Updated: Aug 5, 2021
In celebration of today's Chinese New Year, we take a look at the fascinating Chinese Zodiac system and the meaning of the Pig in Chinese culture.
Happy New Year, everybody! Yes, I know it's February and no, I'm not late to the party — today more than a billion people around the world are celebrating Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. This is one of several Lunar New Years in Asia, and millions of people in China travel to their hometowns to celebrate it, representing the largest annual human migration! This special day is marked by fireworks, red lanterns, special clothes and plenty of good food.
Each year in Chinese culture is represented by one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, and this year is Year of the Pig. This Chinese zodiac system has been around for over 2,000 years, since the Qin dynasty! Here are the 12 animals in order, including the most recent year for each:
• rat (鼠—shǔ) - 2008
• ox (牛—niú) - 2009
• tiger (虎—hǔ) - 2010
• rabbit (兔—tù) - 2011
• dragon (龙—lóng) - 2012
• snake (蛇—shé) - 2013
• horse (马—mǎ) - 2014
• goat (羊—yang) - 2015
• monkey (猴—hóu) - 2016
• rooster (鸡—jī) - 2017
• dog (狗—gǒu) - 2018
• pig (猪—zhū) - 2019
Since it works in cycles, next year (2020) will go back to the beginning again, so it will be the Year of the Rat. I was born in the Year of the Rabbit, so Rabbit is my personal Zodiac year (本命年 — ben ming nian). 2011 was therefore 'my year', and the same will be true again in 2023.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you would have good luck in 'your' Zodiac year each time it comes around — but it actually works the other way round! One's ben ming nian is seen in Chinese culture as an obstacle which one needs to survive. In these dangerous twelve months, one needs to protect oneself from bad fortune and evil spirits, and the best way to do so is to wear red underwear every day for the entire year. In certain regions married men are supposed to ensure that their wives accompany them whenever they go out at night during their Zodiac year.
Phew — good job I made it through 2011, and if you were born in the Year of the Pig you might want to consider an urgent underwear shop to get you through the year ahead. But how to figure out whether or not the Pig is your Zodiac year? The Maths tutors amongst you might be thinking that to figure out whether you're currently in your Zodiac year, you can just look at your age, and if it's a multiple of 12 then it's your year! The same animal comes back every 12 years, so if your age divides by 12 as you read this blog post today (5 February 2019), it would seem logical that you must also have been born in the Year of the Pig.
This logic does work, but only if you know your Chinese age and use that in the calculation. The Chinese calendar works on a different system to the Gregorian calendar, so there aren't 365 days in the year (for example, Year of the Pig starts today on 5 February 2019, but it will end on 24 January 2020). Your age in Chinese culture is therefore different to your age in Western culture. If you're new to the Chinese calendar and your brain is a little frazzled, you might need to resort to this online tool to calculate your Zodiac year. You can input your Western date of birth and it will tell you your ben ming nian.
So, did you try? Are you a tiger? A monkey? A rooster? If you were born in Year of the Pig, don't panic! This might not be your lucky year, but there are many upsides to being a pig in Chinese culture — they are a symbol of optimism, enthusiasm and hard work. Those are surely pretty handy traits to help you with your studies, right? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that motivation is paramount for effective studying. To find out more about how motivation works, and the intricate relationship between motivation and performance, check out this cool blog post from Exam Study Expert. It also has plenty of useful pointers on how to boost your own motivation. Not that the pigs amongst you will need them...
Blog Post Crafted by Joe
Subjects Taught: Latin, Ancient Greek
Background: Joe Hytner owns and runs Titanium Tutors, managing our assessors and staff. Joe graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in 2009 with a degree in Classics and then trained as a teacher at Queens’ College, Cambridge, graduating in 2010. Whilst setting up Titanium Tutors he taught Latin on a part-time basis in three schools — Parkside Federation, Impington Village College and South Lee School (where he started up the Latin department from scratch). Joe has also taught Latin and Ancient Greek to numerous Cambridge University undergraduates.
Fun Fact: Joe has read Harry Potter in Latin from cover to cover.