ShaoLan

The Chinese zodiac, explained

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0:11

Have you ever been asked by your Chinese friend, "What is your zodiac sign?" Don't think they are making small talk. If you say, "I'm a Monkey," they immediately know you are either 24, 36, 48 or 60 years old.

0:26

(Laughter) Asking a zodiac sign is a polite way of asking your age.

0:31

By revealing your zodiac sign, you are also being evaluated. Judgments are being made about your fortune or misfortune, your personality, career prospects and how you will do in a given year. If you share you and your partner's animal signs, they will paint a picture in their mind about your private life. Maybe you don't believe in the Chinese zodiac. As a quarter of the world population is influenced by it, you'd be wise to do something about that.

1:01

So what is the Chinese zodiac, exactly? Most Westerners think of Greco-Roman zodiac, the signs divided into 12 months. The Chinese zodiac is different. It's a 12-year cycle labeled with animals, starting with a Rat and ending with a Pig, and has no association with constellations. For example, if you were born in 1975, you are a Rabbit. Can you see your zodiac sign there? Our Chinese ancestors constructed a very complicated theoretical framework based on yin and yang, the five elements and the 12 zodiac animals. Over thousands of years, this popular culture has affected people's major decisions, such as naming, marriage, giving birth and attitude towards each other. And some of the implications are quite amazing.

1:57

The Chinese believe certain animals get on better than the others. So parents choose specific years to give birth to babies, because they believe the team effort by the right combination of animals can give prosperity to families. We even refer to the zodiac when entering into romantic relations. I'm a Pig; I should have perfect romance with Tigers, Goats and Rabbits. Chinese people believe some animals are natural enemies. As a Pig, I need to be careful with a Snake. Raise your hand if you are a Snake. Let's have a chat later.

2:38

(Laughter)

2:39

We believe some animals are luckier than the others, such as the Dragon. Unlike the Western tradition, the Chinese Dragon is a symbol for power, strength and wealth. It's everyone's dream to have a Dragon baby. Jack Ma's parents must have been very proud. And they are not the only ones. In 2012, the Year of the Dragon, the birthrate in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan increased by five percent. That means another one million more babies. With a traditional preference to baby boys, the boy-girl ratio that year was 120 to 100. When those Dragon boys grow up, they will face much more severe competition in love and job markets.

3:26

According to the BBC and the Chinese government's press release, January 2015 saw a peak of Cesarean sections. Why? That was the last month for the Year of the Horse. It's not because they like horses so much, it's because they try to avoid having unlucky Goat babies.

3:47

(Laughter)

3:48

If you are a Goat, please don't feel bad. Those are Goat babies. They don't look like losers to me.

3:55

(Laughter)

3:56

Tiger is another undesirable animal, due to its volatile temperament. Many Chinese regions saw a sharp decline of birthrate during those years. Perhaps one should consider zodiac in reverse, as those Tiger and Goat babies will face much less competition. Maybe they are the lucky ones. I went through the Forbes top 300 richest people in the world, and it's interesting to see the most undesirable two animals, the Goat and Tiger, are at the top of the chart, even higher than the Dragon. So maybe we should consider, maybe it's much better to have less competition.

4:39

One last but interesting point: many Chinese people make their investment decisions based on the zodiac sign index. Although the belief and tradition of the zodiac sign has been over thousands of years, the trend of using it in making major decisions did not really happen until the past few decades. Our ancestors were very busy surviving poverty, drought, famine, riot, disease and civil war. And finally, Chinese people have the time, wealth and technology to create an ideal life they've always wanted. The collective decision made by 1.3 billion people has caused the fluctuation in economics and demand on everything, from health care and education to property and consumer goods. As China plays such an important role in the global economy and geopolitics, the decisions made based on the zodiac and other Chinese traditions end up impacting everyone around the world.

5:46

Are there any Monkeys here? 2016 is the Year of the Monkey. Monkeys are clever, curious, creative and mischievous.

5:57

Thank you.

5:59

(Applause)

A quarter of the world's population cares a lot about the Chinese zodiac. Even if you don't believe in it, you'd be wise to know how it works, says technologist and entrepreneur ShaoLan Hseuh. In this fun, informative talk, ShaoLan shares some tips for understanding the ancient tradition and describes how it's believed to influence your personality, career, marriage prospects and how you'll do in a given year. What does your sign say about you?

About the speaker
ShaoLan Hsueh · Technologist, entrepreneur

ShaoLan want to help people understand China's culture and language, and to bridge the gap between East and West.

ShaoLan want to help people understand China's culture and language, and to bridge the gap between East and West.