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It's About Time

Animal Attributes
China, Yuan dynasty (1280–1365)<br><i>Animal figures of the zodiac</i><br>Earthenware with mineral pigments<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Gift of Ruth ad Bruce Dayton
  China, Yuan dynasty (1280–1365)
Animal figures of the zodiac
Earthenware with mineral pigments
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of Ruth ad Bruce Dayton


Today China uses the Gregorian calendar, or Western calendar, as does most of the world. However, the traditional Chinese calendar for festivals and holidays is still followed. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, in which years are numbered in a limitless sequence, this ancient calendar repeats in a sixty-year cycle. Each year is assigned a name based on two components, a Heavenly Stem and an Earthly Branch. With ten Heavenly Stems and twelve Earthly Branches cycling in a given order, there are sixty possible names for years.

The Earthly Branches are represented by twelve animals, each assigned to a particular hour, day, month, and year. Within the calendar, the animals follow a specific order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Many legends describe how that order was established. According to one, the Buddha invited all the animals to compete in a race, but only twelve participated. The Buddha awarded each of them a place on the calendar, corresponding to the order in which they finished the race.

From the Chinese calendar, Chinese astrology developed. It was a way of foretelling the future using the twelve-year cycle of animals, known as the Chinese zodiac. A person’s year of birth was believed to link him or her to the animal in charge of that year. The person was likely to share the animal’s characteristics and to be influenced in physical appearance, personality, success, and happiness.

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1. The Year of the Rat begins on February 7, 2008. The next Year of the Rat will occur in 2020.
2. The dragon comes fifth in the calendar cycle. It symbolizes authority, dignity, and power.
3. A person born in the Year of the Dog might be patient, trusting, and loyal.


December 2007