The decision to investigate the Chinese Zodiac came relatively easy to us. Each of us already had an interest in horoscopes and could identify (or thought we could!) the Chinese zodiac animal of the year we were born. Beyond that, we knew very little about the Chinese zodiac or its cultural and social impact.
The first shock was for Kris – he realised that he was not an ox, as he’d thought, but a tiger. This is because the Chinese New Year falls at a different time to the calendar we are accustomed to; because Kris was born in January, he’s still part of the previous year’s zodiac. We later discovered that whilst China operates day to day via the same calendar we do, its zodiac operates on a different scale of time.
As globalisation continues to morph the world into a new shape, it is becoming difficult to examine a culture holistically from an external perspective. This is because cultural, social, economic and political paradigms are wrapped around multiple locations on the globe; when analysing an ‘unfamiliar’ practice, we need to systematically analyse our own context and experience simultaneously (Ellis et. al 2017; Hayano 1979). This is what has ignited the demand for autoethnographic research. Hayano, an Associate Professor in Anthropology at California State University, argued this in 1979; now in 2017 it is even more true. Therefore at this early stage of our investigation, we each began to record and understand our own relationship with the Chinese zodiac. We each were born under a different animal; Kris is an ox, Brooke is a tiger and Claire is a rat. We discovered that the Chinese Zodiac has been adapted into an Australian context to promote multilateral understanding between the two cultures.
Once we had gotten a feel for our ‘characters’, we experimented with compatibility tests. It was a little alarming at this early point in our research to discover that the three of us are seen as mostly unfit to work together.
Considering the three of us had never worked together on an assessment before, and each have an interest and some level of belief in the zodiac systems we’ve encountered, this was an interesting occurrence. We were mindful of the danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which occurs when a prediction becomes true due to the positive feedback between belief and behaviour (see this Reddit forum for more on self-fulfilling prophecies and astrology). Would this team ‘fail’ to work together because we were told it would be so? No such travesty occurred, thankfully; the three of us managed to pull together an artefact and surrounding research we were each content with.
We enhanced our autoethnographic method via publishing our experiences on Twitter to make “witnessing” possible (Ellis et. al 2017). Ellis argues that this gives readers, often with varied experiences in the research field at hand, the ability to “observe and testify”. We had multiple engagements with our Twitter posts, which used the hashtags #digc330 and #zodiacattack. This was both to validate our research, keep track of it and allow others to intervene or share their own experience.
Our key epiphany was the huge role that the Chinese zodiac plays in the cultural, social and economic spheres of China. It’s normal for Chinese citizens to plan when to conceive children according to the zodiac. For example, the Year of the Dragon is widely accepted to be lucky and desirable. In 1988 and 2000, both Dragon years, the birth rate in China increased in the short-term, which makes it “unquestionable that the Dragon Year preference exerts an influence on fertility of modern Chinese populations through zodiacal birth-timing motivations” (Lee et. al 2002). Economically, the Chinese media industry is inundated with references to and portrayals of the zodiac, including anime, television programs and even card games. We found that across the board, the zodiac animals portrayed values of power and leadership.
It has been fascinating to consider the impact of the Chinese zodiac on China itself, from our university classrooms on “this vast continent on the edge of the Asian landmass” (Leong et. al 2017), primarily via the internet, relevant media and a single paperback book.