The star signs of the Western zodiac are based on the month, rather than the year, of one's birth. It is believed that people's star signs may affect their character, behavior, and destiny, much like the Animal Years of the Chinese zodiac. Of course, the Chinese zodiac is calculated according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, unlike the Western zodiac, which uses the solar calendar.
The Chinese zodiac consists of a twelve-year cycle, with each year corresponding to one of the twelve Earthly Branches and represented by a different animal. The year in which a person is born is equated with one of these twelve "Animal Years."
The Chinese zodiac has always been very important to the Chinese people, particularly the personal characteristics associated with each of the Animal Years. Numerous legends and customs concerning the Animal Years have arisen over the ages. The Chinese zodiac is an ancient and important component of China's folk culture, vividly reflecting the rich psychology of the Chinese people.
The order of the twelve Animal Years of the Chinese zodiac is as follows: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
The twelve years of the Chinese zodiac cycle are each named after a different animal. For example, 2004 is the Year of the Monkey, according to the numbering of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. The Year of the Monkey ends on February 8, 2005. The following day marks the beginning of the year of the Rooster.
There is an old Chinese story concerning the origins of the Animal Years. It is said that the Yellow Emperor, the legendary ancestor of the Chinese people, decided to hold a competition to select twelve animals to serve as his bodyguards. When this news was announced, it caused a great stir throughout the animal kingdom. Elephant, although the largest of the animals, lost when Rat distracted him by running up his trunk. In the end, the twelve victors of the competition became the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
Of course, this story is merely apocryphal. Most likely, the ancient practice of naming the years after animals originated with the prehistoric worship of animal totems.