Like many others, my introduction to the Chinese Zodiac was somewhat prosaic and was while I was eating a meal. Looking down at my placemat I quickly found my own animal symbol and read through how I was expected to act when dealing with others. Perhaps quite surprisingly it was accurate, not so much in the personal traits as these are by definition fairly vague on a paper placemat, but rather in how each of the different animal signs were expected to interact. Reading through these traits and comparing them against what I knew of my friends and family, I knew then that I had to understand this millennia old system quite a bit more.
The History of the Chinese Zodiac (Sheng Xiao)
The Chinese Zodiac (as it is known in English) is based on a lunar calendar and a twelve year cycle and dates from about 2600 BC when it was introduced to then Emperor Huang Ti (Han Dynasty). In this calendar, 12 different animals are assigned in sequence and dependent upon when a person is born, that animal influences their behavior and pattern of behavior in life.
The ancient Chinese observed that each year followed a cycle of 12 full moons and that each day had 12 time periods (Shi Chen). Based on these observations, the Chinese Lunar Calendar was born and the overall cycle of 12 years in each iteration was also decided upon.
The Animals of the Zodiac
There are several theories about the animals in the Chinese Zodiac and why these 12 were selected and others were not. Each animal is said to have certain characteristics; it is these characteristics that are used to evaluate the compatibility between different animals. When establishing compatibility, each sign is grouped with two others, creating four groups called “trines.”
While the common assumption and misconception is that an individual can only have the one animal sign based on the year of their birth, in reality, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals), by day (called true animals), and by hour (called secret animals). As such, there are a total of 103,680 different possible combinations that a person might reflect!