TED2016

ShaoLan: The Chinese zodiac, explained

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A quarter of the world's population cares a lot about the Chinese zodiac. Even if you don't believe in it, you'd be wise to know how it works, says technologist and entrepreneur ShaoLan Hseuh. In this fun, informative talk, ShaoLan shares some tips for understanding the ancient tradition and describes how it's believed to influence your personality, career, marriage prospects and how you'll do in a given year. What does your sign say about you?

- Technologist, entrepreneur
ShaoLan want to help people understand China's culture and language, and to bridge the gap between East and West. Full bio

Have you ever been asked
by your Chinese friend,
00:12
"What is your zodiac sign?"
00:15
Don't think they are making small talk.
00:17
If you say, "I'm a Monkey,"
00:20
they immediately know
00:22
you are either 24, 36, 48 or 60 years old.
00:23
(Laughter)
00:27
Asking a zodiac sign is a polite way
of asking your age.
00:28
By revealing your zodiac sign,
you are also being evaluated.
00:32
Judgments are being made
about your fortune or misfortune,
00:36
your personality, career prospects
00:40
and how you will do in a given year.
00:42
If you share you and your
partner's animal signs,
00:45
they will paint a picture in their mind
about your private life.
00:48
Maybe you don't believe
in the Chinese zodiac.
00:52
As a quarter of the world population
is influenced by it,
00:55
you'd be wise to do something about that.
00:59
So what is the Chinese zodiac, exactly?
01:02
Most Westerners think
of Greco-Roman zodiac,
01:05
the signs divided into 12 months.
01:09
The Chinese zodiac is different.
01:11
It's a 12-year cycle labeled with animals,
01:13
starting with a Rat and ending with a Pig,
01:16
and has no association
with constellations.
01:19
For example, if you were born
in 1975, you are a Rabbit.
01:23
Can you see your zodiac sign there?
01:29
Our Chinese ancestors constructed
a very complicated theoretical framework
01:31
based on yin and yang, the five elements
and the 12 zodiac animals.
01:37
Over thousands of years,
01:42
this popular culture has affected
people's major decisions,
01:44
such as naming, marriage, giving birth
and attitude towards each other.
01:48
And some of the implications
are quite amazing.
01:54
The Chinese believe certain animals
get on better than the others.
01:58
So parents choose specific years
to give birth to babies,
02:02
because they believe the team effort
by the right combination of animals
02:07
can give prosperity to families.
02:12
We even refer to the zodiac
when entering into romantic relations.
02:15
I'm a Pig; I should have perfect romance
with Tigers, Goats and Rabbits.
02:20
Chinese people believe some animals
are natural enemies.
02:27
As a Pig, I need
to be careful with a Snake.
02:31
Raise your hand if you are a Snake.
02:34
Let's have a chat later.
02:37
(Laughter)
02:39
We believe some animals
are luckier than the others,
02:40
such as the Dragon.
02:43
Unlike the Western tradition,
02:45
the Chinese Dragon is a symbol
for power, strength and wealth.
02:47
It's everyone's dream
to have a Dragon baby.
02:51
Jack Ma's parents
must have been very proud.
02:55
And they are not the only ones.
02:58
In 2012, the Year of the Dragon,
02:59
the birthrate in China,
Hong Kong and Taiwan
03:02
increased by five percent.
03:05
That means another
one million more babies.
03:07
With a traditional
preference to baby boys,
03:12
the boy-girl ratio that year
was 120 to 100.
03:15
When those Dragon boys grow up,
03:20
they will face much more severe
competition in love and job markets.
03:22
According to the BBC and the Chinese
government's press release,
03:27
January 2015 saw a peak
of Cesarean sections.
03:31
Why?
03:36
That was the last month
for the Year of the Horse.
03:38
It's not because they like horses so much,
03:41
it's because they try to avoid
having unlucky Goat babies.
03:44
(Laughter)
03:48
If you are a Goat, please don't feel bad.
03:49
Those are Goat babies.
03:52
They don't look like losers to me.
03:53
(Laughter)
03:55
Tiger is another undesirable animal,
03:57
due to its volatile temperament.
03:59
Many Chinese regions
saw a sharp decline of birthrate
04:02
during those years.
04:06
Perhaps one should consider
zodiac in reverse,
04:07
as those Tiger and Goat babies
will face much less competition.
04:11
Maybe they are the lucky ones.
04:15
I went through the Forbes
top 300 richest people in the world,
04:19
and it's interesting to see
04:24
the most undesirable two animals,
the Goat and Tiger,
04:26
are at the top of the chart,
04:30
even higher than the Dragon.
04:32
So maybe we should consider,
04:34
maybe it's much better
to have less competition.
04:36
One last but interesting point:
04:40
many Chinese people make
their investment decisions
04:42
based on the zodiac sign index.
04:45
Although the belief and tradition
of the zodiac sign
04:48
has been over thousands of years,
04:52
the trend of using it
in making major decisions
04:54
did not really happen
until the past few decades.
04:58
Our ancestors were very busy
surviving poverty, drought,
05:01
famine, riot, disease and civil war.
05:06
And finally, Chinese people
have the time, wealth and technology
05:09
to create an ideal life
they've always wanted.
05:15
The collective decision
made by 1.3 billion people
05:19
has caused the fluctuation in economics
and demand on everything,
05:23
from health care and education
to property and consumer goods.
05:27
As China plays such an important role
in the global economy and geopolitics,
05:32
the decisions made based on the zodiac
and other Chinese traditions
05:37
end up impacting everyone
around the world.
05:42
Are there any Monkeys here?
05:47
2016 is the Year of the Monkey.
05:49
Monkeys are clever, curious,
creative and mischievous.
05:53
Thank you.
05:58
(Applause)
05:59

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About the Speaker:

ShaoLan Hsueh - Technologist, entrepreneur
ShaoLan want to help people understand China's culture and language, and to bridge the gap between East and West.

Why you should listen

ShaoLan is an entrepreneur, angel investor, geek, writer, traveller and dreamer. She is the founder and creator of Chineasy, which she launched after her TED Talk in Long Beach, California in 2013.

In just over three years, she has built Chineasy into one of the most popular methods of learning Chinese across the Internet with several hundred thousand fellow learners. Her first book, Chineasy, The New Way to Read Chinese, was launched in March 2014 and has been translated into 18 languages. Her next book, Chineasy Everyday, was launched in March 2016.

ShaoLan is a tech entrepreneur with extensive business experience. At the age of 22, while studying for her MBA, she wrote four best-selling books on software in Taiwan, and her books were bundled by Microsoft. She co-founded pAsia, one of the major players on Internet in Asia in 1990’s. After a second masters degree at the University of Cambridge, she began Caravel Capital in 2005 to advise young tech companies.

Chineasy represents a return for ShaoLan to her artistic upbringing and in many ways a design project. This project is the culmination of her life’s journey through the East and West. Her aim is to help people to understand China, Chinese culture, its language and to bridge the gap between East and West. Her next step is to help Chinese children to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of their own language. 

 

More profile about the speaker
ShaoLan Hsueh | Speaker | TED.com