The traditions and culture surrounding the Chinese zodiac's Year of the Rooster

Updated 2017-01-23 11:01:12 Global Times

According to the traditional Chinese calendar, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster, just like every twelve years before or after it. How did the rooster become a zodiac animal in the first place? How important is this animal to the people of China? Here the Global Times would like to share some fun facts and stories about the role of this animal in Chinese culture with which you may not be familiar.

Entry into the zodiac

One of the reasons the rooster is included in the Chinese zodiac is because of its close ties to the lives of the people. China is one of the earliest nations in the world to domesticate chickens, as shown by chicken bones unearthed at the Hemudu Site in East China's Zhejiang Province and the Banpo Site in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, both of which date back to 5000BC to 3000 BC.

According to folk legend, ancient Chinese were grateful for the rooster's punctual crowing every morning, which let them know what time it was, and therefore begged the Jade Emperor, the ruler of Heaven, to honor the creature by enlisting it along with other animals that were important to human kind, such as the horse and the pig.

Born a rooster

It is believed that one's zodiac animal can determine his or her personality, who they should marry and overall luck. For instance, a rooster should not to marry someone born in the Year of the Dog. Rooster are faithful and ambitious, but also very likely to live a "hard life."

Though "predictions" like these may appear unconvincing or outright silly at first glance, many of them are largely bound to this animal's relationship with the Chinese people. The quality of being faithful is probably linked to the rooster's timely crowing every morning, leading to the animal becoming a symbol of faith and honesty. The practice of Han people and a few ethnic minorities to swear brotherhood by drinking wine mixed with rooster blood in olden days is an example of that.

The quality of ambition can be linked to the fact that roosters are very territorial and so will fight each other. Even today Chinese people raise roosters for cockfights, a tradition that can be traced back to as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

As for the above advice when it comes to marriage, this is due to the saying jiquan buning (Lit: chicken dog no tranquility). Although this saying had another meaning when it first appeared, over the years Chinese fortune-tellers have interpreted it as meaning "roosters and dogs can't live in peace together."

As to the "hard life" theory, this could very well be related to the ideas people have about the animal, since it spends its days picking at the ground just to get a few bites to eat.

Folk practices

The rooster crows at the dawn, the start of a new day. As such the rooster is also seen as a symbol of light, which has led it being used in many ways to ward off evil spirits. For instance, people put up rooster paintings on their doors to boost good luck and ward off bad luck and evil spirits. If a house is believed to be haunted, rooster blood is sprinkled around the building. Even today in some places in Central China's Henan Province, some people kill roosters to scare off evil spirits on the first day of the 10th month of the lunar calendar.

In the southern part of Southwest China's Yunnan Province, people use roosters, hens or eggs in fortune-telling and other ritual practices. According to tradition, eggs are rubbed over a sick person's body in order to absorb the evil spirits causing the disease. Then the egg is boiled and handed to a shaman, who examines the egg looking for good or bad signs.

The rooster is also regarded as a symbol of "good fortune," because the word for chicken in Chinese, ji, has a similar pronunciation to the word meaning "auspicious." For this reason, in some places in East China's Shandong Province, hens are used as part of wedding ceremonies. The bride's family will choose a boy to carry a hen in his arms and accompany the bride as she walks to the groom's side, here the chicken represents that the bride is "an auspicious woman."

What's more interesting is that roosters were also used as judges back in the day. According to a tradition among the Jingpo ethnic minority group, the majority of whom live in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, roosters were used to solve cases. Both the plaintiff and the defendant are required to bring along a rooster with them to a scheduled place. After a ceremony by a shaman, the two sides release their roosters. The person whose rooster crows first loses the case.

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