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Sheng Xiao: The Chinese Zodiac

The Spring Festival, better known as the Chinese New Year, marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Western concept of time, however, the Chinese view their calendar as cyclical. Instead of counting time in a straight, linear fashion, the Chinese cycle through a 12-year wheel as they count their years. This 12-year cycle is known as the Sheng xiao, or the Chinese Zodiac. Each year is named for one of 12 animal signs, which repeats itself every 12 years: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram (Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar (Pig).

According to Chinese legend, the order of the cycle was determined when the twelve animals were arguing over who should be first. The animals asked the gods to decide, but they were unable to come up with a fair order. Instead, they decided to hold a competition: Whichever animal could cross from one side of the river to the other first would lead the cycle.

The strongest animal in the group, the ox, took an early lead. But unbeknownst to him, the sneaky rat had jumped on his back at the start of the race. Just as the ox was about to swim ashore, the rat jumped off his back and cinched the race. The laziest of the animals was the pig, and he came in last.

The Chinese Zodiac : 12 Animal Signs

Rat | Ox | Tiger | Rabbit | Dragon | Snake | Horse
Ram, Sheep, Goat | Monkey | Rooster | Dog | Pig, Boar

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