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LEXICON

 

 

Chinese zodiac

Contrary to the West, people in the Far East have a cyclical concept of time, rather than a linear one and the traditional Chinese calendar, for one, is based on a twelve year cycle. It counts the years in sixty year cycles, making use of combinations of two series of units and tens known as the Ten Heavenly Stems (Shi Tiangan) [which are connected with the Five Elements (water, fire, earth, wood and metal) and their corresponding colors] and the Twelve Earthly Branches (Shier Dizhi). The beginning of the cycle is the year ‘Jiazi’, being the first Heavenly Stem (Jia), combined with the first Earthly Branch (Zi), and the last year of the cycle is ‘Guihai’, being the tenth and last Heavenly Stem (Gui) combined with the twelfth and last Earthly Branch (Hai). Every year is also represented by a different animal corresponding to the Twelve Branches and known as the Chinese zodiac. Those animals are: the rat (shu), the ox (niu), the tiger (hu), the rabbit (to), the dragon (long), the snake (she), the horse (ma), the goat (yang), the monkey (hou), the cock (ki), the dog (gou) and the pig (zu). According to this numbering the Year of the Monkey, for example, is called ‘Jiashen’, being the first Heavenly Stem (Jia), combined with the ninth Earthly Branch (Shen), and the Year of the cock is called ‘Yiyou’, being the second Heavenly Stem (Yi) combined with the tenth Earthly Branch (You). Note however that to make up a cycle of sixty years, only the half of possible permutations is used. Every sixtieth year is a full cycle and 2007 (Dinghai, zu) was celebrated as the Year of the ‘Golden’ Pig (fig.), a once in 60 year occurrence. The animal signs of the zodiac also have a useful social purpose: instead of asking directly how old a person is, one may ask for someone's animal sign to find out someone's age. This places that person’s age within a cycle of twelve years, and with a bit of logic, one can deduce the exact age. According to Chinese legend, one day the twelve animals quarreled as to who was to head the zodiac, thus a contest was held: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river first would become the leader and the rest of the animals would receive their position according to their finish. The twelve animals gathered at the riverside and jumped into the river. Unknown to the ox however, the rat had jumped upon its back and as the ox was about to climb ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, arriving first and winning the race. The fat and lazy pig ended up last. That is the reason why the rat now stands at the beginning of the zodiac as the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last. In Thai, the animals of the zodiac have different names than their common Thai designations, i.e. chuat (ชวด) for rat (fig.); chalu (ฉลู) for ox (fig.), khaan (ขาล) for tiger (fig.), เถาะ (tho) for rabbit (fig.), มะโรง (ma-rohng) for dragon (fig.), ma-seng (มะเส็ง) for snake (fig.), ma-mia (มะเมีย) for horse (fig.), ma-mae (มะแม) for goat (fig.), wok (วอก) for monkey (fig.), ra-kah (ระกา) for cock (fig.), jo (จอ) for dog (fig.), and kun (กุน) for pig (fig.), terms that are proceeded by the prefix pih (ปี), when referring to the year of each of the specific animals, e.g. Pih Ma-rohng for Year of the Dragon’. See also CHINESE CALENDAR.