The Chinese Zodiac Animals 101

Last updated: 4 Dec 2020  |  2755 Views  | 

The Chinese Zodiac Animals 101

The Chinese Zodiac Animals 101 and Why Chinese Shrines are Often Crowded around the Lunar New Year

If there’s anything we at YOA like as much as Chinese furniture, it’s Chinese astrology! To make it sound (hopefully) less superstitious: the themes and patterns in Chinese arts and crafts including furniture often reflect such ancient beliefs, so we dig into Chinese astrology just for pure researching purpose!
So today we’re introducing you to the 12 Chinese zodiac years and the animals they entail, which surprisingly is still very much integrated in Chinese people’s daily life.

First off, let’s start with the basic: the Chinese zodiac cycle (十二生肖) repeats every 12 years, and each year assigned with an animal, similar to Western monthly horoscope signs. The system is believed to be over 2000 years old and possibly originated from animal worship. The result is we get 12 animals representing 12 years in a cycle: Rat (鼠), Ox (牛), Tiger (虎), Rabbit (兔), Dragon (龙), Snake (蛇), Horse (马), Goat (羊), Monkey (猴), Rooster (鸡), Dog (狗), and Pig (猪).



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The above order of these animals comes from a super ancient folk tale about the Great Race between these animals, in which their order at the end of the race would determine their order of the year in the cycle. The quick-witted, little Rat was obviously the winner, so each cycle starts off with the Rat year. This also means everyone’s birth year is assigned with a zodiac animal.

Here is the fun part: each animal is associated with certain characteristics, so what follows is how your birth sign year determines some traits in your personality (and probably your fate), and how it is compatible or incompatible with other birth sign years. If you’re interested, there’re tons of websites out there that you can check your sign and probably have fun exploring around.


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For many people of Chinese descent, beliefs surrounding zodiac years play quite a big part in their lives, subtly or not. At the teeny-tiniest level, it’s not that unusual to get asked "what is your birth sign year?" by some Chinese aunties upon first meeting, as a way to roughly estimate how old are you, and probably to see if you’re a suitable match for someone they know. (We’re just kidding. Maybe.)


For people who’re really into the compatibility bit, zodiac year plays a big role in courting and marriage. Dating couples may consider their partner’s sign to see whether the relationship will be successful. Sometimes it may even determine the period a couple decides to get pregnant, since a lot of Chinese parents want to have kids in a particular birth sign year (a popular one, of course, is Dragon).


Meanwhile, some employers could look into an applicant’s birth sign year as a way to gauge his or her personality, and see if they can put the right person into the right job, or team.


As the belief prevailed in China since ancient time, we can find many traditional arts and handicrafts often display the theme of 12 zodiac animals.
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Now comes the handy(?) bit: Chinese fortune-telling revolves a lot around this. As a result, there are “lucky years” and “unlucky years” for each zodiac animal year. For example, if you’re a Rabbit, the sign you’re not compatible with is Rooster, so the Rooster year is your unlucky year. So you can go to pray or make offerings to gods in temples at the beginning of your so-called unlucky years, to chase away bad things and bring you good fortune.


If you happen to be in Thailand, we suggest you go visit a local Chinese shrine around the Lunar New Year. It’s a sight to see, and you’ll probably find nice snacks around the place.  


Interestingly, the year of Rat 2020 is also aligned with “the Year of Gengzi (庚子年)”, which occurs every 60 years. With covid-19 and all the time in their hands under lockdown, Chinese netizens went on to research and came up with a conclusion that it’s the cause the 2020 pandemic outbreak, since the few past Gengzi years always brought catastrophe upon China.


Of course no one can prove that, but it shows how the Chinese still more or less enjoy discussing astrology in their own way!



Deeply connected to Chinese fortunetelling, each birth sign year also has a designated bagua (八卦) or the Eight Trigrams.
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As the end of this disaster of a year is drawing near (finally), our YOA team is looking forward to a better 2021, the year of patient Ox in which we hope things will be more peaceful and calamity-free for all of us!

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