The Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac is familiar to most of us through the placemats we see in Asian restaurants. In the Far East however, it is used to track the twelve year cycle of Jupiter. The corresponding animals of their zodiac represent the constellations that lie in the ninety degree perimeter of the pole-star unlike the western zodiac which is defined by the consellations that fall within the path of the sun and planets (known as the ecliptic). The Big Dipper or Pei Tou is the most important consellation in Chinese astrology because all the other stars revolve around it.

As with the western zodiac the Chinese zodiac was used for divination.

This ninth-century Tang Dynasty concept describes the universe in five wheels (center to outer ring):

a) To the center is the symbol representing the opposing forces of yin/yang and the duality of nature. Common themes to this division are as follows:
Yin - feminine, negative, yielding/soft, follower
Yang - masculine, positive, resistant/hard, leader

b) Mystical beasts representing the four quarters of the world:
North - Tortoise
South - Phoenix
East - Dragon
West - White Tiger

c) Trigram symbols from the I Ching (the Book of Changes), defined as follows:
||| Heaven, ||¦ The Marsh/Mist, |¦| Fire/Sun, |¦¦ Thunder, ¦|| Wind/Wood, ¦|¦ The Deep/Water, ¦¦| Mountain, and ¦¦¦ Earth

d) The twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac are aligned with the 12-year Jupiter cycle. As part of the Chinese Calendar they are said to define the underlying character for anyone born in a given year.

According to one chinese legend, all the animals were invited to a party hosted by the Emperor of Heaven. As a gift the Emperor assigned the first twelve animals to the zodiac in the order that they arrived. However, in their race to get to the party the final obsticle was a great river which all the animals find a way to cross.

1. Rat

The rat and the cat were not strong enough swimmers to fight the current of the river and so convinced the ox to let them ride on his back to get across. Being too eager to reach the other side; the rat jumped from the shoulders of the ox and became the first to arrive at the party. But in doing so he knocked the cat into the river, whose strong current swept the cat far down stream.

2) Ox

The ox was strong and big enough to ford the river, but being good-natured he lost his advantage to the cunning rat and so arrived in second place.

3) Tiger

Soon behind the ox came the tiger, whose great strength allowed him to swim against the treacherous current.

4) Rabbit

The rabbit managed to find a series of rocks to hop on in order to cross the river but nearly drown when he slipped from one. Luckily he managed to climb onto a floating log which took him to shore.

5) Dragon

Having the power to fly, the dragon had no problem crossing the river. However, he was held back because he hade to make rain to help a village who was suffering a drought. Just as he was about to arrive he saw the rabbit floating on a log and decided to blow him toward the river bank.

6) Snake

As everyone saw the horse just about to reach the shore, it suddenly reared up when it saw a snake coiled up around its hoof. The snake was flung toward shore even as the horse fell back in surprise.

7) Horse

The horse came in after the snake and to this day is still uneasy at his presence.

8) Sheep

The sheep, monkey and rooster worked together to cross the river. The rooster spotted a small boat hidden in some tall reeds and led the monkey and sheep to it. The sheep cleared the reeds away from the boat and with the help of the monkey, pulled the boat across the river using a rope that was tied to a tree on the other side of the river. The emperor was very pleased with their colaboration and placed them in the zodiac.

9) Monkey


10) Rooster

11) Dog

The dog was one of the best swimmers but became distracted from the task at hand. It was a hot day so the dog decided to frolic in the river and bathe before crossing.

12) Pig

The pig had decided to eat and take a nap before coming to the party and so was the last to arrive.


After being knocked of the back of the ox by the rat, the cat was washed too far down the river to make it to the party in time. To this day the cat has an ongoing vendetta with the rat for getting him excluded from the zodiac.

e) The 28 animals on the outer perimeter are the constellations of the sky equator.

Contact Us

#53 West chitra Street
Srirangam , Tiruchirappalli.
Tamilnadu - 620006, India.
Email: aryabhataastroscience@gmail.com

Follow Us

Site powered by TechCmantiX Technologies Pvt. Ltd