The Chinese Zodiac Animal Signs in All of Us

Want to know more about where your Animal Sign comes from? This article examines the background and usage of the 12 animal signs of the Chinese Zodiac, or Earthly Branches as they are more correctly known.

What is the Chinese Animal Zodiac?

Chinese 12 zodiac signs revolve around 12 Animals, each of which represents a lunar calendar in the 12-year cycle of the zodiac. The animals are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep (Goat), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig in that order. It is only in recent history that we know them as “Animal Signs”, the proper term is “Earthly Branches” which I will use the shortened term Branches for most of the article.

The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, courtesy of Wikimedia

Origin and story of the Chinese zodiac

The Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) in China is said to have been the origin of the Zodiac signs and mythology. They selected the 12 Branches used to represent the zodiac signs. There is a folk-tale about how the animals were summoned to heaven by Jade Emperor is used to explain the order in which the animal signs come.

As the story goes, the Emperor rules the heavens of China and asked all animals to participate in a race. From the outcome, 12 first animals would be given a place on the calendar. The Rat won by riding on the Ox’s back. The Pig was the last as it had stopped to eat. There are other versions of this story, in Vietnam the Cat replaces the Rabbit; and another where the Cat was first but the Rat tricked her out so she lost her place in the Zodiac entirely.

There is a lot of evidence that the primary reason for the Branches was as a way of counting, identifying, and predicting seasons rather than the modern usage of predicting character, romance, and human behaviour. For instance, the Chinese people traditionally divided the day into 12 segments based on the time of sunrise. Each of the segment divisions has two hours and is called a Shichen.

Each Shichen is linked to one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals by observing the characteristics of animals in different periods. For instance, Rats are most active during 23:00-01:00 when seeking food. Ox ruminates slowly and leisurely at between 01:00-03:00 while Tigers are most ferocious and hurt prey more between the hours before dawn 03:00-05:00.

Earthly Branches and Chinese folk culture

The 12 Branches relate to Chinese astronomy, astrology and calendar. After observing the Earth’s place using astronomy, they divided twelve months into a year and 12 two-hour periods in a day to devise a simple calendar that common people could use.

The Branches have been used to predict the seasons and characteristics of people. It is also used to calculate compatibility for love and marriage. Even now, there are many people who also use the Earthly Branches to predict whether they are pregnant with a boy or girl (even though modern science has solved that).

For this method, the Chinese gender calendar is used. From the chart, one can predict or guess the gender of the baby based on one’s lunar age and the month they got pregnant to determine the baby’s gender.

Earthly Branches – Astrological Uses

On a basic level, the Branches are divided into six pairs in which the two animals in a pair have the same Chinese Five Element but one is Yang, the other Yin. Think of Yang as the + on a battery and Yin as the -, or Yang is the 1 and Yin is the 0 in digital terms. In other words, they have similar likes, attributes and characteristics but are still distinct and different. For example, the Rat is Yang Water and the Pig is Yin Water.

Personality characteristics can be applied to the Branches. While the Rat is a symbol of wisdom, Ox signifies diligence. The Tiger signifies valor and vigor and the Rabbit prudence. Dragon symbolizes strength and inflexibility while the Snake flexibility.

In mythology, the Horse is associated with persistence and forward marching and Sheep indicates peace. The Monkey symbolizes flexibility while the Rooster constancy. The Dog is said to be loyal while the Pig is amiable.

The Branches can also combine with each other, for instance the Rat and Ox are placed together. Tiger and Pig, Dragon and Rooster, Horse and Sheep, Monkey and Snake, and Dog and Rabbit are all of the other “Six Harmony” combinations.

A Feng Shui or BaZi Master will use the Branches Elements, personality characteristics, combinations and clashes for all Four Branches that a person has on their chart (yes, you have 4 Animal signs, not just the year you were born!) to work out how to best help them gain the most from life.

There's Even More to the Chinese Animal Signs

2022 is a Tiger year in the Chinese calendar, there are many articles and Youtube videos that create predictions for all of the 12 Branches, but only based on the year of birth. They most certainly give you a good perspective of the energy that you will experience.

When you are wanting to have more control of your life and what happens though, an online calculator that uses just the Year you were born just won’t cut it. Since you have 4 Branches (and 4 Stems), the process of determining your innate energy becomes a complex matter that an expert will be able to guide you with.

Book a recorded or live BaZi Chinese Astrology reading with Dean to discover how you can boost the high’s and smooth out the low’s in your life.

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Dean French

With over two decades of practical Feng Shui experience, Dean French is known for his down-to-earth attitude, perceptive observational skills, and his direct and honest communication. Amongst his clients, he has a reputation as an accomplished consultant that has grown through perseverance, professional diligence, conscientious integrity, and the outstanding transformative life shifts they receive.

One Response

  1. I don’t know if I can believe my zodiac sign. I mean I know the western version of it and I thought it would be the same here as well but boy was I in for a shock. I mean I was just trying to do some research on zodiac signs and I was a intrigued by this article. Had me hooked with the mythical story involving the jade emperor. I was thinking, could you do like a chronology article, something that focuses on explaining the shift in lore for each generation or something. I really had fun reading this and found it educating. Cheers

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One Response

  1. I don’t know if I can believe my zodiac sign. I mean I know the western version of it and I thought it would be the same here as well but boy was I in for a shock. I mean I was just trying to do some research on zodiac signs and I was a intrigued by this article. Had me hooked with the mythical story involving the jade emperor. I was thinking, could you do like a chronology article, something that focuses on explaining the shift in lore for each generation or something. I really had fun reading this and found it educating. Cheers

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