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    How the Chinese Zodiac Works

    The traditional Chinese lunisolar year has 12 months and 353 to 355 days (or during a leap year, 13 months and 383 to 385 days).

    Therefore, the Chinese year usually begins several weeks into the Western 365-day year (usually between January 21 and February 20), not on January 1 of the Gregorian calendar.

    Chinese Zodiac Classic

    Chinese Zodiac

    As is ancient tradition, the Chinese zodiac attaches animal signs to each lunar year in a cycle of 12 years. The animal designation changes at the start of the New Year.

    A Deeper Look

    On a broader scale, the Chinese lunisolar calendar counts its years according to the stem-branch system, a 60-year rotating name system also known as the Chinese sexagenary cycle. By this, a year’s name contains two parts: the celestial stem and the terrestrial branch.

    ·         The celestial, or heavenly stem, is taken from a rotating list of 10 terms concerning the yin/yang forms of five elements.

    ·         The Stem (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water): jia, yi, bing, ding, wu, ji, geng, xin, ren, and gui

    Stem/Element

    jia = yang wood
    yi = yin wood
    bing = yang fire
    ding = yin fire
    wu = yang earth
    ji = yin earth
    geng = yang metal
    xin = yin metal
    ren = yang water
    gui = yin water

    ·         The terrestrial, or earthly, branch is taken from a rotating list of the 12 animal names of the Chinese zodiac. 

    Branch/Animal

    zi = rat
    chou = ox
    yin = tiger
    mao = rabbit
    chen = dragon
    si = snake
    wu = horse
    wei = sheep/goat
    shen = monkey
    you = rooster
    xu = dog
    hai – boar/pig

    So, putting the stem and branch terms together, the first year in a 60-year cycle is called jia-zi (Year of the Rat) as jia is the celestial stem and zi (rat) is the terrestrial branch. The next year is yi-chou (Year of the Ox), and so on. The 11th year is jia-xu, etc., until a new cycle starts over with jia-zi.

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