Culture and International Relations in the 18th Century



The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig. In the fountain, they are arranged in a circle, alternating from right to left (remember that in China, things are read from right to left). From back to front:

1. Rat
3. Tiger
5. Dragon
7. Horse
9. Monkey
11. Dog
2. Ox
4. Rabbit
6. Snake
8. Goat
10. Chicken
12. Pig



The twelve animals form a repeating cycle that begins with the Rat and ends with the Pig. Then the cycle begins again with the Rat. For more than two thousand years, the Chinese used this cycle of twelve animals to designate periods of time. The year, month, day, and hour were designated by a particular animal. Perhaps you have heard that someone was born in the “Year of the Dragon” or that people are celebrating the “Year of the Tiger” during the Chinese New Year. What year is it now according to the twelve animals? Do you know what year you were born in according to the Chinese calendar?

The Chinese also used the twelve animals to discern the time of the day. But how could only twelve animals represent the twenty four hours in a day? The answer is that the traditional Chinese day was divided into twelve time periods. Each period was two hours long and was associated with a particular animal. Midnight began with the time period of the Rat, then 2–4 a.m. was governed by the Ox, 4–6 a.m. by the Tiger, 6–8 a.m. by the Rabbit, and so on. The last period, 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. was governed by the Pig. What time is it now according to the twelve animals? This system was used not only in China but also spread to neighboring countries such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. China switched to the European system of telling time beginning in the late nineteenth century when wristwatches became popular. However, it is still used for traditional purposes, such as fortune telling. It has even spread beyond Asia. Now, you can even go online to find your own Chinese horoscope. Just type “Chinese Astrology” in your favorite search engine.

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