Interactive Research

Understanding the Chinese Zodiac

Author: Frank Holmes
Date Posted: February 2, 2022 Read time: 4 min

The Chinese Zodiac, or Sheng Xiao, is based on a 12-year cycle with each year representing a different animal. Explore our slideshow to find out more about this unique part of Chinese culture.

Understanding the Chinese Zodiac
Understanding the Chinese Zodiac
Understanding the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac has been part of Chinese mythology for many years. The zodiac is calculated according to the Chinese lunar calendar and is based on a 12-year cycle. In this slideshow we invite you to explore the Chinese Zodiac and how chance, numerology and foretelling are a big part of Chinese culture.

Numbers have always played an important role in Chinese culture, with many associating fortune with lucky numbers. The distinguishing factor between lucky and unlucky numbers? Pronunciation. The number eight, for example, is considered lucky because its pronunciation is similar to that of the word meaning “to make a fortune.” Number significance in this culture can even be seen in gambling, particularly in the popular tourist destination of Macau.

Chinese culture is also influenced by the I Ching, or “Book of Changes.” The I Ching focuses on choices and changes throughout life, a person’s present and future. This ancient text uses divination, random number selection and hexagrams to provide guidance for moral decision making. The book relates closely to Taoism and Confucianism as well.

One of the most well-known Chinese legends lies in the Chinese Zodiac. The zodiac is based on a recurring 12-year cycle, with each year representing a different animal. These include (in order) the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The year you were born determines your sign. Use the diagram here to identify your zodiac sign!

There are various tales of the Chinese Zodiac, with the most popular stating that Buddah invited all the animals to participate in a race. The first 12 animals that crossed the river to the finish line would earn a spot in the Chinese Zodiac calendar, in the order they finished. The first to cross the finish line, according to mythology, was the rat, said to have used brain over brawn. The rat hitched a ride on the ox’s back and just before reaching the finish line it jumped off and came in first.

A person’s zodiac sign is said to reflect their personality traits as well, and since ancient times, these signs have been used to predict people’s destinies. The table here shows some of the personality traits of each of the 12 zodiac signs.

According to Chinese astrology, each zodiac year is associated with the five elements (metal, water, wood, earth and fire). Each element represents a certain direction, season, color and energy. The Five Elements Theory in Chinese philosophy is used to describe interactions and relationships between things.

You will typically see one of the five elements associated with one of the 12 zodiac animals. Each zodiac sign has five types and each element with a given sign repeats every 60 years. In 2022, for example, the zodiac animal is the tiger and the element is water – the year of the Water Tiger! Check out our infographic.

Eventually everyone will meet their birth-sign year, with the Chinese Zodiac recurring every 12 years. Chinese superstition says that people who are in their birth-sign year (whether at age 12, 24, 36, and so on) will have bad luck. Interestingly enough, the Chinese are also very focused on the meaning of color. Red, for example, is very lucky. To avoid bad luck during your birth year, legend says the best way to do so is to wear red items – even red underwear.

A zodiac year is believed by many to begin on Chinese New Year’s Day, which typically falls between late January and late February, or the first day of the Lunar New Year calendar. To celebrate the coming of the New Year, many will have “reunion dinners” with family, pop fireworks, give red envelopes and streets will be decorated with red lanterns.

Folklore and astrology are deeply rooted in the Chinese culture and have been for hundreds of years. Do you know any other interesting facts about the history of the Chinese Zodiac? Tweet us @USFunds!


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