"As a symbol, the Chinese zodiac is a form of cultural entertainment or a psychological need for people," said Gao Zhuancheng, Director of the Institute of Sociology under the Shanxi Academy of Social Sciences.
Since ancient times, the legends and custom centering around the Chinese zodiac have been a source of imagination and an exploration of the origin of human beings. As an important part of China's folk culture, the zodiac is deeply rooted in mythology and contains rich connotations. For instance, even today, the Chinese people still attach great importance to the year that they were born in and pay special attention to recurring years in the zodiac cycle, known as benmingnian.
In benmingnian, people usually, regardless of age or sex, wear red belts, socks, underwear, and wrist ornaments to exorcise evil spirits and invoke blessings throughout the year.
"Basically, the Chinese zodiac is an outcome of animal worship. The zodiac animals were chosen because of their close relationships with our primitive ancestors," said Wan Jianzhong, a folk culture professor and doctoral supervisor at Beijing Normal University.
The existence of animals was a matter of life and death in ancient times, thus a contradictory psychology was formed: On the one hand, people had to eat the animals, but on the other hand, they worshipped the animals and wished the animals could grow well so they could provide regular food and everyday articles.
"It was against this backdrop that the earliest zodiac and totem worshiping came into being in China," said Wan.
"The characters of the animals and their connections with human beings decided the degree of the worship," said Wan.
Undoubtedly, the first animals that human beings worshipped were those closest to their life, such as the ox, horse, sheep, rooster, dog, pig and rabbit. The dragon, snake and tiger are the totems of the Chinese nation. Although the dragon is a mythical creature, its mysterious authority already existed in the Chinese nation as early as 6,000 or 7,000 years ago. The monkey is the only animal similar to people, so worship of it is not surprising. The rat, which has a bad reputation, has long existed in human being's lives, so it is also chosen as a zodiac animal.