Twelve Chinese animal birth signs might sound new to you; but what if I told you that they’re the Chinese animals that rotate over a 12-year cycle?! You may immediately know what they are. You might even know that after the year of the DOG comes the year of the PIG.
You are correct!
We are talking about the same 12 Chinese animals. Some people call them the Chinese zodiac. Some call them the Chinese horoscope.
But, what do Chinese people call them?
Chinese people call this set of twelve animals 十二生肖 (shí èr shēng xiaào). The literal translation of 十二生肖 (shí èr shēng xiaào) is “twelve birth resemblance.”
WHAT ARE THE 12 CHINESE ANIMAL BIRTH SIGNS?
Did you know that these 12 Chinese animals come in a particular order? There is a rhyme Chinese kids recite so that they know how to say the 12 Chinese animal birth signs in the correct order.
Here’s how it goes in English!
Mouse. Cow. Tiger. Rabbit.
Dragon. Snake. Horse. Ram.
Monkey. Rooster. Dog. Pig.
THE CHINESE ZODIAC STORY
There are many stories and folktales about the Great Race of the animals. Here is a short simple version. Jade Emperor, the God of all Gods, announced that animal names would be added to the calendar years according to their arrival order to the big meeting.
Then, the word got out.
CAT and MOUSE were the first ones to head out. They got a ride on the back of the kind COW who agreed to carry them across a river. As CAT, MOUSE, and COW were approaching the other side of the river, MOUSE pushed CAT into the water.
Then, MOUSE jumped off COW and ran to Jade Emperor.
MOUSE was first! COW came in second.
Then, the third to arrive was TIGER, who was slowed down by the strong current of the river. Next was RABBIT, who conquered the difficulties on the road and made it to the meeting.
WHERE IS DRAGON?
You see, Jade Emperor was expecting Dragon to show up sooner. So what happened to this powerful amazing creature?
DRAGON came in fifth. The dragon stopped on the way to the meeting because he had to produce rain for villagers who needed water. Jade Emperor was very happy with his good deed.
Next came SNAKE, who secretly held the leg of HORSE for a free ride. HORSE was startled and slowed down when he spotted the SNAKE. So, he placed seventh.
Soon after, RAM, ROOSTER, and MONKEY arrived at the meeting at the same time. These three worked together to find ways to go across the river. Jade Emperor was happy to see such good teamwork between the three. He placed RAM as the eighth. MONKEY was the ninth and ROOSTER was the tenth.
Then, DOG showed up. DOG was a good swimmer and should have gotten to the meeting sooner. But, DOG had too much fun in the water so he came in late. However, he told Jade Emperor a different story…
As the meeting door was about to close. PIG came in with his sleepy eyes. PIG was hungry during the race so he had to look for some food. Afterward, PIG took a nap. Well, PIG came in last and was placed in twelfth place.
This completes the 12-year cycle on the calendar!
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ANIMALS
Do you know each Chinese animal on the calendar year represents unique characteristics? Many Chinese people believe that a person’s animal birth sign resembles one’s personality. Let’s take a look:
MOUSE: creative and smart.
COW: diligent and patient.
TIGER: adventurous and fair.
RABBIT: driven and graceful.
DRAGON: brave and honest.
SNAKE: artistic and charming.
HORSE: articulate and happy.
RAM: caring and kind.
MONKEY: active and smart.
ROOSTER: charming and courageous.
DOG: honest and devoted.
PIG: considerate and sweet.
Do you find the characteristics match the personality of your family members or friends? It is always a fun conversation topic among Chinese when they touch on the 12 Chinese Animal Birth Signs.
If you want to explore more about Chinese New Year, you can start at the Chinese Lunar New Year Guide – Tradition, Taboos, and Celebration and Chinese New Year collaboration resource here!!
Happy Lunar New Year! Happy Spring Festival! Wishing you and your family a healthy, happy, and wonderful New Year!!
Chinese people call Chinese New Year “Lunar New Year” and “Spring Festival!” Lunar New Year is celebrated not only in China and Taiwan but also in Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam. In addition, countries with overseas Chinese communities also have great celebrations of the Lunar New Year. Such as the Lunar New Year celebration in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Cambodia… just to name a few.
Lunar New Year, more commonly known as Chinese New Year, starts on January 22nd. It is the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit, and we have lots of great ideas for celebrating it with kids!
Don’t miss our author’s interview with Maria Wen Adcock who’s book It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George was recently published by Clarion Books. You can find even more on our Chinese New Year Pinterest board.
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