Chinese 12 Zodiac Signs

My grandpa: Hmm, it’s time for you to find a boyfriend and get married. A relative just introduced one for you. How about adding him on WeChat and getting along for a while?

Me: I think I’m way too young to get married and I don’t have time for dating now.

My grandpa: But it’s impolite to just turn down other people. You two can try to be friends first. Maybe you will like him.

Me: OK, fine.

We added each other on WeChat and chatted once in a while. About two weeks later, I got a call from my grandpa.

My grandpa: I just learned that the young man is one year older than you, so he was born in the year of rooster. You two are not very compatible as you were born in the year of dog.

Yes, this is the end of the story. Whenever I thought about this and talked with my friends, we simply laughed about it. Since ancient times, Chinese people believe that a rooster and a dog will not be a good match. And this is based on the 12 Chinese zodiacs. China has many ancient traditions passed down through generations and subtly intertwined with people’s life in every aspect. The 12 Chinese zodiacs are typical ones, considered as Chinese horoscope. It is proved to exist thousands of years ago according to unearthed antiques of Qin Dynasty. No doubt that the special culture has influenced Chinese nation deeply.

What are 12 zodiac signs? The zodiac is composed of eleven common animals, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig as well as the legendary dragon. They are used for calculating years based on a twelve year cycle (according to Chinese lunar calendar). Each year is associated with an animal sign.

How was it worked out? It is thought to derive from the primitive worship to animals in ancient age. Each animal has rich and interesting legends and gradually developed into a consciousness system taken as traditional guide in the folk life for Chinese people.

How does it work? 12 animals represent 12 Earthly Branches. Each animal takes up a year with 12 years as a cycle. This traditional custom has gone on over and over again in the long term of history, and become an important & basic folk tradition for Chinese people.

What’s the order of the 12 zodiacs? The 12 animals are placed in the sequence of rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

12 Zodiacs

Why were the 12 animals put in such an order? There are many versions to explain its origin but none of them could be terrified. Folk legends, characteristics of animals and theory of the Five Elements are the popular ones among them. The most interesting one is the race between the animals. Yellow Emperor wanted to choose 12 animals as guards. Cat asked rat to help it sign up, but rat forgot about the thing. Cat didn’t get a place. That’s why cat hates rat and wants to kill rat . Originally ox was the first, but rat secretly climbed on ox’s back to take the lead. Tiger and dragon, behind ox, were not pleased with the result and were made God of Mountain and God of Sea respectively. Rabbit refused to accept it and raced with dragon. Rabbit won but was bitten by unhappy dog. Dog was punished as the last one. Snake, horse, goat, monkey, and rooster also had a contest, and finally pig came and ranked last because it stopped halfway to eat.

What’s your zodiac sigh? The zodiac animal of you is right the animal of the year you were born. For instance, 2020 is the year of rat, so the baby born in 2020 has a zodiac sign of rat. The Year of the Rat comes every 12 years, 1996, 2008, 2020 and so on. And this Year of the Rat starts from January 25, 2020 and ends on February 11, 2021.

What’s the “Ben Ming Nian”? Now the Chinese zodiac has become an important part of the traditional Chinese culture and greatly affects people’s thinking and behavior. Do you know why some Chinese people are worried and pretty cautious in their zodiac year of birth (called “Ben Ming Nian” in Chinese)? It’s said that people will have bad luck in their animal year.

How to avoid bad luck or improve luck in your zodiac year (Ben Ming Nian)?  There is a common way to solve this — wearing something red like underwear, socks, belts, clothes, bracelets, etc. And you shall not buy them yourselves. They must be given by other people. Whether this is true or not, Chinese people carry on this tradition year after year.

Zodiac is also to be considered when looking for life partner. A couple with matching zodiac signs is considered to be suitable for each other, while if two people’s zodiac signs don’t match, the worst is that they will be harmful to each other, such as horse and ox, goat and rat, snake and tiger, rabbit and dragon, rooster and dog, pig and monkey.

Zodiac Applied in Finding Partner

In addition to its application in people’s life, the 12 Chinese zodiacs also find application in art. In ancient China, especially during the Sui and Tang dynasties, zodiac figurines were buried along with the deceased to ward off evil and ensure the tranquility of the spirits of the dead. The figurines were usually made of clay (there were also some iron and stone ones) with different shapes. The most common ones were figurines with human body and animal’s head or figurines holding different animals with arms or on shoulders. In the Song Dynasty, zodiac figurines wearing crowns and wide-sleeved gowns just looked like civil officials. After the Song Dynasty, people began to use paper burial objects, so the art of zodiac figurines gradually declined. If you once visited Shaanxi History Museum on your Xian tours, you may have seen such zodiac figurines.

Zodiac Figurines

Another example is the priceless treasures from Yuanmingyuan, twelve animal head statues of the Chinese zodiac. They were designed by an Italian painter Giuseppe Castiglione who served in the court during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty and built by the royal craftsman. The statues with bronze animal heads and stone human body were originally a part of the fountain outside the Haiyan Hall of Yuanmingyuan and were called “water clock”. Every two hours, one of them sprayed water from the mouth, and at noon, water burst through the mouths of all of them at the same time. It was quite a sight to see. Unfortunately, Anglo-French Allied Force invaded Beijing and burnt Yuanmingyuan to the ground in 1860. The bronze statues of the 12 zodiac signs were once lost abroad. As of November 2019, seven of them, including ox head, monkey head, tiger head, pig head, rat head, rabbit head and horse head, have been brought back to China in different ways. The rabbit head and rat head are collected in the National Museum of China and the other five in Poly Art Museum. Now the search is on for the remaining five.

Twelve Animal Head Statues

All in all, China has a very long history and unique culture. The Chinese zodiac is just a drop in the ocean. If you want to experience more about Chinese culture in person, we can tailor a China tour according to your requirements. Whatever you need, our professional team is ready to help you.