Introduction to Asian Zodiac Signs

Introduce the origin of the 12 zodiac signs in Asian culture and the variations in different countries.

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2020 is the Year of the Rat.  Rat is one of the 12 Asian zodiac signs.  Do you know what these zodiac signs mean?

In this series, I shall introduce the original and meaning of the zodiac signs.

Origin of Zodiac Signs

Records of zodiac signs could be found in ancient Chinese Feng Shui and astrology writings.  There is no definite answer as to who invented this system and when did it first appear.  What we know is that this system could be traced back to at least 5000 years ago, or even earlier.

Some people suggested that Chinese zodiac signs may be imported from ancient Buddhism writings.  There are other researches that identified the 12 zodiacs in Babylon astrology as the origin of the Chinese ones.

There is also an interesting story about a race among animals.  The Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝), who is the first and greatest God, would like to use animal names to represent years.  He decided to have a running race among animals, the first 12 who finished were chosen, in ascending order-

Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig

(Interestingly the cat is not among the 12 zodiac signs.  According to one version of this story, the cat was tricked by the rat so it missed this grand event.  That’s why cats hate rats so much and already want to catch them…)

Asian Zodiac Signs

Zodiac Signs in Asian Culture

The 12 zodiac signs could also be found in other Asian traditions.  It is commonly recognised that the zodiac signs, together with other cultural elements, were exported from ancient China to many Asian countries.

As the cultures are different in various countries, some animals also varies.  For example-

  • In Vietnam, buffalo replaced ox and cat replaced rabbit.
  • In Japan, the last animal is boar instead of pig.
  • In Thai, a mysterious monster, Naga, replaced dragon.

How are these signs used in calendar systems?  How do they affect us?  We’ll see in the coming articles.