The Chinese zodiac (sheng xiao or shu xiang), popular in China, is a unique way of using animals to number the years. With a rotating cycle of 12 animals, it relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes. A different animal for each year, and each animal has a different personality and different characteristics.
By and large, the Chinese zodiac was originated during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Unlike the Western zodiac, which follows a monthly cycle, the Chinese zodiac follows a 12-year cycle. They represent the Eastern cyclical concept of time, rather than the Western linear concept of time. In this scheme, 12 symbolic animals are associated with the 12 Earthly Branches to denote the year of one’s birth. These 12 animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, and the zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the rat.
Chinese zodiac reflects a cult of animals among the ancients living in a traditional agrarian society. The ox, horse, sheep, rooster, dog and pig are all domestic animals closely related to people’s daily life. The rat has even been regarded as the God of Wealth in some places, as those families suffering from mice must have surplus grain. The tiger is believed to be a chaser of demons in folklore; therefore, its pictures used to be pasted at the entrance to houses to ward off evil influences, and a child is supposed to wear tiger-head shoes on his or her first birthday. Both the snake and the legendary dragon were totems worshipped by the ancient Chinese. Tradition has it that a jade rabbit lives in the Lunar Palace; it hence becomes another name for the moon. The monkey is the embodiment of brightness and cleverness, and the image of Monkey King has been created long time ago.
For a long time, there has been a special relationship between humans and the twelve zodiacal animals. In the art world, the animal signs are frequent themes. They often appear in artisans’ paper-cut works, New Year pictures, and pottery and bronze wares.
In China, everyone knows under which animal sign he or she is born. Some people believe that a person who was born in the year of a certain animal is supposed to own its reputed attributes. It really doesn’t matter if you believe or not, you can read the following in comparison with your own personality or just for fun.
1. Rat: People born in the year of rat are said to be temperamental, alert, sensitive, open-minded, gentle and soft.
2. Ox: People born in the year of ox are said to be firm, tenacious, diligent, honest, happy, and maybe a little stubborn.
3. Tiger: People born in the year of tiger are said to be bright, enthusiastic, bold and unstrained but quick tempered. For females, they may be as tender as a lovely cat.
4. Rabbit: People born in the year of rabbit are said to be kind, considerate, gentle, quiet, attentive, polite and peaceable, but a little self-conceited.
5. Dragon: People born in the year of dragon are said to be honorable, brave, healthy, energetic and intelligent, but may also be very temperamental and stubborn.
6. Snake: People born in the year of snake are said to be wealthy, intelligent, but maybe egotistical and conceited.
7. Horse: People born in the year of horse are said to be energetic, high-spirited, popular humorous and intelligent, but occasionally quick tempered.
8. Goat: People born in the year goat are said to be prudent, gentle, honest, calm, compassionate and fashionable, but maybe extremely dependent.
9. Monkey: People born in the year of monkey are said to be shrewd, creative, agile and successful, but irritable, sly and lack of respect for others.
10. Rooster: People born in the year of rooster are said to be energetic, outspoken, enterprising, forceful, romantic and profound in thinking, but they may be spendthrifts and suspicious.
11. Dog: People born in the year of dog are said to be faithful, trustworthy, righteous and responsible, but not very socialable and may be a little obstinate.
12. Pig: People born in the year of pig are said to be gentle, magnanimous, reliable, tolerant and calm, but a little lazy and maybe not so clever.
In Western countries, it is not very polite to ask directly someone’s age, especially the age of a lady. In China, each can easily calculate the other’s age as long as both give their shu xiang.
According to Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the Year of the Horse.