The Chinese Zodiac

Assigned to each person depending on the year of birth, the animals of the Chinese Zodiac represent fortune, personality and fate. Discover your Chinese Zodiac Animal! You may be a loyal dog, a chatty rabbit, or a funny monkey, but have you ever wondered how the 12 animals were chosen? It all happened many years ago…


The Story of The Great Race – How the Chinese Animals Were Chosen

Chinese ZodiacMany stories and legends tell the origin of the Chinese zodiac or Chinese horoscope (shēngxiào – 生肖), but the most well-known (and also most fun) one states that the Jade Emperor invited the entire animal kingdom to partake in a tremendous race! The first 12 animals able to cross the river, would be assigned to a year of the Chinese zodiac system in order of appearance. All the animals were very excited and the news spread rapidly. On the day of the race all the animals gathered at the bank of the river.

Rat, although the smallest animal in the zodiac system, won the race. It would seem rather unlikely that such a small animal would win this race, don’t you think?

Well, Rat, although very small and not a good swimmer at all, used his brain and played a little trick! He convinced Ox that together they would have a better chance of winning.

Ox, being very strong, and Rat gifted by a marvelous sight would be a winning team! So, Rat hopped on the back of Ox. When they neared the other side of the river however, Rat quickly jumped ahead and was named first animal of the Chinese zodiac, followed by Ox, who came in second.

Tiger claimed third prize. Although it was difficult to cross the river, Tiger made it thanks to his strength. Following closely was Rabbit, who had crossed the river by jumping from one stone to the other.

Chinese Zodiac HorseDragon, who was expected to finish first, had to stop to make rain to help all the creatures on earth and came in fifth place. Then, a galloping sound was heard and Horse arrived. Snake, hidden in the hoof of Horse, suddenly appeared, scared Horse and was named 6th animal. Horse ended 7th.

After that, Goat, Monkey and Rooster reached the shore. By working together they were able to cross the river. Very satisfied by this teamwork, the Jade Emperor assigned Goat as the 8th animal of the cycle, Monkey as the 9th and Rooster as the 10th.

Dog became the 11th animal, since he couldn’t resist to play a little bit longer in the river before crossing it. Finally, the last to arrive was Pig. He got hungry during the race and stopped to grab a quick bite, but fell asleep afterwards. And this is how the Chinese zodiac was formed.

Read the most well-know story about the origin of the Chinese zodiac (shēngxiào – 生肖) [Tweet this]


The story about cats and rats and why they don’t get along … at all!

Chinese Zodiac RatCat and Rat were the best of friends, the kind of friends that spends almost every waking hour together. Both were very excited about the news of the great race and immediately started to make plans to cross the river. On the day of the race, Cat wanted to take a little nap before partaking in the race, since it would ask a lot of effort and would therefore be very exhausting. Winning this race, however, was the only thing Rat could think about.

Instead of waking up Cat, Rat silently sneaked out and spurred to the shore of the river. After enjoying his splendid nap in the sun, Cat woke up to discover the race was already over and Rat had finished first. He was devastated and furious at the same time and swore to hate Rat forever. That is why Cat chased after Rat…and cats all over the world nowadays still do.

The reason why cats & rats don’t get along…at all, can be found in Chinese Zodiac [Tweet this]


The Importance of the Zodiac in Chinese Life Today

Whilst today’s China is increasingly urban and secular, traditional beliefs can still hold a surprising amount of sway. On February the 19th, 2015, the Zodiac switched from the year of the Horse – considered to be a lucky animal – to the year of the sheep, a far less auspicious animal.

Desperate to have their children born in the year of the Horse, Chinese hospitals experienced a surge of C-sections as mothers rushed to have their babies before the Zodiac switched!

Signs of the Zodiac can also influence business decisions. The launch of a new company or the signing of a major business deal may be postponed to a favourable year, such as the year of the cunning monkey, the fat pig, or the mighty Dragon.

When it comes to romance the Zodiac can be a cause of anxiety among older, more traditional parents. If a man was born under the year of the Rabbit and yet wishes to marry a woman born under the year of the Tiger, people may fear he will be dominated by the character of his wife. 

If a couple were born under the years of Dragon and Tiger respectively, then the concern would be that they would fight incessantly, clashing for power. So next time you’re out on a date, best check the Chinese Zodiac of your potential suitor before deciding if he or she is really the one!

For believers, the Zodiac continues to be a source of wisdom about the self, and a useful guide when it comes to choosing a partner, timing events and making important business decisions.

Chinese Zodiac Animals


Perhaps you’ve learned something new about yourself, or at least enjoyed listening to an ancient story! Don’t miss out on more articles and news about Hutong School, the Chinese language, life in China and much more. Sign up to our newsletter with the form below.

by Haike Bruneel 

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