Several famous Chinese zodiac legends are the basis for the twelve animal signs used in Chinese astrology. The Chinese lunar calendar is the longest chronological record in the world, dating back to 2600 BC, when the Emperor introduced the first cycle of the twelve animals. Although there is no way to know for sure why the animals, which range from house pets to more exotic faire, were selected, these legends definitely make good reading.
The first common legend for the Chinese zodiac animals is that Buddha called all of the animals to see him off when he departed from the earth. The only 12 to come see him off were the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Because of their loyalty, Buddha named a year after each of them. Variations on this legend are that Buddha was having a feast and only 12 animals showed up. In some retellings, it is the Jade Emperor who invites the animals to the feast.
A Meeting of the Animals
Another common legend also concerns Buddha. In this version, Buddha called all of the animals to meet. He instructed that the first twelve to arrive would receive a place of honor in the lunar calendar. The night before the meeting, the cat told his friend rat about the gathering, and they made plans to leave together. The rat woke up early and left without the cat. The rat was first to arrive, and then the other Chinese zodiac animals arrived one by one. By the time the cat woke up and rushed over, it was too late.
The Rat Race
Finally, the most well known legend involves a race. Buddha invited all of the animals to participate, and the first 12 animals to make it from one side of the river to the other would be placed on the Chinese calendar.
All the animals set out across the river and, surprisingly, the rat was the first to reach the bank. Instead of trying to swim against the other strong animals, the rat jumped on the back of the ox and rode across the river. Before reaching the shore, the rat hopped off and touched the ground first. The ox immediately followed.
The Tiger was also a very strong swimmer, so he came in third. The rabbit was fourth since he jumped his way across the river and was helped during the final feet by the dragon. The dragon was next, followed by the horse that was carrying the snake in its hoof. The snake jumped out as they reached the shore and scared the horse into seventh place.
The sheep, monkey and rooster all helped each other across. The dog would have been close to the front but decided to take a bath halfway through the river. Finally, the pig reached the opposite shore after resting halfway through the race, and the pig completed the Chinese Zodiac.
The Chinese Zodiac assigns an animal to each year of a twelve-year cycle. Unlike the Zodiac commonly used in Western astrology, which has a different astrological sign for each month of a single year, the Chinese Zodiac signs have an animal and its related characteristics assigned for each year in a twelve-year cycle on the Chinese calendar.
The history of Chinese Zodiac signs is quite different from the occidental Zodiac. The Chinese Zodiac history is quite different from the occidental Zodiac. Records show that the Chinese calendar emerged around 2637 BCE in 60-year cycles, divided into five 12-year sub cycles. Certain animal symbols were assigned to each of the 12 years. How those animals were selected is a popular Chinese Zodiac legend.