Happy New Year! And welcome to the Chinese Zodiac
Last updated 1-29-09 at 1:19 p.m.
By Leanne Italie
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The ox carried the rat, who pushed the cat, who nearly drowned and lost the race in a popular legend behind the Chinese Zodiac, an ancient system steeped in lore that both puzzles and enthralls people around the world.
This year, the 15-day Chinese New Year began Jan. 26, ushering in the Year of the Ox. But why does the year begin then, and why are the years marked by roosters and dragons and pigs?
The Chinese Zodiac is said to follow the stations of Jupiter’s orbit around the sun, which is just shy of 12 years. The animals mark years in a 12-year cycle that begins with rat, followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar.
Why they fall that way has a colorful past.
One story has Buddha inviting all the animals in the kingdom to a meeting. In another, it's the Jade Emperor holding a great banquet. Some animals outwit others to get there first, with their places in the zodiac assigned according to when they arrived.
A third legend is more like “The Amazing Race,” which includes plotting, scratching, and clawing in a competition that includes a river crossing followed by a gathering at the emperor’s palace. The kindly ox agrees to carry the scheming rat and the cat across the water on his back, but the rat betrays the cat by pushing him into a swift current and hops off the ox to claim the top spot.
The cat and the rat were once best friends but become mortal enemies after the cat fails to make the top 12.
Millions of people consult horoscopes around the world, including China. The animal of your birth year defines and influences you as it “hides in your
heart” for the rest of your life, a Chinese saying goes. In addition to dictating individual destiny and personality, some believe the animal influences events throughout the year.
“People definitely draw inspiration from what animal they are,” said Oliver Chin, a San Francisco publisher who writes books for children about the Chinese Zodiac. “Clearly, interest has spread in all directions. It’s a way to remind yourself of your nature and the characteristics that come from that.”
A person born in the Year of the Ox, for example, may be considered hardworking and dependable, while Rats might be shrewd, Pigs simple, and Dragons noble and self-assured.
The more commonly used Gregorian calendar was introduced in China in 1912, but an ancient calendar system continues to mark traditional dates for holidays and festivals. Chinese New Year fluctuates with the appearance of the second new moon after the winter solstice in late January or early February.
The ancient calendar is a mathematician’s delight, but it did not originally include the animals.
Seemingly intended to create order out of chaos by marking positions of celestial bodies, the calendar has parts dating to the Shang dynasty in the second millennium BC. Unlike other cultures that had separate calendars to track the incongruous cycles of the moon and the sun, the Chinese calendar reconciled them into one system.
It is unknown when the animals were integrated.
“People young and old are fascinated,” Chin said of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. “Everyone wants their turn in the spotlight, and it’s a little more special when you have to wait 12 years rather than 12 months. It’s always something to look forward to when your year rolls around.” (end)
LUNAR NEW YEAR
NWAW, SCP, and Seattle Art Museum present "A Quick and Fun Lunar Art Activity" as a part of Seattle Chinatown/International District's Lunar New Year Celebration 2009
11 a.m.-4 p.m.
NW Asian Weekly/Seattle Chinese Post lobby
412 Maynard Ave. S., Seattle