Gauss-Telegraph: Chinese zodiac animals (shēngxiào – 生肖)
by Lena Heinecke
In Europe and many other countries around the world, the character traits as well as the future of a person are described with the help of zodiac signs (Sagittarius, Gemini, Scorpio etc.) While astrology is not a recognized science, many people believe that horoscopes can predict future events, at least to some extent.
In China, on the other hand, Chinese animal zodiac signs are much more common. This article is about where the Chinese “horoscope” comes from, how that zodiac is structured and which customs can be observed in this regard.
There are several legends about the origin of the zodiac. One tells of a race through a river called by the emperor, others say that the Buddha called all animals to him before he left the earth or for a celebration. What the stories have in common, however, is that the years were named after the twelve animals that arrived first. The rat arrived first, so the calendar starts with the year of the rat, buffalo, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally the pig followed. These Chinese signs of the zodiac are repeated every twelve years. Each animal shapes its year with its character and thus the babies born in the corresponding year get the respective characteristics. According to Chinese belief, everyone has the animal in whose year they were born in their heart.
It must be noted, however, that the Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, which is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice and therefore begins between January 21 and February 21. This new year is the year of the buffalo in Asia and especially in China. It starts on February 12, 2021 and ends on January 31, 2022.
In addition to the animals, there are also five elements in the Chinese horoscope (water, wood, fire, earth and metal). These are valid for two consecutive years and are also associated with certain properties. The whole Chinese zodiac cycle begins with the year of the “water rat” and thus lasts a total of 60 years. Water means, for example, that people have good intuition and are empathetic.
By the way, the most popular animal sign in China is the dragon. It stands for luck, health, wealth, kindness, intelligence and ambition, so that hopeful parent’s efforts result in more children that are born in the year of the dragon than in the other years.
Unlike the western zodiac signs, the Chinese signs of the zodiac say something about a person’s character rather than about the course of the near future. But they are also associated with superstitions and other customs. Among other things, it is said that in the year of your own animal (本命年, i.e. every 12 years) you have more misfortune. To prevent this, you should wear red underwear, socks and / or accessories before midnight of the New Year, as this can drive away evil spirits. Even during important events later that year, it is customary to use red underwear to ward off bad luck. So if you were born in 1985 or 1997 and have an exam coming up soon, it might be time for you to get some red panties.
Traditionally, the search for a partner can also be influenced by the zodiac. For example, pig and goat or snake and rooster should go well together.
Nowadays the signs of the zodiac are still widespread in China, but they rarely determine the choice of partner and the “western” zodiac signs are also becoming increasingly popular.