Origins of the Chinese Zodiac

According to one legend, in the sixth century B.C. the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in creation to a race, only twelve showed up: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Lamb, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig, and according to their places in the race, the Jade Emperor had given them each a number starting with the Rat who was the winner of the race.

Many legends arose from the Race of the Chinese Zodiacs. One told of the reason why cats and rats shall always be enemies: He and the cat were poor swimmers, so they asked the ox if they could stay on top of his head to cross the river. Along the way he pushed the cat off the ox's back. And the cat, incapable of swimming, lagged behind. The rat stayed on top of the ox's head until the ox was almost at the finish line. And as the ox was about to cross it, the rat jumped from the ox's head and became first place. And the cat and rat have been enemies ever since.

Another legend 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.

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 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 or early 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.

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 , 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 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 and Tibetans use the same zodiac with slight modification, probably due to millennia of contact with the Chinese civilization.

Monkey (zodiac)

The Monkey is one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The Year of the Monkey is associated with the symbol .

Years and the five elements

Persons born within these date ranges can be said to have been born in the Year of the Monkey, while also bearing the following elemental sign:

* 2 February, 1908 - 21 January, 1909:

* 20 February, 1920 - 7 February, 1921:

* 6 February, 1932 - 25 January, 1933:

* 25 January, 1944 - 12 February, 1945:

* 12 February, 1956 - 30 January, 1957:

* 30 January, 1968 - 16 February, 1969:

* 16 February, 1980 - 4 February, 1981:

* 4 February, 1992 - 22 January, 1993:

* 22 January, 2004 - 8 February, 2005:

* 2016 - 2017:

* 2028 - 2029:


The Monkey is the most versatile sign of the Chinese zodiac. Such people are often inventors, plotters, entertainers and the creative geniuses behind anything ingenious, including mischief. They have natural quick-wittedness which enables them to understand what is happening and then make a right decision. Even during a conversation a person born in this year is aware of what is going on around him/her, and then makes a mental note of who said what and stores it away for future reference. In general, with their agile minds and multiple talents, monkey types can master any subject. They are reliable and honest people so that any secret is safe in their hands. These people are also honest in their dealings and are very good at problem-solving: knowing how to listen closely and work out solutions at the same time.

Although these people are trustworthy and unlikely to hurt someone out of spite, they would never let people escape if they have behaved badly or damaged a monkey's reputation. Their stamina and determination to achieve their main goals can make these people appear vain or manipulative. People born under this sign should be careful so they do not damage their friendships. It is important to remember for these people that it would be wiser sometimes not to pursue their goals and simply let things pass.

Monkeys have flexible principles and serene self-confidence so they are completely content; but they usually manage to complicate the lives of others. After yet another plan or project has gone wrong, they are seldom there to help clean up the disorder and confusion that they leave in their wake. Monkeys can handle that too; with their charm and persuasiveness they can make people believe that just knowing them is a privilege.

Traditional Monkey Attributes/Associations

Horse (zodiac)

The Horse is the seventh of the 12 animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The Year of the Horse is associated with the symbol .

Years and the Five Elements

Persons born within these date ranges can be said to have been born in the "year of the Horse," while also bearing the following elemental sign:

* 25 January, 1906 - 12 February, 1907:

* 11 February, 1918 - 31 January, 1919:

* 30 January, 1930 - 16 February, 1931:

* 15 February, 1942 - 4 February, 1943:

* 3 February, 1954 - 16 February, 1955:

* 21 January, 1966 - 8 February, 1967:

* 7 February, 1978 - 27 January, 1979:

* 27 January, 1990 - 14 February, 1991:

* 12 February, 2002 - 31 January, 2003:

* 2014 - 2015:

* 2026 - 2027:


The horse personality is often willing to give as well as expect a lot of liberty. These people are extremely independent and confident. The horse person is very quick-witted, inquisitive and determined. They are very good at recognizing patterns: she or he is on to the thought in your mind even before you've expressed it. In general, these people are gifted.They adore being the center of everyone's attention, but they prefer to be recognized for their skills and are easily flattered. On the other hand these people have an honesty and genuine warmth which attracts lots of people and helps them make new friends. People as a rule confide in a horse person because he/she is sincerely interested in their thoughts and feelings and is able to help with both wise words and an action, but there is a small problem about it - the horse person is so excited by new discoveries that it is difficult for them to keep a secret. This is not something that arises out of malice or revenge - sometimes they just cannot help themselves.

It is easy to inspire such a person by new ideas and he/she tends to act on them without delay, carried away by the excitement of the moment. But it is also important to remember that there is a danger for a horse person to be too impulsive and it may cause some problems in the future. And if they do not see the result of their efforts, it is rather natural for them to turn their attention to a new project and head off once again, brimming with new ideas. The horse person is always ready to offer good advice and can be very persuasive, but his/her confident and carefree approach hides inner doubts. Those who know such a person will recognize this, and offer the support and reassurance he/she needs. Males born under the year of the Horse are considered charming and attractive to members of the opposite sex.

Horses should beware of the , as any relationship with this sign is said to be extremely trying for the horse. Of all relationships between Chinese zodiac signs, a relationship between a rat and a horse is said to be the worst. The rat may just be too calculating, dictatorial and possessive for the free-spirited and independent horse. A relationship with a rat can potentially break down the horse's free-spirit and cause rage in the rat - as neither will be willing to yield to the other. Rats and Horses will attract each other like no other. Male Horses, especially, will find the female Rat irresistible, though they always bring out the worst in each other. Horses do get along great with , and .

Possible professions for people that are born on the year of the horse are that of a journalist, engineer, architect, a writer or novelist, an actor or a model.

Traditional Horse Attributes/Associations

Heavenly Market enclosure

Tian Shi Yuan, the Heavenly Market Enclosure , is one of the San Yuan or Three enclosures. Stars and constellations of this group are visible during late summer and early autumn in the Northern Hemisphere . The summer triangle lies directly to the northwest.

Four Symbols (Chinese constellation)

The Four Symbols are four creatures in the Chinese constellations. They also appear in Korean mythology. They are:





Each one of them represents a direction and a season of the year, and each has its own individual characteristics and origins. They have been portrayed in many historical Chinese myths and fiction, and also appear in as well as modern Japanese and .

These Four Symbols were given human names after Daoism became popular. Azure Dragon has the name Meng Zhang 孟章; Vermilion Bird is Ling Guang 陵光; White Tiger is Jian Bing 監兵; Black Tortoise is Zhi Ming 執明.

Correspondence with the Five Elements

Each of these mythological creatures has also been synthesized into the :

* : Wood

* : Fire

* : Metal

* : Water

Additionally, there is a fifth legendary beast, Huáng-lóng , or the . The cardinal direction associated with this animal is "centre," and its element is Earth.

Correspondence with the Four Seasons

The four legendary beasts represent a season each. The seasons they represent are as follows:

* : Spring

* : Summer

* : Autumn/Fall

* : Winter

Four Pillars of Destiny

Four Pillars of Destiny is a conceptual term that describes the four components creating a person's destiny or fate. The four components within the moment of birth are year, month, day, and time . The four pillars is a component used alongside fortune telling practices such as Zi wei dou shu within the realm of Chinese Astrology.


* The four pillars is an English translation of the phrase ''"Shi Chen Ba Zi"''.

* The Chinese term literally translates to ''"Hour of the Eight Characters"''.

* It is also under the Chinese term which literally translates to ''"The Four Pillars Life-ology"''.

* It is commonly referred to by the shortened names of ''"Four Pillars"'' or ''"Ba Zi"''. One of the most frequently used alternate phrase is ''"Four Pillars of your birthday"''.


The years are calculated by the 12 zodiac animals with the sexagenary cycle of 60 years.


The months are presented by the inner animals.


The hours are represented by the animals within a 24 hour time span.

The Two Schools

Scholarly School

It began with Xu Zi Ping at the beginning of Song Dynasty. He founded the pure theoretical basis of the system. Ever since then, scholars continued to do research work on the system and published their work for further development. Representatives of this school and their publications include

Song Dynasty

* Xu Sheng 宋徐升

* Yuan Hai Zi Ping by Xu Sheng 淵海子平

Ming Dynasty

* Wan Yu Wu 明萬育吾

* San Ming Tong Hui 三命通會

* Liu Ji 明劉基

* Di Tian Sui 滴天髓

Qing Dynasty

* Chen Su An 清陳素庵

* Meng Li Yue Yan 命理約言

Professional School

The original Chinese name "Jiang Hu Pai" has a negative implication. It refers to people who take Life Reading and Fortune Telling as a profession. Usually it is regarded as a business. These professionals may not know the theory very well. They may just memorize some formulas and also collect a lot of statistical results from their practices.

Earthly Branches

The Earthly Branches provide one system for reckoning time.

This system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of ''Suìxīng'' . Astronomers rounded the orbit of Suixing to 12 years . Suixing was associated with ''Sheti'' and sometimes called Sheti.

In correlative thinking, the twelve years of the Jupiter cycle also identify the twelve months of the year, twelve animals , directions, seasons, months, and in the form of double-hours. When a Branch is used for a double hour, the listed periods are meant. When used for an exact time of a day, it is the center of the period. For instance, 午 means noon or a period from 11am to 1pm.

Chinese seasons are based on observations of the sun and stars, not the weather. Many Chinese calendrical systems have started the new year on the first new moon after the .

The Earthly Branches are today used with the Heavenly Stems in the current version of the "traditional " and in Taoism. The Ganzhi combination is a fairly new way to mark time; in the Shang era it was the ten Heavenly Stems that provided the names of the days of the week. The Branches are as old as the Stems , but the Stems were tied to the ritual calendars of Chinese kings. They were not part of the calendrical systems of the majority of Chinese.

Some cultures assign different animals: Vietnam replaces the ox, rabbit, and sheep with the water buffalo, cat, and goat respectively; Japan replaces the pig with the wild boar.


Even though Chinese has words for the four cardinal directions - , , , and - Chinese and astronomers/astrologers preferred using the twelve directions of the Earthly Branches, which is somewhat similar to the modern-day practice of English-speaking pilots using ''o'clock'' for directions. Since twelve points were not enough for sailing, twelve midpoints were added. Instead of combining two adjacent direction names, they assigned new names as follows:

* For the four diagonal directions, appropriate trigram names of I Ching were used.

* For the rest, the Heavenly Stems were used. According to the Five Elements theory, east is assigned to wood, and the Stems of wood are and . Thus they were assigned clockwise to the two adjacent points of the east.

Following is a table of the 24 directions:

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Advanced mariners such as used 48-point compasses. An additional midpoint was called by a combination of its two closest basic directions, such as for the direction of 172.5°, the midpoint between , 165°, and , 180°.