Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Year of the Red Fire Monkey: Some Background

Monday, February 8, 2016 begins the Year of the Monkey. It is the beginning of the year 4713 (in some traditions, 4714) in the Asian lunar system, which is the Year of the Red Fire Monkey.

In today’s posting, I would like to share with you some specifics about the Year of the Monkey  as well as some background to the Asian Zodiac system as a whole.

That said, you may also be interested in reading three related posts on

1)  Lunar New Year Customs around the world at

2)  Year of the Monkey: Business Impact  This post covers the business effects from travel to special editions of coins, stamps and gifts for the Lunar New Year around the world.  http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-of-monkey-business-impact.html

3) Year of the Monkey 2016: 205 Celebrations Around the World.  This post first indicates where the Lunar New Year is an official state holiday. The post then goes on to share the wide range of events taking place outside of those countries. The listing here gives 205 major celebrations (parades, galas or other celebrations) for the Year of the Monkey  in 27 countries beyond where it is officially part of the tradition. Of these, 78 are in the United States, 30 in the United Kingdom, 21 in Canada, 19 in France, 17 in Australia, 5 in New Zealand, 4 each in the Netherlands and Thailand 3 each in Spain, the Philippines and Malaysia, and 2 in Italy and Mexico. Additionally there were 1 each in  Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dubai, Finland, Germany, Greece, IrelandPanama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal,  South Africa, and South Africa.. This is available at http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-of-monkey-2016-celebrations-around_26.html

In today’s posting, though, we look only at the background to the Year of the Monkey specifically and the Asian Zodiac system as a whole.


The Asian Zodiac Briefly Explained

The Asian Zodiac (or horoscope) associated with the Asian or Chinese New Year is taken very seriously by those who follow it in their tradition. The significance attributed to the combinations associated with the Asian horoscope affect business decisions, dates selected for important events such as weddings, and many other aspects of daily life. These views are widely shared, with a larger following than any single religion -- Western or Eastern. As a result, these beliefs should be treated with the respect accorded a religious belief (rather than with that of superstition as Western astrology is sometimes treated).

The Lunar Calendar

Because the Asian lunar calendar follows the moon, it seems to move within our solar-based Gregorian calendar. Moreover, the Gregorian calendar does not correspond fully with the Asian lunar calendar. Thus, February 19  marks the beginning of the Asian lunar calendar only this year  for the Year of the Ram.Goat. For instance, it began last year on January 31, 2014 for the Year of the Horse with the last day falling on February 18, 2014. The year before the New Year began on February 10, 2013 with the last day of that year -- Year of the Snake -- falling on January 30, 2014, and so on.

The Twelve Animals of the Zodiac

The lunar calendar runs on a cycle of 12 years each represented by an animal.  The animals all have a balance of compatibility or incompatibility as represented in their place in the circle of the 12-year cycle. This year is the Year of the Monkey, the ninth animal in the cycle.
The 12 Animals of the Zodiac

The 12 animals in their order are

  1. Rat
  2. Ox
  3. Tiger
  4. Rabbit
  5. Dragon
  6. Snake
  7. Horse
  8. Ram/Sheep/Goat
  9. Monkey
  10. Rooster
  11. Dog
  12. Pig

Each animal corresponds to a month of the lunar year. The ram or goat, this year's governing animal,  corresponds to the eighth animal in the cycle.

The Five Elements of the Wu Xing Cycle

Additionally, each 12-year cycle of animals runs on an additional cycle corresponding to the Wu Xing cycle of the five traditional Chinese elements. These are
  1. metal
  2. fire
  3. wood
  4. water
  5. earth
  6. Wu Xing Cycle

The five elements are in balance with each other, the basis of much of feng shui.

Combined, each element combines with each animal over a period of 60 years.  The current 12-year cycle combines with the element of Fire

Each element is also associated with a color. In the case of fire, that color is red.

Thus, this year is the Year of the Red Fire Monkey.

Spiritual Importance of the Asian Horoscope

Many followers of the Asian zodiac have a formal religious belief in the importance of the animal element combinations associated with each year in the 60-year cycle. This is clearly the case for those practicing Taoism.

For Taoists, the New Year is always of religious significance. This because in Taoism, the Lunar New Year's first day is a time when lesser deities or spirits are believed to ascend to the throne of the Jade Emperor (King of Heaven).  In Taoist tradition, the 12 animals were in a contest to greet the Jade Emperor; a 13th animal – the cat – was tricked by the rat (about five variations of how exist), which explains why cats have hated rats ever since.  A children's version of this story is told in an very pleasant rendition at the Topmarks education site. I encourage you to take a look at this version at 

The 12 Zodiac animals
in their race

The New Year is a religious event as well for a great number of the sects of Buddhism, and most famously for Tibetan Buddhists. In Buddhist tradition, the 12 animals were in a race to do honor to Lord Buddha on the eve of his death.  The rat and cat story is part of this tradition, too.  Incidentally, the rat was the first animal to greet Buddha.  He did so by helping the ox (which had poor eyesight) find his way across a stream by riding on his head.  When the two reached Lord Buddha on the other shore, the rat jumped off the ox’s head, reaching Lord Buddha first.  

Additionally, though Confucianism is not technically a religion (but rather a philosophical system), its followers also traditional observe the lunar New Year to show reverence to their ancestors.  Because of this, even Christians and practitioners of other faiths in such countries as  as Korea or Vietnam generally celebrate the holiday. The same holds true for those people in cultures with strong Confucian customs who have no religion at all or for those with mixed traditions.

Personality Traits and Asian Astrological Year

Monkey at Shrine, Tokyo
Many people attribute a great deal of significance to the personality traits attributed to the animal associated with the year in which they are born.  Each animal has its own traits, and then each animal and element combination has their own subtraits. These are explained later in the blog.

The Year of the Monkey is associated with ambitious moves relying on intelligence, wit, charisma and charm.  With most Asian Horoscope years, those believers born in a previous of the same animal will meet with good fortune.However, people born in the Year of Monkey are the exception to this generalization. Because Monkeys try always to get the upper hand and land on top, the do poorly when meeting other Monkey people. Thus for those born in Year of the Monkey (e.g., 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 or 2004) will find this to exercise caution.

It is important to note that the animal of one’s birth year is not seen as fully able to stand on its own in understanding an individual’s personality traits and tendencies. These must at a minimum, as we have discussed, take into account the associated five elements. Additionally, East Asian astrologers account for the inner or secret animal assigned by the day of the month and hour of the day on which one is born.  In all, there are 8640 combinations (e.g., 12 months, 5 elements, 12 months, 12 times of day).

Chinese Astrology Not A Particular Accurate Term

The system discussed here is often called Chinese astrology. This is a misnomer for two reasons.  First, the holiday is far more widely observed than in just China, especially in Korea, Singapore, Bhutan, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia and Vietnam as well as those from these backgrounds living in other countries. 

I have described the holiday in general in this post. In a future post, I will discuss followed the culturally specific differences in customs at the close of this summary.

East Asian lunar zodiac
That said, for all the culturally diverse places in which the Asian New Year is celebrated, the calendar on which it is based does have its origins in China. The first written records of the calendar and the celebration of the New Year date to China’s Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC), although traditionally it is believed to date back to the rule of the semi-mythical Yellow Emperor Huang Di around 2600 BC.

A second reason the phrase Chinese astrology is a misnomer is that the system really has nothing to do with constellations as astrology does in the West. It is less a reading of the stars than an interpretation of the importance of the time, date and year in which one is born.  To the extent that when one is born matters to Western-style astrology, there is a correspondence. Moreover, there is another similarity as the five elements in the system, in fact, do correspond with the five planets known in ancient China.

Because of these corresponding commonalities with Western astrology, many people call the Asian system’s combinations of animals and elements the lunar or Chinese “horoscope”.  This is a bit of a misnomer, however, not only for the reasons just described but because the way in which people view the two “horoscopes” is very different.  

The difference here is that many people (although with many exceptions) in Europe, Australia and the Americas consider the Western zodiac horoscope of star signs (Scorpio, Sagittarius, etc.) to be a form of superstition, a game or something believed only partially. 

This is NOT the case with the Asian lunar horoscope cycle, where people follow their sign very seriously. As a result, the system, though it transcends that of any specific religion, should be treated with the respect accorded religious beliefs. In any case, the point here is that in a cross-cultural and inter-religious sense, the issue of lunar horoscope animal element signs should be treated with respect.

The Monkey in Buddhist and Taoist Tradition

Nephrite Monkeys Wrestling, Qing Dynasty, China
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
The monkey in Buddhist and Taoist tradition was credited for secretly saving the tiger.

Man-Ho Kwok in his book on Chinese Astrology (listed in the bibliography below) relates the rest of this Taoist tale regarding the Monkey and the Jade Emperor as follows:
The monkey and the tiger used to be next-door neighbours and were very good friends. The tiger was so fierce that all the other animals were afraid to approach him. 
Monkey, by Mao Song, 13th Century, China
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

One day the tiger became caught in a hunter's net. Crying out for help he was heard by the monkey, who dashed up the tree to untie the ropes of the net and free him. After this, the tiger owed a great debt to the monkey. He was aware, however, that if the monkey told the other animals what had happened they would not take him seriously again. He thought about killing the monkey to contain his secret, but realized that if he did this he would be unbearably lonely. Consequently, he decided to help the monkey instead, to pay off his debt. 
When it came to the selection of the animal signs, the tiger was one of the top prospects. The monkey's chances were not good, though, so the tiger decided to speak up for him. In front of all the other animals he praised the monkey's intelligence and ability, thereby ensuring the monkey a place among the animal signs. In this way, he paid off his debt.  (p. 28)

Personality Traits Associated with Year of the Monkey

It is important, again, to emphasize that for many people, the traits described here are taken very seriously and, by many others, at least somewhat seriously. The descriptions that follow are general traits. Professional astrologers in East Asia bore down through the specific year in the 60-year cycle (the element), the specific day and the specific hour of birth. As mentioned above, this produces 8640 possible permutations. The characteristics of any given year's zodiac animal, therefore, is considered by believers to be a very general influence.

Positive Monkey Traits
Ai Weiwei
 Monkey from the Circle of the Zodiac, 2011

Those born in the Year of the Monkey are – on the positive side -- considered to be intelligent, witty, charismatic and charming. The Monkey is also the sign most desirous of new experience and challenge. The site Senn sums this up well, noting: 

Those born under the sign of the Monkey are likely to view life as a series of quick events. Moving from one experience to the other, then, is not so much about the things that they are doing as the feelings that such moves evoke. If something is exciting, then they are likely to act upon it and see what comes their way... What the Monkey represents then is a younger way of life, in which action, loss, and education all have an important role to play. https://senn.cocoloni.com/chinese-zodiac/characteristics/monkey/

The Monkey are the most inquisitive and restless of all the Zodiac animals. Therefore, the Monkey is the sign of innovation and change. As a major Chinese Horoscope site explains:
Monkey is the most versatile sign and one of the most intelligent animal in the Chinese zodiac. He has the widest range of skills compare to any other zodiac animals. Monkey is the sign of inventor, improvisor, and the motivator of the Chinese zodiac. He has inimitable guile and charm and can be successful in almost any occupation. Being the quick-witted genius of the cycle, he is clever, flexible, capable, and innovative. They are the most active of all. http://chinesehoroscop-e.com/Monkey%20Zodiac.html
Mori Sosen (1747-1821)
Monkey and Waterfall, Honolulu Museum of Art
Professionally, people born in the Year of the Monkey are believed to have great problem-solving abilities and creativity.  As Man-Ho Kwok in his book on Chinese Astrology:
most monkey people are good at assessing risks and have a keen sense of financial situations. You rise to new challenges and hammer away at a problem until you find a solution. Even when a situation looks disheartening you explore all possible avenues until you find a promising opening. Your good organizational skills, combined with an astute and creative approach, are suited to work which involves investigation and speedy responses.
People born in the Year of the Monkey are believed to have innate talents in entertainment, public speaking and strategic thinking. They are believed to excel at any calling that requires persuasiveness, communication skills and -- especially --  thinking outside the box. Those born during the Year of the Monkey are supposed to be characterized by a deep well of charm and are innately lively, amusing and highly sociable. People born in the Year of the Monkey are the sign thought most likely to become famous, and so it (for believers), it does not seem unusual that so many famous people are born in Monkey years. Famous Year of the Monkey people include the actors Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor; the magician David Copperfield; the Star Wars creator George Lucas and SNL creator Lorne Michaels.In addition, the Year of the Monkey seems suited to those likely to be famous simply for being famous -- through sheer force of personality, which is why it seems fitting that TV Hosts Jerry Springer, Bill Maher, Bob Saget, and Randy Jackson (as well as reality star Kim Kardashian) are all Year of the Monkey people.

Finally, people born in the Year of the Monkey are loyal to friends and able to befriend those that must others may shun. This is evident in the monkey and tiger story (shared above). The monkey befriends the tiger when others would not, helps the tiger when the tiger is in greatest need and remains friends with the tiger even when it seems that the tiger may abandon their friendship. 

Negative Traits

On the negative side, people born in the Year of the Monkey generally are seen as having more positive than negative traits. It is, in general, a very likable and charismatic sign.

The negative traits tend to be the exaggerated version of their positive attributes. For instance, their wit and intelligence gives them the ability to decide things very quickly and accurately, but these may lead them to have little patience with those who take more time to catch up with them. As a result, monkey people are often accused of arrogance. Relatedly, their intelligence and driving curiosity results in a tendency to become bored quickly. Monkey people lose interest unless they constantly feel challenged. 

Likewise, the otherwise positive trait of leadership and drive makes people born in the Year of the Monkey seem competitive to a fault.  They are driven always to be in the top spot.  

Year of the Fire Monkey Predictions

Predictions for the Year of the Fire Monkey are based on the personality attributes ascribed
to the characteristics believed to describe all people born under the Monkey zodiac sign. The attributes of fire are then superimposed on this.
Monkey, Silla Period (8th Century), Korea
National Museum of Korea, Seoul

Whatever one's own view on such predictions personally may be, it is important to keep in mind that somewhere in the realm of one billion people believe such predictions to be true, with perhaps 500 million taking such predictions seriously enough to affect decisions on business, investments, marriage, and having children among others.

The personality attributes of people born in the Year of the Monkey were described in greater detail above, generally speaking they charismatic leaders filled with creativity and innovative ideas.  

The central characteristic of years governed by the element of fire is passion, action, leadership and dynamism. Fire is also associated with creative change and intensity.

Since the monkey is the animal most associated with creativity and fire is the element most associated with change, the Year of the Fire Monkey is one in which there is on the positive side the opportunity for innovation and new ideas and on the negative side a year of great volatility.

The professional astrologer Paul Ng  places the year within the 60-year cycle. Ng explains that this is the " Thunder Yin" in that cycle, with an uneven balance of yin and yang (2 yin influences as against just one yin influence). Though less gloomy than last year's prediction (which seemingly correctly anticipated both the Ebola virus outbreak and economic uncertainty in China, Ng  cautions that in this coming year "the world continues to be very volatile, politically and economically. There would be new sources of illnesses, mostly due to food issues."  http://www.paulng.com/CMS/uploads/2016-geo.pdf This is, however, one sentence in a an extensive prediction that varies according to where one is located and what one's own zodiac sign and time of birth are.

Some astrologers predict a more optimistic year in business or career decisions. Emphasizing the high energy and creativity traits of the animal combined with the "passion, creativity and joy" associated with fire, astrologer Susan Levitt puts it, the coming year "is ideal for a quantum leap in your life! Now is the time to shake things up, create change, and innovate a new path. Join Monkey’s enthusiast energy when risks are rewarded and anything can happen. Even the most ambitious plans can succeed. There will be more than enough action and opportunity to keep you busy. In Monkey year, it’s fine to just make it up as you go along." http://susanlevitt.com/astrology/monkey-year-2016/

Whatever your outcome for the year, Happy Year of the Fire Monkey!

Want to Learn More

For more on the animal for 2016, please see

Chinese Horoscop-e.com, "Monkey,"   http://chinesehoroscop-e.com/Monkey%20Zodiac.html

Chinese Zodiac.com, "Chinese Zodiac -- Monkey," http://www.chinesezodiac.com/monkey.php

Senn, "Chinese Zodiac Monkey Sign," https://senn.cocoloni.com/chinese-zodiac/characteristics/monkey/

Susan Levitt, "Fire Monkey Year 2016":   http://susanlevitt.com/astrology/monkey-year-2016/

Paul Ng, "Predictions for 2016 (Year of the Fire Monkey)":    http://www.paulng.com/CMS/uploads/2016-geo.pdf

Neil Somerville (2015), Your Chinese Horoscope 2016: What the Year of the Monkey Holds in Store for You,  Harper, 2015.

For more on the Asian Zodiac and Astrology in General, please see:

Camlo de Ville,  "The Fascinating World of Chinese Astrology," http://camlodedragon.com

Man-ho Kwok, Chinese Astrology: Forecast Your Future from Your Chinese Horoscope, Tuttle Publishing, 1997.

Theodora Lau, The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes (6th edition), Collins Reference, 2007.

Kah Joon Liow, "12 Chinese Zodiac Sign," Living Chinese Symbols http://www.living-chinese-symbols.com/12-chinese-zodiac-sign.html

David W. Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China: Conforming Earth to Heaven, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Xiaochun Sun, "Crossing the Boundaries Between Heaven and Man: Astronomy in Ancient China," in Astronomy Across Cultures, ed. Helaine Selin and adv. ed. Sun Xiaochun: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000.

David Twicken, Five Element Chinese Astrology Made Easy, iUniverse, 2000.

Derek Walters, The Complete Guide to Chinese Astrology, Watkins Publishing, 2005.

Suzanne White, The New Chinese Astrology, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009.

Charles Alfred Speed Williams. Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs (2000), New York: Castle Books.

Shelly Wu, Chinese Astrology: Exploring the Eastern Zodiac, New Page Books, 2005.

Ho-Peng Yoke, Chinese Mathematical Astrology: Reaching Out to the Stars, Routledge, 2003. This is the pre-eminent book on the mathematical science of Asian lunar horoscope calculations. It is downloadable at http://www.ebook3000.com/Chinese-Mathematical-Astrology--Reaching-out-for-the-stars--Needham-Research-Institute-Series-_130932.html

For general popular websites on Asian Astrology and the Zodiac, please see:

China Voc.com "Zodiac" http://www.chinavoc.com/zodiac/index.asp

Chinese Fortune Calendar http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/5EBasic.htm

Chinese Horoscope-e.com, "Basic Chinese Horoscope," http://chinesehoroscop-e.com/index.html

Online Chinese Astrology http://www.onlinechineseastrology.com/

Topmarks Education, "Zodiac Story, Chinese New Year."  http://www.topmarks.co.uk/ChineseNewYear/ZodiacStory.aspx

Clip Art Sources:

Nephrite Wrestling Monkeys, China, Qing Dynasty.   Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2_monkeys_wrestling_Asian_Art_Museum_SF_B60J977.JPG

Monkey, by Mao Song, 13th Century, China, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Ai Weiwei, Monkey from the Circle of the Zodiac, 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/8488073/Ai-Weiwei-Circle-of-AnimalsZodiac-heads.html?image=2

Mori Sosen (1747-1821), Monkey and Waterfall, Edo Japan era, Honolulu Museum of Art:http://research.honolulumuseum.org/EdoPainting/introduction-styles-of-japanese-painting-during-the-edo-period-1615-1868/shasei-the-maruyama-and-shijo-schools-of-japanese-painting/shasei-and-western-realism-4

Monkey, Silla Period (8th Century), Korea, National Museum of Korea, Seoul, photo by tjfriese, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Korea#/media/File:National_Museum_5.jpg

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