Why are there Chinese Zodiac Signs and what do they mean?
Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and with this year being the year of the Ox some people are due for a very lucky year. Intrigued by the what your Chinese Zodiac Sign is and what it means? Then read on…
The Origin of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs
In Chinese history it is believed that there was a Chaste Queen who prayed for an heir to take over the Throne from her sick, elderly husband. Her wish was granted, and she was gifted with a male child, who later came to be known as the Jade Emperor.
The Supreme August Jade Emperor, also known as Yuihuang Shangdi, was the governor of the Cosmos and lived in a palace located at the highest point in heaven. He and his wife, the Jade Empress, were blessed with a large family and built an entourage of ministers and officials to help him reign. However, he began to realise he was missing royal guards and hatched a plan to find some.
The Jade Emperor arranged a challenge and invited all the animals in the world to compete. He arranged a race with several obstacles- which only the worthiest would pass, with the promise that the first twelve animals to complete the race and pass through the heavenly gates to his palace, would become his official guards.
Many animals started the race, but only 12 finished and they are: the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig and Rat. Here is how the legend goes:
The Diligent Ox used its sheer size and weight to charge through the obstacles and as she approached the river, the finish line was in sight. As she found the race easy, due to her ‘bulldozer’ effect approach, the Ox did not mind the Rat hitching a ride and was more than happy to assist him in the race. Right before the finish line the crafty Rat leapt off the Ox’s head, crossing the line mere milliseconds before the Ox, claiming first place. Therefore, the Rat is the first sign of the Chinese Zodiac, and the Ox second.
The Jade Emperor was impressed with the Ox’s kind and generous nature during the race and awarded her the place of a star in the heavens, and a special task. He sent her down to Earth with a message from the Emperor to the poor, promising that all starving peasants would eat at least once every three days so they did not starve. However, the Ox became too excited by the honour of completing another one of the Emperors task’s that she unfortunately got the message wrong and promised the peasants that they would eat at least three times a day!
The starving labourers soon became agitated that the Jade Emperor hadn’t kept to his promise and soon began to disbelieve in him. The Jade Emperor was furious about this mistake and punished the Ox by removing her from Heaven and making her stay on Earth to become a continued source of food, transportation and planting. People born in the year of the Ox are believed to be loyal, and honest, with the skill of a great memory! (Learnt from the mistake of the Ox in the Jade Emperor days!)
The Tiger is known as the King of the Beasts and was a firm favourite for many to win the race, however after passing many obstacles with ease he approached the final one – the challenging river. The Tiger being proud and powerful, decided to take the final challenge head on and jumped into the river to swim to the other side. The current was strong, but the Tigers determination was stronger, and he struggled to the shore, securing his third place title.
The Tiger was exhausted and panting at the finish line, but still found the energy to boast about how strong he was to have succeeded. The Jade Emperor was impressed with his determination and will to succeed so awarded the tiger with an extra gift – three stripes on his head to represent three important pillars, Heaven, People and the Earth – with a vertical line linking them. Even today you can see the the pattern on Tiger’s heads that have passed down generation after generation.
Those born in the year of the Tiger are not afraid to work alone and are known for having very powerful energy. They are passionate and charismatic with strong ambition and willingness to be in charge or lead teams. Whilst Tigers want to win big, they also appreciate the smaller successes and can be known for their generosity and ability to work in a team.
The Rabbit spent time sizing up the race to make calm and collected decisions in order to best overcome the obstacles. With a dose of good luck, the rabbit overcame the obstacles to reach the final one – the dreaded river.
The Rabbit, who was unable to swim, carefully analysed the situation and began to hop cautiously between the rocks to reach the mid-river point, where The Rabbit’s belief of good-luck and good-karma paid off as a log appeared, floating towards the shore. The Rabbit climbed onto the log and it stopped, leaving her stranded in the river and her doubting the luck she had been given.
Soon approached The Dragon, who saw the Rabbit’s predicament and kindly blew a gust of smoke to float the Rabbit to shore, and secure her fourth place. Due to the Rabbit’s pleasing nature, she expressed extreme gratitude to the Dragon, and they became friends. There was born the idea that people born within the year of the Rabbit are friendly, approachable and are often liked by many. Rabbit’s have very good intuition and a great judge of character, hence why she was not intimated by the Dragon’s scary appearance when sparking a friendship.
The Dragon started the race in good stead, and as he craves to be of use and find a purpose or goal in life, he took the race very seriously and had first place in his mind. However, during the race, the Dragon noticed how thirsty the people, animals and land were, so he stopped and used his powers to make it rain. The Dragon has a passionate nature and if he can do anything to reduce the suffering of anyone, he will do what he can to help, which cost him the win of the race.
The Dragon continued in the race and noticed a Rabbit stuck on a log in the middle of the river. In one last attempt to be of use, he blew smoke to drift the Rabbit to the shore, and watched her cross the finish line, before crossing in fifth place.
People who are born in the year of the Dragon, are intelligent, courageous and charismatic, as well as being natural born leaders. They also like to help people and will often put others before themselves.
The Snake recognised that this race would be extremely difficult for him to complete, so needed to use his initiative to stand a chance of coming in the top 12. After attempting a few of the obstacles, the Snake paused to come up with a plan, and noticed the Horse approaching. The Snake waited for the Horse to pass and slithered secretly into its hoof, hiding there until the very end of the race when he could jump out and pass the finish line in sixth place.
Others believe that Dragon’s formed from Snakes and that the Snake is actually the Dragon’s son, and that the Jade Emperor took pity on The Snake and gave him sixth place, over the Horse, despite the Horse crossing the line first.
People born in the year of the Snake are enigmatic, intuitive and learn form their mistakes so they can find resolutions to all sorts of situations. People also born on this year don’t forgive easily and are capable of long-term revenge and holding grudges, and it takes them a long time to build trust and relationships with others. But once that relationship is built, they live much happier lives and commit fully, as long as they are granted their periods of alone time too!
The Horse prepped for the race and attempted it with full speed, strength and intent, with a top place in mind. The obstacles did not concern the Horse as he was prepared and ready to go. In the Horse’s blinkered focus of the finish line, he failed to notice the Snake hitch a ride inside his hoof.
As the Horse reached the shore of the river and was about to take on the home stretch, the Snake jumped out from his hoof and slithered off ahead, causing the Horse to spook and rear back. This reaction cost the Horse sixth place and taught the Horse to be more prepared as he scared too easily. The Jade Emperor was pleased that he could include the Horse in his line up and gladly awarded him seventh place.
Those born in the year of the Horse are said to have inexhaustible energy, are easy-going and adventurous. They are quick thinkers and use their initiative to solve most things at speed. They are popular and found to be the centre of large social happenings, as well as being good with money and finances.
The Sheep / The Goat
The Sheep (sometimes known as The Goat) was concerned by the race and knew that it would need to rely on others to finish the race. After watching a few others take on the obstacles, the Sheep made allies with the Monkey and the Rooster and they all agreed to work together to complete the race.
The Sheep helped clear a raft of weeds, to allow them all to cross the river to the finish line. The Sheep, Rooster and Monkey did technically cross the finish line together, however as the Sheep is considered a prosperous animal in Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor awarded him with eighth place, in recognition that eight was a lucky number.
People born in the year of the Sheep / The Goat tend to be happier in a group or team, they don’t like to lead or be in charge and flourish the most in an environment where they can work at their own pace. They are intelligent, romantic, charming and compassionate and like to look their best whenever possible.
The Monkey was excited for the race and went with a confident attitude hoping to stumble along some mischief on the way. During the race, the Monkey came across the Sheep and the Rooster, who suggested working together.
The Monkey helped prepare the raft to sail across the final obstacle and was an important member of the team due to his skill to untangle almost everything, freeing the raft from overgrown weeds and vines. Due to the Monkey’s ability to untangle the raft, the Jade Emperor awarded him ninth place in the race as he was impressed with his skills.
People born on the year of the Monkey want to know and understand everything and have the potential to be masters of all trades. They have a natural affinity to learn different languages and solve the most knotted of problems. However, as they like to be the centre of attention, their mischievous side comes out, distracting them from their goal.
The Rooster was very attuned to the race and understood the challenge ahead. It was the Rooster who came up with the idea of working as a team to complete the race, and therefore formed a team with The Sheep and The Monkey.
As the most observant and hardworking animal of the bunch, the Rooster spotted a raft, tangled up in weeds and hatched a plan to use it to cross the river. Whilst the Rooster needed the help of the Monkey and the Sheep to release the raft, it was his proud nature and boasting of his good idea that caused the Jade Emperor to award him with the last place of the group, tenth place.
People born in the year of the Rooster are believed to be psychic or have a very good attention to detail. They are also believed to be smart, capable and have a great ability to make something of nothing. They are very sociable and enjoy attention and praise, so are often snappy dressers and spend time on their appearance.
The Dog had all the abilities needed to win the race and started off in a strong lead in the hope of pleasing the Jade Emperor. However, as he approached the river, he stopped to bathe and play in the water, allowing other animals to pass him. Once he realised, he shot past the finish line, claiming eleventh place.
The Dog’s desire to please people was his biggest downfall as it was believed that before the race, the Dog had nine beautiful tails which he used to steal grain from heaven to give to humanity. The Emperors staff noticed and as punishment cut off eight of his tails, allowing the dog to only escape with one tail to carry grain to humanity. The Jade Emperor was impressed with the Dog’s determination at the beginning of the race and gladly awarded him a place as one of his guards, with the warning to not disobey him again.
People born in the year of the Dog are very brave and loyal with a need to be needed. They want to be loved and needed and get pride out of pleasing people. They are not very materialistic, or money driven but will adapt to achieve anything. They are likeable, protective and faithful and often bring joy to those around them.
The Pig’s attitude to the race was the most relaxed of all. The Pig wanted to achieve a top finish, but just went with the flow with little preparation. The Pig did well in the race, even passing several of the other animals, until he reached the midway point and decided to eat and take a nap. The Pig, believing he was ahead of many other animals, barely achieved twelfth place as luckily, he was awoken by the loud excited Dog playing in the river.
The Pig’s biggest downfall was over-indulging and being too laid back about the race, so when he crossed the line in twelfth place the Jade Emperor could see that he had learnt the biggest lesson of all and was delighted to offer him the last spot on his team of guards. The Pig is also believed to be a sign of luck and the Emperor wanted as much luck as he could get.
People born in the year of the Pig are good planners and organisers, which is the after-effect of the lesson the Pig learned in the race. They also work relentlessly to achieve their goals and complete projects on time. The Pig enjoys indulging, and being generous, however their biggest downfall is over-indulging. They are very loyal and loving when it comes to relationships and love to socialise and make and keep friends.
The ‘quick-witted’ Rat started off first, with an early rise in the morning and was able to scurry past most of the obstacles to see the Heavenly gates in reach. However, when he reached the final obstacle (a river) he was unable to pass, so waited there contemplating his next move.
Eventually the Rat saw the Ox approaching and decided to use the Ox to cross the river. As the Ox neared, he noticed a cunning Cat had hitched a ride on the Ox’s back too, and realised he had strong competition. The Rat waited till the opportune moment and leapt up onto the Ox’s back as he entered the river. In doing this, the Rat knocked the Cat off of the Ox’s back, leaving the Cat to unfortunately drown in the river, and therefore not make the final 12 line-up. Many believe this is where the feud between Cat & Rats/Mice came from as the Cat has never forgiven the Rat and will therefore spend eternity chasing the Rat/Mice to seek revenge. People born in the year of the Rat are cunning and wise with a strong initiative, much like the traits used by the Rat in the race.
What does it mean when your year comes around?
Some people believe that the year representing your birth animal is your luckiest and most productive year. As this happens once every 12 years, you’re in for a good amount of luck in a lifetime.
However, others believe that it can be your unluckiest year, so it pays to be extra vigilant and cautious when your year rolls round.
The year of the Rat (2020) symbolises strong Vitality and is the best year for reproductivity, as approximately 5,000 babies are born to a female rat each year, with a high survival rate and its believed that this trait is present and is manifested in people in the year of the Rat. The Rat also symbolises new beginnings in Chinese beliefs.
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