In slightly different form, this post originally appeared on the home page.
The above photograph by Rosemania has the following caption: "Twelve Chinese zodiac jade figurines. Capital Museum, Beijing, China."
The image on the right, a photograph by Jakub Hałun, has this caption: "The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka [a prefecture in Japan]."
About the Chinese zodiac, Wikipedia says the following:
"The Shengxiào (Chinese: 生 肖), also known in English as the Chinese zodiac, is a scheme, and a systematic plan of future action, that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to a 12-year cycle. It remains popular in several East Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
"Identifying this scheme using the term 'zodiac' reflects several similarities to the Western zodiac: both have time cycles divided into 12 parts, each labels at least the majority of those parts with names of animals, and each is widely associated with a culture of attributing influence of a person's relationship to the cycle upon their personality and/or events in their life. Nevertheless, there are major differences: the 'Chinese' 12-part cycle corresponds to years rather than months. The Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 animals, whereas some of the signs in the Western zodiac are not animals, despite the implication of the Greek etymology of 'zodiac'. The animals of the Chinese zodiac are not associated with constellations, let alone those spanned by the ecliptic plane.
"In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals), by day (called true animals) and hours (called secret animals)."