The Chinese Zodiac is a 12 year cycle. Each year of the 12 year cycle is named after one of the original 12 animals. Each animal has a different personality and different characteristics. The animal is believed to be the main factor in each person's life that gives them their traits, success, and happiness in their lifetime.
Scholars say that the Zodiac was brought from India, Hotan, and Sogdiana by the Buddhist people. They followed the path of the Silk Road. It was brought during the Qin dynasty.
The Chinese zodiac refers to a pure calendrical cycle; there are no equivalent constellations like those of the occidental zodiac. In imperial times there were astrologers who watched the sky for heavenly omens that would predict the future of the state, but this was a quite different practice of divination from the popular present-day methods.
The 12 zodiac animals
In Chinese astrology the zodiac of twelve animal signs represents twelve different types of personality. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the Origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so (see below). The following are the twelve zodiac signs in order and their characteristics.
Rat (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water): Forthright, disciplined, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, shrewd. Can be manipulative, vindictive, mendacious, venal, selfish, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.
Ox (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water): Dependable, calm, methodical, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, steady, modest, logical, resolute, tenacious. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid, demanding.
Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Unpredictable, rebellious, colourful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish.
Rabbit (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Gracious, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious, artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, astute, compassionate, flexible. Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent, opportunistic, lazy.
In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs, and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals) and hours of the day (called secret animals).
To sum it up, while a person might appear to be a dragon because they were born in the year of the dragon, they might also be a snake internally and an ox secretively. In total, this makes for 8,640 possible combinations (five elements x 12 animals in the 60 year cycle (12 x 5 = 60) , 12 months, 12 times of day) that a person might be. These are all considered critical for the proper use of Chinese astrology.