Hello Allegravita friends! It’s that time of the year again — the Lunar New Year! Over our many years of blogging (is it now 15 years?!?) we have covered the Chinese horoscope system and how it reflects in the calendar, so on this eve of the new Pig Year, we’d like to help you to deepen your understanding of this central organizing principle of Chinese life.

Unlike the western world, China didn’t have the concept of “common era” until modern times. The reckoning of years is based on emperors on the throne. Every time a new emperor ascends, or a new dynasty overthrows the old one, it goes back to Year One. The frequent iteration of eras can be very confusing. Unfortunate souls dwelling in rural corners of the empire might not be aware that a new era has already begun until they are informed, months later.

Probably for this reason, an emperor-independent reckoning system was created, based on twelve actual or mythical creatures selected for unknown reason. They are: mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat (called the same thing in Chinese), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Due to the coincidence of the number 12, it’s also called the “Chinese Zodiac”.

However, the work doesn’t stop here. One critical drawback of this plan is that the system is a loop. If twelve years make a cycle, pretty soon people will be arguing about “which year of the monkey you are referring to”. To stretch it a bit further, the ancient Chinese added a second layer of symbols on these animals: Jia, Yi, Bing, Ding, Wu, Ji, Geng, Xin, Ren, and Gui. All superficial characters without actual meaning, just to mark the difference. For the ease of explanation, just imagine two arrays, the first consisting of letters, A through J; the second of numerals, 1 through 12. So years in the calendar roll along in this fashion:

A-1, B-2, C-3, D-4, E-5, F-6, G-7, H-8, I-9, J-10, A-11, B-12, C-1, D-2…

A full rotation takes 60 years, long enough for two or three generations, given that the average life expectancy wasn’t very long back then.

2019 is the year of Ji-Pig, or F-12 in westernized example. The pig, the primary source of animal proteins for the Chinese people for thousands of years, is a powerful symbol. It stands for wealth and abundance. This is a great time to send good wishes of prosperity to your friends and business partners. Although the same drill happens every year, this time around the expectation is high. People subconsciously look forward to abundance in the year of the pig. So don’t hesitate to send out extra hearty wishes and fancy presents. They will appreciate.

Talking about animals, the Chinese Zodiac system is in fact very mascot-friendly. For example, a number of years ago, we created a cute piggy mascot for one of our best clients, .CO. .CO’s plump, pink piggy (gender indeterminate) looks especially loveable in China when rendered as a cartoon character, and it reflected a central quality for startups that chose .CO as a part of their identity — that “pigs might fly!” With a new year of the pig on the horizon, every marketing campaign has a bit of built-in sense of celebration.

However, there is one pitfall:

Don’t say anything like “wish you as lucky as I am in my year”, or “please share my luck in my year”.

For reasons so ancient that it’s already obscure, the year of one’s own animal sign means “extremely unlucky year” in the Chinese culture. For example, people born in years of the pig are expected to fight against the universe throughout 2019. People, at least those with traditional minds, wouldn’t want to share the luck of someone who is in his “own year”. The common practice is to wear a red belt, red underpants, or red socks to fend off ill fortune.

Allegravita wishes you all the best in the world for the year of 2019, extra best-er to offset any supposed adversary of you happen to be born in a year of the pig. Happy New Year, and may you live long and prosper!