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The Meaning of the Chinese Zodiac

The meaning of the Chinese Zodiac. (Image: Bob Keating   via   flicker  /  CC BY-SA 2.0)
The meaning of the Chinese Zodiac. (Image: Bob Keating via flicker / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals — the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal is paired with an animal that has the opposite characteristic, and together they reflect the teachings of the ancient Chinese.

The first pair is the rat and the ox. The rat represents wisdom and the ox symbolises diligence. Wisdom and diligence must go hand in hand. If a person only has wisdom without diligence, that person will just be shrewd. If a person was solely diligent without intelligence, that person would lack wisdom. So both wisdom and diligence must be combined.

 The rat represents wisdom. (Image: Cameron Norman via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

The rat represents wisdom. (Image: Cameron Norman via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

The second pair is the tiger and rabbit. The tiger represents bravery, while the rabbit represents caution. Bravery and caution should go hand in hand. Without caution, the brave become reckless, while being blindly cautious would be considered timid. These characteristics are also very important, so they have been positioned as the second pair.

The next pair of animals in the Chinese zodiac is the dragon and the snake. The dragon represents toughness; the snake represents flexibility. The ancient Chinese believe that being firm while being flexible is a very important character trait.

The dragon represents toughness. (Image: Cameron Norman via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

The dragon represents toughness. (Image: Cameron Norman via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

The next pair is the horse and the sheep. The Horse represents resoluteness and obstinacy, while the Sheep represents someone who is considerate. If someone is bent on achieving their goals without being aware of their environment, they are bound to come across obstacles that prevent them from reaching their goals.

However, if a person is always looking for consensus, but is otherwise without direction, they also cannot achieve their goal. So being determined and being considerate are both important traits that go hand in hand. This reflects the fourth set of expectations that the ancients had for the Chinese people.

The next pair is the monkey and the rooster. The monkey represents flexibility. There were no clocks in ancient times and the rooster’s crow would determine the beginning of the day, so the rooster signifies stability. Flexibility and stability must also go hand in hand. Flexibility without stability would be wanting, and stability on its own is like a pool of stagnant water. The best outcome comes from having both stability and flexibility.

There were no clocks in ancient times and the rooster’s crow would determine the beginning of the day, so the rooster signifies stability. (Image: Cameron Norman via flicker CC BY 2.0 )

There were no clocks in ancient times and the rooster’s crow would determine the beginning of the day, so the rooster signifies stability. (Image: Cameron Norman via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

The final pair is the dog and the pig. The Dog represents loyalty; the pig represents affability. A person who is loyal without being affable would come across as being exclusionary. Conversely, a person who is too easygoing without a sense of loyalty can easily lose their principles.

Regardless of whether it is loyalty to the country, loyalty to the team, or loyalty to ideals, it must be combined with an element of affability. That is what the ancient Chinese taught — the outside shows roundness, while the inside shows squareness — a person must be amiable, yet they must also have principles.

Every Chinese person has a zodiac sign. Someone could be born in the Year of the Pig, while another person could be born in the Year of the Dog. In fact, the ancient Chinese believed in the importance of harmonising with others. A person born in the Year of the Pig might be easygoing, but they must also be loyal, while a person born in the Year of the Dog could be loyal, but must also learn to be easygoing.

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