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

By | August 13, 2019

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.

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

  1. Emma Chong Post author

    Anyone else remember hearing about how the mouse tricked the cat so that it could take place instead of the cat.

  2. Tashi Dadon Post author

    M a mouse and I don't get first in life lmao 😂😭

  3. MinganFang AndEverleighTea Post author

    You just guessed my birth year! 😱

  4. SheDoesBeauty Post author

    So horses selfish and scared got it sounds about right. Good thing I'm not one Sheep Gang!

  5. Sohma _Tohru Post author

    what about the 🐱 cat 😭poor KYO😭

  6. Mohd Rehan Khan Post author

    They.make it more complex and complex, for the sake of priest.

  7. Loveunderlaw Heil Lucifer Post author


  8. david charles smith Post author

    There’s a cool book on western and eastern Astrology.combinations By Susan white!

  9. Regulus Post author

    Tiger number 3? seriously?
    in fact we had intelligence, strong body & mind, wisdom, leadership, sharp eyes & sharp mouth, high sense of humor.
    ROFL :v

  10. Wither Skelleton456 Post author

    I'd probably be a horse because I'm a ♐

  11. Honey SweetHeart Post author

    Naga and dragon are the same thing though

  12. Troll Proof Vest Post author

    Is that tiger a runway model or what? It looks so malnutritioned…

  13. KomakiChan Post author

    I’m an ox 😀 also what area does the ox come from China I’m in Australia I can speak Vietnamese and Chinese:/

  14. Pineapple Pen Post author

    For me, this is what I read:
    The mouse was actually hanging out with a cat then heard the news of the race, the mouse and cat couldn’t swim so the cow helped them, but then, the mouse wanted to win so the mouse pushed the cat into the water. The cat couldn’t swim, 🙄 duh. Then it goes on on and then the winners blah blah blah. So that’s the myth I read and that’s also why, cats hate mouses 😁

  15. Ummu Aiman Post author

    I guess there's no different between dragon and Naga. As our Asian language knows it, Dragon has mean as Naga. So, in other word, both of them are same.

  16. rabies dog Post author

    im a wood dog i was born in 1995 21 January

  17. peenguinne pengguinne Post author

    Uhm, yin and yang, 5 elements, and the 12 animals define the cycle, shouldn't it be 120 instead of 60? Can someone answer this for me? I'm really confused.

  18. Connie Renee Anders Post author

    60 is the year of the Dragon
    Higher forms of a serpent

  19. Tavros Nitram Post author

    2003 I’m a goat or sheep I’m confused 🤷‍♀️

  20. Tristyn Jones Post author

    i'm confused, there are 12 zodiacs, 5 elements, and the 2 (yin and yang), but if you multiply 12, 5, and 2, you get 120, not 60

  21. Morrison Dragon Post author

    Western astrology is not constellation based. It just uses the names of the constellations. It's a system based on the position of the Sun relative to us (Tropical)

  22. A weird boba drink Post author

    I am a dog, and I love water, and swimming. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN

  23. Grim The Ghastly Post author

    Art challenge: draw character based on your Western zodiac sign and your Chinese zodiac sign.

  24. sang Nguyen Hoang Post author

    Sheep zodiac ??? I think Goat Zodiac is more accurate

  25. Ionut Post author

    I am a dragon I think, not sure. In some cases I am another animal.

  26. Paul ANTONESCU Post author

    I believe zodiac is pure statistics and classification determined and based on your birth date and birthplace. I like it

  27. Jayne Williams Post author

    I am a mother of a dragon,😂 a metal dragon to say the least. Being a metal dog it is not often that we sword fight. Thanks for this I love the Chinese Zodiac its more accurate than the western one because of the change in the calendars due to certain ruling parties in history. There should be 13 months with 4 weeks each so 13 star signs also due to history as this topic comes under the occult for which the penalty would for sure mean the end of you.

  28. Muhammad Awis abd Shahadan Post author

    I'm tiger zodiac 1986,bulan 6 Gemini pula😉 02 pula code ic negeri kedah Malaysia, haribulan 18 sebab itu sentiasa 18😝

  29. The Fandom Life Post author

    I don’t think this is exactly what happened but I’ll let it pass haha

  30. Sharlen Simon Post author

    "A mythical snake called a naga replace a dragon"


  31. Zoey Perry Post author

    Not going to lie i got a litto confused but she was really good the speaking Chinese

  32. KageNoTenshi Post author

    Dono where you hear this one, but most of us hears a very different version

  33. Conan The Barbarian Post author

    Chinese astrology is far more accurate then western.

  34. Stephanie Mae Post author

    Waitttt so was did the cat ever exist in the story or was that just fruits basket?

  35. 方翊 Post author

    A lot of things in the video I had never heard about.

  36. luminon rosé Post author

    There is 13 Chinese zodiac signs like there is really 13 Occidental zodiac signs

  37. Smile Dog Post author

    Ik That I’m A Dog Due To Me Being Born On January 11 And As My Birth Year 2006 And Birth Time 11 AM :p

  38. KEV Post author

    You forgot the story of why the cat was not in the race.

  39. elvita a s Post author

    what i know dragon is naga, its just different language

  40. Salomi Rai Post author

    Hii. What will be mine zodic birth year and day is 21.05 .2001.plz

  41. mere wolf Post author

    I was born in 2007 in September on the 24th time 4:11 for my brother 4:00we're both twins

  42. Jordin Tolentino Post author

    Omg when it said 2007 I almost died (cause that's when I was born)

  43. Elias Hossain Post author

    My chinese Zodiac sign is earth Tiger, 😊😊😊😊😊😊

  44. TheMadKing Post author

    Of course mine gets 9th place.


  45. I The Aimee Post author

    I love that it told me exactly what I needed to know

  46. Claire Rose Post author

    I'm a dog but my parents/ bro r snakes. My brother's scared of snakes tho. 😂

  47. toni maitland Post author

    I'm sorry she lost me when she started to explain the 60 years thing

  48. Farah Insyirah Post author

    Actually , naga is a dragon.
    Edit; it is just a name

  49. Nin Mx Post author

    I have been studying the lunar phases together with Japanese astronomy and astrology, based on the writings of the Shinobi no Mono in the Bansenshukai, and the animal that define us completely is the secret. The animal of birth defines how others see us, while the interior, which represents the month, is for questions of love. Ignore anyone other than the time of birth, that is the real one!


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