The myth behind the Chinese zodiac – Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen

The myth behind the Chinese zodiac – Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen


What’s your sign? In Western astrology, it’s a constellation determined by
when your birthday falls in the calendar. But according to the Chinese zodiac,
or shēngxiào, it’s your shǔxiàng, meaning the animal
assigned to your birth year. And of the many myths explaining
these animal signs and their arrangement, the most enduring one is
that of the Great Race. As the story goes, Yù Dì, or Jade Emperor,
Ruler of the Heavens, wanted to devise a way to measure time,
so he organized a race. The first twelve animals to make it
across the river would earn a spot on the zodiac calendar
in the order they arrived. The rat rose with the sun
to get an early start, but on the way to the river, he met the horse, the tiger, and the ox. Because the rat was small
and couldn’t swim very well, he asked the bigger animals for help. While the tiger and horse refused, the kind-hearted ox agreed
to carry the rat across. Yet, just as they were about
to reach the other side, the rat jumped off the ox’s head
and secured first place. The ox came in second, with the powerful tiger right behind him. The rabbit,
too small to battle the current, nimbly hopped across stones and logs
to come in fourth. Next came the dragon,
who could have flown directly across, but stopped to help some creatures
she had encountered on the way. After her came the horse,
galloping across the river. But just as she got across,
the snake slithered by. The startled horse reared back,
letting the snake sneak into sixth place. The Jade Emperor looked out at the river and spotted the sheep, the monkey,
and the rooster all atop a raft, working together to push it
through the weeds. When they made it across, the trio agreed to give eighth place
to the sheep, who had been the most comforting
and harmonious of them, followed by the monkey and the rooster. Next came the dog,
scrambling onto the shore. He was a great swimmer, but frolicked in the water for so long
that he only managed to come in eleventh. The final spot was claimed by the pig, who had gotten hungry and stopped
to eat and nap before finally waddling
across the finish line. And so, each year is associated with one
of the animals in this order, with the cycle starting over
every 60 years. Why 60 and not twelve? Well, the traditional Chinese calendar
is made up of two overlapping systems. The animals of the zodiac are associated
with what’s called the Twelve Earthly Branches, or shí’èrzhī. Another system, the Ten Heavenly Stems,
or tiāngān, is linked with the five classical elements of metal, xīn, wood, mù, water, shuǐ, fire, huǒ, and earth, tǔ. Each element is assigned yīn or yáng, creating a ten-year cycle. When the twelve animals
of the Earthly Branches are matched with the five elements plus the yīn or the yáng
of the Heavenly Stems, it creates 60 years
of different combinations, known as a sexagenary cycle, or gānzhī. So someone born in 1980 would have
the sign of yáng metal monkey, while someone born in 2007
would be yīn fire pig. In fact, you can also have an inner animal
based on your birth month, a true animal based on your birth date, and a secret animal based on
your birth hour. It was the great race
that supposedly determined which animals were enshrined
in the Chinese zodiac, but as the system spread through Asia, other cultures made changes
to reflect their communities. So if you consult the Vietnamese zodiac, you may discover that you’re a cat,
not a rabbit, and if you’re in Thailand, a mythical snake called a Naga
replaces the dragon. So whether or not you place stock
in what the zodiac says about you as an individual, it certainly reveals much about
the culture it comes from.

100 thoughts on “The myth behind the Chinese zodiac – Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen

  1. Is there a website that can determine all these about you, like inner animal, secret animal, and the fire/earth/etc stuff?

  2. What's more funny is most people are like there Chinese animal. Can you do the Celtic Calendar please. With the western zodiac and the Chinese one and the Celtic I'm born triple Earth sign. No one is as placid as me, and i mean NO ONE.

  3. According to Vietnamese myth, after the race, Hằng Nga – Moon Lady (the lady owns moon palace) need an animal to become her assistant. Because rabbit is the cutest animal (u know girl always like cute and fluffy things), she chose it to come with her. Jade emperor felt so hard to decide to give her or not bcause he needed 12 animals to represent the time. At that time, cat (which slept all day and just woke up at the end of the race) arrive at Jade palace. Jade emperor gave Moon Lady the rabbit and replaced rabbit with cat in the Zodiac signs.
    My mom always says that everyone who were born in year of cat (like me) achieves things without any effort (definitely it's wrong, but it's funny)
    Some of teenagers say that Moon lady chose the rabbit just because she needed carrots. 🌝 🌝 🌝

  4. An the moral of the story is we all need each other the reason being because we are all One coming from the same place and experiencing being the part of the One that we are. Opposites don't attract, like attracts like. Proton and electron or male an female attract each-other because in truth they are two parts of the same One! The purpose in dividing up originally was because we were lonely. You are the part of God that you are..

  5. Wow. .I always new I was born year of the Tiger, I just didn't know that there was an element and an attribute attached to it …

  6. Because it is lunar, the year alone does not accurately determine your sign. I was also born in 1980, and spent my whole life thinking I was a Monkey, only to find out I was a sheep, being born in January of that year.

  7. Great! Sometimes the books don't give you an overview like this. I could have more animal spirits, how neat!😽😼😻😻😹🙊🙉😸😸🙈🙈🙉😺🐀🐄🐎🦄🦄🐇🐖🐢🐢🐉🐲🐩🐮🐰🐻🦁🐷🐼🐲🐩🐪🐫🐤🐡🐠🐳🐋🐬🐦🦃🐟🐟🐧🐘🐪🐙🐙🐞🐓🐓🐒🐖🐎🐄🐪🐔🐓🐧🦃🕊🐑🐈

  8. What I love about this video is on how these three animals, which are the sheep, rooster and monkey, helped each other finishing the race. Goes to show that great trio did really exist way back then.

  9. This story is familiar to me.

    Plus I’m half japanese so I can speak Japanese and I’m still a kid and I’m learning 3rd grade kanji (cause I’m in 3rd grade)

    And imspeak a few languages

  10. Thank you for shedding light on the origins of the zodiac. With no offence intended, the title however seem to suggest something else. Generally to say the myth of something is to question its authencity and perhaps suggests its reality. In that context, i find it doesnt justify as the title to this wonderful animation of history superbly presented bilingually perfectly.

  11. The animals are a subsequent development to explain the Twelve Earthly Branches. To quote wiki:
    “This system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of 歲星 Suìxīng (Jupiter, the Year Star). Astronomers rounded the orbit of Suixing to 12 years (from 11.86). Suixing was associated with 攝提 Shètí (η Boötis) and sometimes called Sheti.

    In correlative thinking, the 12 years of the Jupiter cycle also identify the 12 months of the year, 12 animals (mnemonics for the system), directions, seasons, and Chinese hour in the form of double hours.”

  12. I wonder why there is no bird (aerial ones) won? It was them who announced the race to all creatures and they can travel with ease so they could have overtook that boar too.

  13. ironically i celebrate every year but i never actually learned the story cuz i lived overseas and it was way to complicated

  14. Not entirely correct… I’m born in 2007 but I’m a dog that’s because I’m born before Chinese new year

  15. Can One of you recommend a site/homepage where i can find all my animals? And not just my animal of birth year. Im water rooster from 1993 would like to know all the others 🙂

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