The History of the Chinese Zodiac

The History of the Chinese Zodiac

Legends and mythology are a big part of Chinese culture, especially in relation to the Chinese Zodiac.

The 12 animals that appear on the Chinese Zodiac calendar include a rat, buffalo (ox), tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

It’s an unusual combination of animals for sure, and their appearance on the Chinese Zodiac is the topic of countless legends and is deeply embedded in Chinese mythology.

An unlikely gathering the Story

The most well-known of the Chinese zodiac legends states that Buddha invited the animals to participate in a race. The prize was a coveted position on the Chinese Zodiac calendar. The first 12 animals to cross the river would appear on the Chinese Zodiac calendar in the order in which they completed the race.

The first animal to make it across the finish line according to Chinese Zodiac legends and mythology was the rat. It seems unlikely that such a small animal could win such a strenuous race, especially when one considers all the contenders.

Chinese Zodiac legends and mythology explains that the rat used his brain rather than his brawn. It hitched a ride on what it perceived was the mightiest swimmer. Just before the buffalo reached the shore, the rat jumped off the buffalo’s back and crossed the finish line before the buffalo, putting the rat in the first place.

The buffalo aka the OX, came in second and as promised in the legends and mythology, was the second animal listed on the Chinese Zodiac.

tiger chinese zodiac

The tiger, also being strong, came in third, followed by the rabbit that jumped his way across and was helped during the last stretch by the dragon.

THE Dragon – everyone’s favorite

dragon chinese zodiac

A snake hid in the hoof of the horse which is how it managed to make it across the river.

horse chinese zodiac

At the last minute, the snake jumped out and scared the horse into seventh place.

chinese zodiac the snake

The sheep, monkey and rooster helped one another across and earned their spots on the calendar as well.

The dog made it too, but decided a bath was more important than the position which is why it came in eleventh.

COW Chinese Zodiac Signsdog

Finally, the pig appeared and is listed last.

the Pig

According to Chinese Zodiac legends and mythology, the pig feasted and rested half-way through the race, but made it across guaranteeing its position.

A small gathering

The history of the Chinese Zodiac weaves another intriguing tale. This one tells of an invitation to a grand feast. All the animals were invited to join Buddha at either a birthday celebration, a New Year celebration, or a celebration for his departure from this world. Only 12 animals showed up at the festivities and that’s how they ended up being featured on the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Another of the legends of the Chinese Zodiac states that instead of Buddha, it was the Jade Emperor who invited the animals.

Regardless of the specific version of Chinese Zodiac history to which you subscribe, the Chinese Zodiac has amazed and entertained people around the world for thousands of years.

Chinese 12 Zodiac Signs

Find Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

Chinese zodiac animals have lucky meanings. Chinese people associate each animal with certain characteristics. It’s believed that people born in a given year have the personality of that year’s animal.

Click the animal signs below to learn more about each zodiac animal.

  1. The Rat 
  2. The OX
  3. The Tiger
  4. The Rabbit
  5. The Dragon
  6. The Snake
  7. The Horse
  8. The Sheep 
  9. The Monkey 
  10. The Rooster
  11. The Dog
  12. The Pig

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