There are two distinct philosophies related to the history of the Chinese Zodiac
1. The Tale
From a young age, children are told the story of how the Jade Emperor called upon all the animals in the world to attend a banquet. The order in which they arrived, determines the order of the zodiac. The Rat won the race to the palace, followed by the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit Dragon, Snake, Ram, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and lastly the Pig.
The tale goes onto to relate the tactics that the various animals used to get ahead. For example, the Rat, sneaky and cunning, sat on the head of the Ox to win the race by a whisker. These tactics are used to define the different characteristics of the zodiac signs.
While this is a sweet tale to teach the different zodiac signs and characteristics, the actual history is far more complicated and difficult to unravel.
2. The Reality
Just like the roots of Hinduism and some other oriental religions, the background of the Chinese Zodiac is difficult to trace and there is still much debate among scholars regarding the actual history.
Early artifacts dating back to around 221 BC, depicts signs of the various zodiac animals which dictates that the aspects were introduced to China via the Silk Road from India. However, other experts believe that the roots can be found much earlier in Chinese history when the first astronomers used Jupiter as their constant. Jupiter orbits the earth every 12 years and thus the 12 signs of the zodiac were created.
Yet another set of scholars follows the belief that early nomads and hunting tribes were responsible for the development of the Chinese zodiac through the depiction of animals that were prolific during certain periods. It is from this basis that we have seen the development of what are Chinese Horoscopes. These horoscopes play a large part in the lives of Chinese people and are based on this ancient format of 12 zodiac animals.
3. Modern Day Chinese Astrology
The Chinese Zodiac and Astronomy have seen changes over the centuries due to various rulers implementing adjustments to suit their political agendas. However, the current zodiac has seen no changes for an extended period of time.
Despite political attempts to eliminate the practice and following of Chinese astronomical beliefs, the custom is still highly revered and forms an established part of Chinese culture in modern society. The customs are widely practiced in business, relationships as well as everyday life. Chinese astronomy is also used in conjunction with other religions and doctrines such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Numerology, etc.