Many people follow western astrology and will know the zodiac signs. Often we know certain personality traits of our sign and maybe even our compatibility with other signs. But not many western people pay close attention to Chinese Astrology (shengxiao).
Similarly to the western zodiac, Chinese astrology also includes 12 signs however these are based on 12 years rather than the months of the year. Chinese astrology also includes alignment of your birth month, day and hour whereas western zodiac is based on the alignment of planets, stars and the moon.
Animals are used to date the 12 years in Chinese astrology. These are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. There are different beliefs where these 12 animals originated from.
According to one legend, the great Buddha invited all animals to come and join him for the New Year but only twelve species accepted the invitation. To reward them, Buddha offered to name a year after the animals and from that point on, anyone who was born in that year would share the animal’s qualities. There is also another theory that these animals were chosen because of how special they are to Chinese people. The ox, horse, goat, rooster, pig, and dog are the main domestic animals in China and the others are all loved by the Chinese people.
One of the best-known origin stories of the Chinese Zodiac, however, is the Heavenly Gate Race. In this version, the Jade Emperor put out the message that he wanted 12 animals to be his guards. He stated that the earlier the animal passed through the Heavenly Gate, the higher ranking they would have. The outcome of this race is what determined the order we know today. There are different traits that the animals possess that could show why the animals placed in the order they did. For example the winner, Rat, got up very early but struggled to cross the river. Upon seeing Ox about to cross he jumped into his ear as they passed through the river. Just as they were about to get to the gate, Rat jumped out of Ox’s ear to the Emperor and so Rat was first and Ox second.
In some ways, Chinese astrology is quite complex. Similarly to the western zodiac, it includes the elements however in Chinese astrology there are five elements; fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. It also differs because the Chinese New Year does not fall on the same date each year, it begins with the second new-moon day after the winter solstice, so this could be January or February.
Interestingly, when it is the year of your birth animal it is said to be bad luck because of the offense it causes to the God of Age. To avoid this bad luck, you should wear something red that has been given to you by a relative.
Even though there are many differences between Chinese astrology and traditional horoscopes, with such a long and rich history, Chinese astrology is most definitely one to take into account.