;
From 5 to 7 p.m. roosters return to their roost as it is dark;
From 7 to 9 p.m. dogs begin to carry out their duty to guard entrances;
From 9 to 11 p.m. all is quiet and pigs are sleeping soundly.
For a long time there has been a special relationship between humans and the 12 zodiacal animals. Humans admired them, took them as totems, and in the artistic field, those animal signs were among the features of those themes. This can be reflected in artisans" paper-cut works, New-Year pictures, pottery and bronze wares, especially on the bronze mirrors before the appearance of glass ones, on which elaborate forms showed creativity and passion as well as wishes for a good life.