Year of the Dog

Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Origins of the Chinese Zodiac

According to one legend, in the sixth century B.C. the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in creation to a race, only twelve showed up: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Lamb, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig, and according to their places in the race, the Jade Emperor had given them each a number starting with the Rat who was the winner of the race.

However, this Zodiac Race is the least credible of all explanations of the origin of the Chinese zodiac. Because the "twelve earthly branches" which correspond with the zodiac, was already in existence as early as the Zhou era, long before the advent of Buddhism.

The order of 12 Chinese zodiac animals was based on the number of toes/hooves, alternating between even and odd numbers. This more authentic explanation says, the Earthly Branches are divided into two categories: Yin and Yang. Each of them is paired with an animal of the same "gender". The gender of the animal is determined by the number of a specific part of its body. Odd numbers are Yang and even numbers are Yin. The tiger, the dragon, the monkey and the dog, all have five toes on each foot or paw, and the horse has one hoof. So we know they are Yang animals. 

The cloven-hoofed species such as the ox, the goat and the pig fall into the Yin category because their hoofs are divided into two parts. The rooster is also Yin since it has four toes on each foot. The rabbit has two upper lips and the snake has a two-point forked tongue. So they are Yin, too. The mouse had been a problem. It has four toes on each fore leg and five on each hind leg. It has both Yin and Yang qualities and there seemed to be no pace to put it. 

Fortunately, the first of the Earthly Branches, Zi 子 can be considered both Yin and Yang. The branches were also used to designate days and hours, and when symbolizing the hours, this branch covers a period from eleven in the evening to one o'clock in the morning. PM is Yin and Am is Yang. So the mouse goes together with this first branch. It is this double-gender feature, a kind of split personality, you might say, that makes the little mouse the leader among his colleagues.


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