The Whimsical Legend of How the Chinese Zodiac Animals were Chosen
According to Chinese culture, each year is related to an animal or 生肖 (‘Sheng Xiao’, which literally means ‘birth likeness’). There are 12 animals, and together, they make up the Chinese zodiac. The traditional sequence of the Chinese zodiac is: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Like the zodiac signs of Western astrology, it is also traditionally believed by the Chinese that one’s personality is influenced by the zodiac sign that he/she was born under, and that the sign has a bearing on a person’s life.
Myths and Legends of the Origin of the Zodiac SignsUnlike the zodiac signs of Western astrology, the animals of the Chinese zodiac are not based on the constellations. Whilst the Western zodiac signs may be said to have its origins in astronomy, the same might not be said of its Chinese counter-part. In fact, it may be said that no one is entirely certain as to how the Chinese zodiac actually came into being.
Representations of the zodiac signs on ancient Chinese artifacts were already in existence during the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). Some have suggested that these signs entered China via the Silk Road, perhaps alongside Buddhism when it was spread from India.
Painting of Buddhist astrology (combining Chinese and Indian systems). ( CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
Others claim that the signs were first used by nomadic tribes, who developed a calendar based on the animals they used to hunt and gather. Yet others claim that the zodiac was developed based not on knowledge brought from outside China, but by the ancient Chinese themselves.
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