The difference between zodiac signs of Vietnam and China
Culture, Customs, and Etiquette

Uncovering the 12 Mysterious Vietnamese Zodiac Signs

In Vietnam ancient history, Vietnam zodiac signs play an indispensable role in observing, experimenting and summarizing the law of interaction between the universe and human beings in traditional Eastern culture.

The legend of 12 zodiac signs

The oldest legend about the formation of the 12 animals of the Vietnamese zodiac is the story of a race. It is said that the Jade Emperor wants to find a way to delimit the time so a race with the participation of animals is organized.

vietnamese zodiac signs

The 12  Vietnamese Zodiac signs (Source: Google)

The twelve animals that first crossed the river would secure a position in the zodiac calendar based on their order of arrival. The mouse got up early and started at sunrise and it accidentally encountered the horse, tiger and buffalo on the way to the river.

Due to its small feature and limited ability to swim, the mouse asked bigger animals to help it cross the river but received refusals from the tiger and horse. Luckily, the buffalo was generous and kind enough to support the mouse. When preparing to reach the shore, the mouse jumped off from the buffalo and came first in the race. The buffalo and tiger ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively. The rabbit, too weak to fight against the sweeping currents, came 4th by jumping on rocks and floating tree trunks to cross the river.

Although the dragon was able to fly straight across the river, it stopped to assist other animals on its way and ranked 5th place. The 7th place belonged to the horse as it was galloping at a great speed to reach the finish line but startled by the snake crawling over. Therefore, the snake replaced the horse’s position and came 6th in the race.

On the river, the goat, monkey and chicken were on a raft and cooperated to escape from the moss. When reaching the other side of the river, three of them agree to give up the 8th place for the goat as it is the most gentle animal of the group.  The monkey and chicken occupied the 9th and 10th place, respectively. Although the dog is a skillful swimmer, it arrived at the 11th place because it was busy seeking for pleasure. Due to hungriness and sleepiness, the pig ranked last, the 12th place, in the race.

The race was held to determine the order each animal is worshipped in the zodiac calendar in Vietnam ancient history. This zodiac system is widespread throughout Asia and several changes are made to the system in order to make them suitable for each country’s situation. For example, in Vietnamese zodiac calendar, the cat replaces the rabbit’s position and in Thailand, a sacred snake named Naga occupies the dragon’s place.

The origin of 12 Vietnamese zodiac signs

It is widely believed that 12 zodiac signs originated from China, our neighboring country. However, according to a reputable study of the ancient Vietnamese language, the linguistic Nguyen Cung Thong discovered that Vietnam was the inventor of the 12 zodiac signs.

In Eastern culture, the calendar is determined by the cycles of the Moon. Thus, 12 animals correspond to 12 two-hour periods a day, 12 months in a year, 12 years in a cycle. This is the basis for calculating calendars and is a sign to predict the fate of a person based on their zodiac sign.

Once doing research about the origin of 12 animals, Mr. Thong discovered a number of ancient Vietnamese words that the Vietnamese used to refer to these zodiac signs had existed long before they appeared in China.

Previously, many serious studies have been carried out to prove that Chinese culture originated from Vietnamese culture. These studies present an idea that the way of cultural borrowing comes from the South in ancient times, not from north to south. Nevertheless, there is no mention of the origin of 12 zodiac animals so it poses a challenge in determining which cultures that “gave birth” to the 12 zodiac signs that we are now so familiar with today.

Overall, this new discovery has proved the development of the ancient Vietnamese in history in the way of calculating the calendars and has made the glorious wet rice civilization in South-East Asia.

The position and meaning of 12 zodiac signs in Vietnamese culture

In Vietnam, the calendar is made up of regularly changing cycles of the Moon. Due to using the lunar calendar, the exact dates of a new year vary from year to year and each year is represented by one of the twelve animals.

According to Vietnamese zodiac, the 12 animals appear in an order that they occur in a year: Rat, Buffalo, Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and Pig. Among these animals, the Dragon is a mythical creature, while the Rat, Tiger, Snake and Monkey are considered wild animals and often avoid contact with humans. The remaining seven are domestic animals.

In addition, Vietnamese also uses a 60-year cycle as a calculation. This cycle is made up of a combination of twelve animals that act as specific symbols according to Vietnamese zodiac signs and 10 signs of the sky.

Each of the following animals represents a two-hour period of time of a day:

Rat ZodiacRat: Although Rat people are widely known for their charm and attraction to the opposite sex, they have a fear of light and noises. Moreover, they are dynamic and enthusiastic but easy to get finicky about little things. Because rats are nocturnal animals and are often heard running around at night, the time between 11 pm and 5 pm is called the hour of the Rat.


Buffalo ZodiacBuffalo: a symbol of hard work and patience. Buffalo people are suitable to become a scientist with a low but steady progress and persistence. Buffalo represents the spring and agriculture because of its close association with the plow used in the cultivation of wet rice and the pleasure of soaking in the mud. People born in the year of the Buffalo are considered calm and consistent yet very stubborn.


Tiger ZodiacTiger: Even though people born in this year are well-known for their hot temper and lack of a standpoint, they can be seen as soft and flexible to suit the situation. Tiger, the king of the jungle, often lives at night and evokes the images of dark shape and storm. Therefore, the Tiger hour starts from 3 to 5 am as the tiger returns to its cave after hunting at night.


Cat ZodiacCat: Smooth and pleasant talkers. People born in the year of the cat are talented and ambitious, and predicted to gain massive academic success. Cat people are not on good terms with Rat. Besides, they have a flexible mind as well as patience and know to wait for opportunities before taking actions.


Dragon zodiacDragon: A symbol of the yang (male) principal of the universe and royal authority. It also represents water and a favorable sign of agriculture. A dragon person is sincere and enthusiastic, but hot-tempered and stubborn. Dragon people are the symbol of wealth, power, and royalty.


Snake ZodiacSnake: Speaks little but is respected by its knowledge and wisdom. Snakes are suitable for inhabiting wet lands. The snake refers to the eternal evolution of age and succession, decay, and the succession of human generations. Snake people are calm, gentle, deep, and sympathetic but sometimes aggressive. They are very determined and persistent.


Horse ZodiacHorse: People born in this year are gentle, comfortable, and generous so they are popular and favored by many people but rarely listen to advice. They are said to own these characteristics – innocent, elegant and wise.



Goat ZodiacGoat: Calm but shy, modest but lack of a standpoint. Due to the clumsiness in speaking, goat people are not born to become salespersons. However, they feel sympathetic and passionate towards unfortunate people.



Monkey ZodiacMonkey: An erratic genius. They are experts in making financial deals. Monkey people are seen to be happy, skillful and creative, but their talkativeness sometimes annoys other people. Their weakness lies in the tendency of being irregular and inconsistent.


Rooster ZodiacRooster: Represents a year of hard work and numerous activities as it’s busy all day long. The rooster’s crest resembles a mandarin’s hat and is considered to bring extremely intelligence and wisdom. People born in this year are profound and are deep thinkers. They tend to set up small businesses to earn a living.


Dog ZodiacDog: Foresees a future of wealth. All over the world, dogs are used for guarding the house against intruders. The Dog year implies a year of safety.


Pig ZodiacPig: Symbolizes prosperity. People born in this year are not only gallant, generous, kind, and brave but are also quick-tempered, assiduous, and are good listeners.


During Vietnam ancient history, the 12 zodiac signs have succeeded in showing the surprising and unlimited wisdom of the ancients in the relation with the universe as well as opening a new door to human understandings of personalities.



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