Glazed pottery figurine depicting an
anthropomorphic pig painted in pink, emerging
from a swirl of green coloured clouds, a short
green mantel covering his shoulders.
Numerology and astrology have been integral
part of Chinese culture from the beginning.
Association of animals with directions, times of
the year, certain constellations and specific
qualities were central in the yin-yang wuxing
(Yin and Yan and five elements) belief of the Han
dynasty. The appearance of certain animals
played an important role in Chinese beliefs
regarding omens and portents and reflected a
complex and evolving system of belief that
spanned the Han dynasty through the period of
disunity into the Tang dynasty.
Yet the origin of the twelve zodiac signs remains
somewhat obscure; their earliest appearance as
funerary sculptures in northern Chinese tombs
dates to the latter part of the Six dynasties
period (6th c. C.E).
Almost all early examples represent human
bodies, in kneeling position with animal heads;
no full set has been found so far from tombs
datable to this period.
The earliest known 12 piece sets date from the
Tang dynasty, but they are extremely rare. Sets
of Zodiac animals become common only later in
the Tang dynasty and during the Song.
Zodiac animals might have been inspired by
contacts with Western and Central Asian peoples,
given the fact that their first appearance
coincided with the advent of the Tuoba Wei
dynasty in Northern China, indeed the animal
zodiac constituted a well-developed
iconographical element in these areas long
before their emergence in China.