In the Chinese zodiac scheme, or shengxiao, each year is represented by an animal in a 12-year rotating cycle. The 12 animals, in order, are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Going by this scheme, the Chinese New Year celebrations this year will ring in the Year of the Rabbit, representing the fourth animal in the zodiac cycle. And people born in this year are referred to as the rabbit people.
But why are the animals arranged in this order? And does it give any insights into the personality traits of people bearing these animal signs?
The answers lie in understanding shengxiao, which also assigns the 12 animals to the 24 hours in a day, divided into two-hour periods. The way they are arranged in a day is the order in which they appear in the 12-year cycle. The 24-hour arrangement was made based on animals' natural routines and habits and with a twist of folklore. Have a look at this illustration to know which animal represents which time of the day and why.
Chinese folk tales also offer insights on the personality traits of people born in a certain year. For example, people with the Chinese Zodiac Rabbit are elegant and affable in personality, and they love a comfortable environment, but a bit of turbulence can make them fussy.
As an important part of folklore, shengxiao appears in many poems, Spring Festival couplets and a range of art forms as a representation of the aspirations and hopes of the Chinese people.