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The Mysterious Snake


Text by Zhao Yue

“The Chinese zodiac, or sheng xiao (literally “born resembling”), is a rotating cycle of 12 years,” explains Wu Yucheng, Chinese folklore expert and author of Zodiac and Chinese Culture. “There is a concrete cultural reason for the selection of each of the 12 specific animals, making the Chinese zodiac a profound cultural phenomenon.” 

China’s zodiac presents a unique way of measuring years, with 12 different animals employed as symbols for each. Yet, the years don’t align with the Gregorian (Western) calendar exactly. For example, the Year of the Dragon started on January 23, 2012, and lasts until February 9, 2013. The Year of the Snake begins on February 10, 2013. In China, a person’s age can be easily deduced from his or her zodiac sign. For example, this year, a snake is either 12, 24, 36, or another multiple of 12. Thus, asking one’s sign has become a subtle and tactful method to figure out a person’s age.

The Chinese zodiac begins with the rat, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig in sequence. Different animals represent different cultural connotations. For example, the rat represents prosperous offspring, the ox connotes ample grain, and the dragon and snake are related to rice farming culture. Since the pig is traditionally deemed to bring home good luck, it is placed at the end of the zodiac cycle to complete an auspicious circle.

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