According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as
to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decid
e and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of
the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive
their years according to their finish.
All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unkn
own to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about
to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. T
he pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the
first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last.
The Chinese animal signs are a 12-year cycle used for dating the ye
ars. They represent a cyclical concept of time, rather than the West
ern linear concept of time. In the Chinese calendar, the beginning o
f the year falls somewhere between late January and early February.
The Chinese have adopted the Western calendar since 1911, but the lu
nar calendar is still used for festive occasions such as the Chinese
New Year. Many Chinese calendars will print both the solar dates an
d the Chinese lunar dates.
A cultural sidelight of the animal signs in Chinese folklore is tha
t horoscopes have developed around the animal signs, much like mont
hly horoscopes in the West have been developed for the different mo
on signs, Pisces, Aries, etc. For example, a Chinese horoscope may
predict that a person born in the Year of the Horse would be, cheer
ful, popular, and loves to cmpliment others. These horoscopes are
amusing, but not regarded seriously by the Chinese people.
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