The animals of the Chinese zodiacs are a representation of the magical animals in ancient Chinese people. They play an important role in Chinese New Year paintings, paper cut outs, shadow puppets, and much more. In several traditional Chinese festivals, the image of the zodiac has a special cultural meaning.
The zodiac has zi-mouse, cho-cattle, yin-tiger, mao-rabbit, chen-dragon, si-snake, wu-horse, wei-sheep, sheng-monkey, yiu-chicken, xu-dog, hai-pig. The origin of the zodiac came from myths and legends (zi, cho, yin, and so on indicate the birth year of each zodiac). It was said that the Jade Emperor wanted to choose twelve different kinds of animals to represent the zodiac. The legend goes on to say, he wanted an election to rank the animals and only the top twelve ranked were chosen. Therefore, all the animals prepared diligently to be ranked in the zodiac. The zodiac history can be tracked back to the Spring and Autumn Warring States before the Qin Dynasty. This myth has been in the Chinese culture for almost three thousand years since today. The Chinese zodiac is an irremovable mark for the Chinese nation and has a unique characteristic in Chinese culture. Each animal from the zodiac represents either a good personality or a fine quality of a person. For instance, the mouse indicates a person is smart and hardworking. The Chinese zodiac is the bond maintaining the relationships and culture in China. Having a Chinese Zodiac means we all belong to the Chinese nation no matter where we are in this world.
The ancestors of China associated the twelve zodiac animals with certain personalities, symbols, or qualities. The mouse is ranked first in the zodiac and symbolizes spirituality, vitality, and delicacy. Following the mouse is the ox. Ancient people believed that the ox had the divine power of “soil” and “water” in Wu Xing, a symbol of peace and prosperity because of its diligence with great strength and determination. Also, oxen in the western countries are a symbol of wealth. After the ox is the tiger, the king of the forest who is mysterious and inviolable. The tiger symbolizes justice, courage, and majesty. The next rank in the zodiac is the rabbit, it symbolizes as the dawn having infinite vitality. They are clever and good at protecting themselves, so they symbolize wit, agility, kindness, manners, good advice, and the love of beauty. The fifth ranked animal in the zodiac is the dragon. Along with being the most popular zodiac, it is a mascot in the Chinese nation, and also an eternal totem. The dragon represents power, nobility, luck, and success. These traits symbolize the outstanding characteristics in traditional Chinese culture. After the dragon is the snake also called the “tiny dragon” and it symbolizes luck, auspiciousness, and sacristy. In the myth of the zodiac, the snake represents the pursuit of love and happiness. Furthermore, the snake and the turtle signify the longevity of China. Following the snake is the horse, a symbol of ability, wisdom, and talent that often likens to a “swift horse”. The spirit of the dragon and horse is same as the Chinese spirit that we never give up and remain optimistic at all times and places. The eight ranked animal in the zodiac is the sheep and it is the symbol of docileness, gentleness, and bowing. There is an ancient Chinese saying, “sheep, auspicious”. In ancient Chinese characters, the sheep has the same meaning as auspicious. Next is the monkey, a symbol of leadership, wit, intelligence, faithfulness, and confidence. The monkey is not easily tamed and it has a hyperactive, playful, and naughty side. Following the monkey is the chicken. It has been included in the five animals of virtue that symbolize trust, punctuality, ordinariness, and popularity. Not only that, it represents the courage needed when facing challenges. The crowing of the cock reports the dawn, but also inspires people’s minds, so a lot people with ambition remind themselves by “hearing the crowing and dance” for inspiration. The second to last ranked animal in the zodiac is the dog. Not only does the dog represent loyalty, it can predict the future and eliminate disasters. The final ranked Zodiac and twelfth is the pig and it symbolizes kindness, loyalty, prudence, honesty, and tolerance. In addition to its honest and veracious personality, the pig represents wealth.
Every animal in the Chinese zodiac is related to one another and has six reincarnations, which can be divided into six groups with two animals in each group, and each group has its different implied meaning. For instance, the last group of the zodiac is the dog and pig; the dog symbolizes loyalty and pig symbolizes easy-going-ness. If a person is too loyal, he or she will exclude other people and if a person is too easy-going, then he or she will lose their own principles. Chinese people wonder if they can be both loyal and easy going while maintaining their loyalty. In addition to that, they are unsure if they can be both sophisticated, yet true to their heart. Furthermore, they want to know if they can be polite, yet be able to disagree others. These are the things that Chinese people think about when considering zodiacs.
Everyone has a different zodiac animal depending on their birth. Our ancestors hoped that every descendant could use the representations of these animals to become gentler, not too aggressive and know how to deal with the things from a polite angle. This is an important expectation in Chinese custom and folklore.
The cultural characteristics in the Chinese zodiac have influenced people’s lives, customs, and every aspect in China. Moreover it plays an important process in people’s lives, even more, it will influence people’s mental aspect of belief and perspective on fate. Therefore, the zodiac has been a cultural symbol for a long time and is like a shadow accompanying every person throughout their life. We can tell the Zodiac has been a vital part in forming Chinese culture.