The Chinese Zodiac
This research looks at three major aspects of Chinese zodiac. The Chinese used the concepts of yin and yang, the five elements, and the animal zodiac to explain the cosmos happening around them. At the time, before any concepts of modern medicine or science, the Chinese turned to these tools to help them explain everyday phenomena.
Through the concept of yin and yang, a Chinamen can pinpoint certain ailments and aspects missing in his life based on the varying levels of yin and yang in the body. Yin is a force associated with negative, passive, weak, destructive and feminine. Yang, in contrast, is a force associated with positivity, masculinity, activeness, and strength. Together, these two forces work together to create harmony within ones body. Yin and Yang are equal and mutually dependent forces, however typically yin is subordinate to yang. In earlier times, Chinese used the concepts of yin and yang as a schematic view for constructing their worldview. However, today it is not as popular due to modern science for explaining cosmology. Instead, it is used more so by people to explain various ailments or bad luck relating to their life.
Similarly, the Five Elements are another indication of balance but focus more on the body’s organs rather than general aspects in life. Originally used by the Taoist Naturalist School around 200 BCE to explain and interpret natural phenomena. The Five Elements emphasize on acting in harmony with natural laws to understand the manifestation of qi in nature. The Five Elements focus on the concept that qi is the movement and the root of life, with the Five Elements representing different aspects of qi. When there is an imbalance within the Five Elements physical ailments and bad luck can occur which is why it is important to be conscious of the levels of the Elements and to make sure they remain in balance. The concepts of the Five Elements build off the concepts of Yin and Yang, so it is important to make sure a person’s yin and yang are in balance before trying to rebalance the Five Elements.
Another tool the Chinese used to explain cosmological factors about themselves was the animal zodiac. According to history, Buddha determined the Chinese Animal Zodiac. Buddha held a celebration for the Chinese New Year and invited all the animals in the kingdom. However, only twelve animals showed up to Buddha’s celebration. The animals showed up in a specific order: the rabbit, then the ox, then the tiger, then the dragon, then the snake, then the horse, then the goat, then the monkey, then the rooster and finally the dog followed by the pig. Buddha then gifted each animal their own year which the animal is to bestow their symbolic nature and characteristics to those born in that year. Each animal is assigned a year, and depending on what year a person is born in the animal bestows their traits to that person. The best explanation of the animal zodiac was written by Shelly Wu, author of Chinese Astrology; Exploring the Eastern Zodiac. Wu stated that the Chinese animal zodiac is like the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory for Eastern Zodiac. The animal zodiac is rooted deeply in the philosophies of Kongzi and Laozi. The positive traits are seen to be in alignment with a persons qi, and negative traits are seen as a reflection of the separation between human personality and spiritual essence.
Using these three methods to look at the world around them, the Chinese were able to place some meaning to the cosmos and the world around them. Today in modern China, modern sciences and technology have negated some of the validity and magic to these cosmological ideas. However, despite modern technologies some of these ancient concepts are still used in modern China today. Regarding the Animal Zodiac, many people do not place much faith or importance in their animal sign unlike people in the west who sometimes are very invested and live by their zodiac sign. Most commonly, you can find your Chinese animal zodiac on the paper placemat at your local Chinese restaurant. Yin and Yang is the concept that is still most prevalent in modern China. Many people in China relate their luck and health and many other aspects of their life to the concepts of Yin and Yang while trying to keep them in balance to live their best life. Lastly, more common than the Animal Zodiac but less popular than the concepts of Yin and Yang are the Five Elements. The Five Elements build off the concepts of Yin and Yang and can also be used to cure illnesses or bad luck or anything out of balance in a persons life.