The Animal Year

The animal year, better known as benming nian(本命年 ‘origin of life year’)in Chinese, is a very significant use of the Chinese zodiac. It is calculated by the Chinese zodiac, which assigns one of 12 animals to each year on a recurring cycle.

A person’s animal year is according to his lunar birth year. If one was born in the year of the rat, then the year of the rat is his animal year. Because of the circular recurrence of the Chinese zodiac, one will experience his animal year once every 12 years. Therefore, a person will meet his animal year when he is 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, and so on.

The China Zodiac

Ominous Years and Countermeasures

It is thought that one’s animal year is an ominous year. People in their animal year, if they believe in astrological fate, try in every way to avoid ominous things happening.

In North China, people in their animal year have a tradition of wearing red waistbands, which are known as ’tying red’ (扎红 za hong), and children are required to wear red vests and red pants. It is believed that in this way all bad things in one’s animal year will be prevented. This custom is still very prevalent across China nowadays.

At the Chinese Spring Festival, ribbons colored red or yellow, the so-called lucky belts and lucky knots, are sold in every market. People in their animal year tie that kind of ribbon around the waist or the wrist to avoid ominous things and to wish for a good year. However, in today’s China, wearing red clothing and waistbands has become a kind of fashion trend instead of the original purpose of avoiding evil things.

The Red Wristband

Marriage and the 60th Birthday

The animal year has also influenced many aspects of people’s key life events like one’s marriage and birthday.

In the Central Plain region, especially in the Songshan Shaolin Temple area, if one of the couple get married in his/her animal year, the couple must put some Chinese mugwort leaves (艾叶 aiye) in the dowry for avoiding ominous things and wishing for a peaceful, auspicious, happy and long-lasting marriage.

Similarly, many Chinese take the 60th birthday seriously, which is called huajia (花甲 ‘a complete sexegenary cycle’). Huajia is one’s fifth complete animal year cycle. People celebrate this mark of longevity momentously, wishing a longevous, healthy, and auspicious life to come.


Do you want to know what your zodiac sign is? Try our Chinese zodiac signs calculator!

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