The exact origin of the Chinese zodiac is unknown but legend says that in 2,600BC the yellow emperor introduced the first cycle of they zodiac in order to record the Chinese lunar new year. The ancient Chinese people invented 10 heavenly stems, and 12 earthly branches for chronological purposes. They combined one earthly branch and one heavenly stem to indicate a specific hour, date, and year according to the traditional Chinese system. The 12 branches match the number of months in a year and hours in a day. With each stem and branch combining sequentially, a complete cycle takes 60 years. Meaning a person could potentially experience the exact same year once in there lifetime.
The 12 earthly branches and the 10 heavenly stems represent a cyclical period of time instead of the western linear concept of time. In the west time is recored based on since the birth Christ, for example 1977 would be 1,977 years since the birth of christ. This represent a linear period of time where time moves from past to present to future. In ancieat china time was cyclical where something happens time after time based on a pattern. Every birth year is assigned an animal the 12 animal signs are a popular folk technique that reflect the cyclical method of recording time. Every 12 years the same animal reapears. The 60 year circle is made up of five 12 year cycles. Like the western calender the chinese lunar calender is a annual one. The zodiac is broken up into 12 year cycles with each year divided into 12 months. Because most early people where illiterate 12 animals where assigned represent the 12 year cycles or 12 earthly branches.
There are several legends on how the 12 animal came to represent the zodiac cycle. One legend is that Buddha had a meeting of the animal kingdom to decide which animal should represent the zodiac cycle. Only 12 animals showed up and so those where the animals buddha chose to represent the zodiac cycle. Buddha had a...