Vietnamese Zodiac: The Dark Side

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Ever wonder why zodiacs all over the world only have good things to say about everyone? Even faults are seen as positives as everyday reality goes out the window. You have to wonder where all the misery, war and poverty in the world comes from when reading these ‘fairy tale’-like descriptions where everybody is smart, compassionate and talented. This is a good marketing ploy that sucks in readers but it’s not much use to anyone.

Like its Western counterpart, the East Asian zodiac (which had its genesis in China) rarely has anything bad to say about any of the signs. 

 There are more cracks in the wall however, and through the Vietnamese zodiac we can get closer to the truth. Indeed, although cleverly disguised, the Vietnamese horoscope can show us the dark side of humanity in all its greed, ambition and horror.

If, like most, you read horoscopes to find out how wonderful you are, maybe it’s best that you don’t read on. Most of you aren’t wonderful at all. But if you want to see where you fit in the ‘rat race’ of life, continue, especially if you’re looking for leverage over friends, lovers and colleagues. This is the real road to success and fortune.

By way of background, legend has it that the order of the Vietnamese zodiac was determined by the ‘great race’ with Rat coming in first, Pig last, and the others in between. This race tells us much about the character of each sign as we shall see.

Rat – the smart one (1948; 1960; 1972; 1984; 1996; 2008; 2020)

Traditional

Throughout the world Rats are considered pests, especially around granaries. But in Vietnam, Rats are also respected for being intelligent, quick-witted and imaginative.

Rats are also generous, especially to those near and dear.

Dark Side – the cunning one

Rat has first place in the list because she won the ‘great race’. She did so by sucking Water Buffalo into giving her a ride and throwing Cat into the river along the way. As they approached the finish line she bonked Water Buffalo on the head and was first to scuttle across the line. Enough said.

If you work for a Rat, don’t be fooled by that dove-eyed look. Taking no prisoners, Rats calculate each step meticulously in order to get precisely what they want. Best to stay on the right side of them. Rats are ‘Houdinis’ and masterful thieves who are ferocious when seemingly cornered.

Water Buffalo – the born leader (1949; 1961; 1973; 1985; 1997; 2009, 2021)

Traditional

For many Vietnamese, a Water Buffalo is the greatest asset a villager can have. Indeed, Water Buffaloes secure the rice crop and bring security.

Water Buffaloes have resolute leadership skills and, if they appear too serious, worry not, an extremely warm heart beats beneath the surface. When fully open, Water Buffaloes can be one of the most passionate lovers.

Dark Side – the ponderous one

Water Buffaloes are leaders simply by dint of their strength. They plow ahead just as their forebears did without a skerrick of imagination or innovation. They are ponderous and cannot organize anything which means they need skilled assistants. In the ‘great race’ Water Buffalo was stupid enough to trust Rat thinking he was a loyal ‘assistant’.

That distant look in Water Buffalo’s eyes is often mistaken as a creative streak but in reality it reflects a complete absence of thought. As lovers, the best thing that can be said about Water Buffaloes is that they’re ‘big’.

Tiger – the powerful one (1950; 1962; 1974; 1984; 1998; 2010, 2022)

Traditional

Tigers are kings of the forest and, with so much of Vietnam mountainous forest, they have attained holy status.

Tigers are brave, smart risk-takers who can do extraordinary things. Sometimes censured for their non-conformity and strength they may have troubled lives. Female Tigers may encounter difficulty in Vietnam because of their strength but they make the most devoted and protective mothers.

Dark Side – the reckless one

Tigers are totally selfish and reckless, it’s their way or the highway. They drunkenly drive motorbikes without helmets and put us all in danger. Worst of all they insist we all come along on their senseless, juvenile sprees.

As parents they raise their kids in hellish isolation – no one is good enough for them. The spoilt brats and school bullies that emerge continue the appalling cycle of inane adolescent mayhem. Good choice for maverick special operations in guerrilla warfare.

Cat – the flexible one (1951; 1963; 1975; 1987; 1999; 2011; 2023)

Traditional

When it comes to domestic pets, Cats are the most popular in Vietnam, especially because of their ability to protect rice from pests.

Cats are tender but secretive, courteous and sociable, but it’s hard to tell if they are happy or not. They are very deep thinkers.

Dark Side – the self-interested one

None of the signs can compare to Cat’s level of self interest. Cat was smart enough to hitch a ride on Water Buffalo in the ‘great race’ but dropped her guard when Rat pushed her overboard. Ever since that moment, Cats have just looked out for Number 1.

Don’t be fooled by Cat’s occasional affection. Every action of Cat is designed to feed its own appetites and enhance its own comfort. Cats like to toy with those weaker than themselves and show no mercy when doing so. Altruism in any form is non-existent in the Cat world.

Dragon – the holy one (1952; 1964; 1976; 1988; 2000; 2012; 2024)

Traditional

Dragons have been deified and are regarded as the most sacred among holy animals in the Orient.

Dragons are born with huge dolops of raw talent. Associated with royalty, it is said a Dragon never lives poorly, at least in matters of style. If Dragons can learn to balance small as well as large concerns then a perfect life awaits.

Dark Side – the up-herself one

Dragons are arrogant and tactless. They are more powerful than others and use this advantage without demur. Dare to disagree and they just take you out. Their deification is based totally on fear.

Potentially talented, Dragons waste their lives in pursuit of the ‘fine things’ and are suckers for the trinkets of the material world. Dragons desperately need to practice meditation and enjoy the beauty of a dewdrop on a leaf instead of gathering golden goblets. Romantic relationships with Dragons are hellish as they are unpredictable with constantly changing emotions with no room in their souls for others.

Snake – the lucky one (1953; 1965; 1977; 1989; 2001; 2013; 2025)

Traditional

Vietnam’s wet climate suits Snakes down to the ground. Their contribution to Vietnamese traditional medicine is highly valued — the venom and skin especially.

Good luck is the most prominent feature of the Snake sign and Snakes can be extremely charming.

Dark Side – the insensitive ‘user’ one

Snakes may be lucky but it’s not so for those around them. Snakes may be wise but they keep this wisdom to themselves. Snakes may be smart but they have no capacity to work or live collaboratively with others. Once bitten and smitten by a Snake, once falling in love with one, there is no escape. Pray this nightmare doesn’t happen to you!

Snake attached herself closely to Horse in the ‘big race’ but when she had no further need of her she almost frightened her to death before slinking away.

A snake’s intelligence is self-serving and used mostly for materialistic gain. Her desire to ‘keep up with the Jonses’ is all-consuming and she is over fond of the limelight. To the profound distress of others, Snakes, when they have had a few, sentimentally cry in their beers for hours and hours.

Horse – the nomadic one (1954; 1966; 1978; 1990; 2002; 2014; 2026)

Traditional

Horse has traditionally had a key role in transportation in Vietnam, especially in mountainous and forested areas.

Thus Horse is destined to be on the move. Staying at the same place is unbearable. Horses are often very generous and have lots of friends whom they treat like brothers. The key to their success is their confidence and independence.

Dark Side – the cowardly one

If you live with a Horse be prepared to keep moving. Without a thought for anyone else Horses just charge around more or less with no purpose. It’s not just a question of living out of a suitcase: Horses, like fugitives, will need to breakfast, lunch and dinner in different places. When asked why, they just look blank.

In the ‘great race’ fleet-footed Horse was duped by Snake who hitched a ride on her hoof and then slinked ahead at the last minute. Skittish Horse pulled up short, rearing on her hind legs, neighing with fear at that moment and has suffered from all manner of phobias ever since. Perhaps the fact that Horse is easily duped has contributed to her nervy nature and propensity to always be on the run.

Goat – the dreamy one (1955; 1967; 1979; 1991; 2003; 2015; 2027)

Traditional

Goats love the mountains and dreaming the day away while grazing. On the other hand they are brimming with a strong sense of kindheartedness and justice.

Goats’ other-worldliness may also be a strength as many goats excel in the imaginative realms of poetry, painting and performing arts. They have delicate souls, strong creativity, perseverance and acquire professional skills well.

Dark Side – the stubborn, sneaky one

Don’t be fooled by a Goat’s gentle demeanor. On the inside they are opinionated and will not budge an inch when it comes to their views. That’s if you can get them to talk. While they love being in a group, they are energy takers not energy givers.

Once you get past their facade of ‘creative genius’ there’s not much to a Goat. They wear their cloak of sensitivity permanently as a ruse to camouflage the empty husk beneath. While Goat, Monkey and Rooster collaborated in the ‘great race’ by sharing a raft, somehow it was Goat who ingratiated himself with the Emperor to be rated above the other two even though it was Rooster who spotted the raft. Yes, the sneaky, silent one!

Monkey – the cheerful one (1956; 1968; 1980; 1992; 2004; 2016; 2028)

Traditional

Monkeys can make you smile since they are cheerful from the bottom of their hearts. As the animal closest  to humans, monkeys are smart and innovative.

A stay-the-same life is ‘death’ for monkeys and lively change is embraced wholeheartedly. How much can they achieve in just one life? Whether successful or not, monkeys never complain or compare their lot with others. This is the key to their happiness.

Dark Side – the mischievous, nosy one

To say Monkeys are naughty is to put it mildly. They are mischief makers par excellence and their pranks are often hurtful to others. Monkeys are fast learners and crafty opportunists who need partners that stimulate them 24/7 or they simply dump them. Be prepared to have to perform for them day in day out if you want to stick around.

Monkeys are very difficult to live with as they are sly and restless. They are also painfully nosy so lock up anything private and be careful what you let slip – one day it will be used against you as the crafty Monkey plots and plans for the future.

Rooster – the self-righteous one (1957; 1969; 1981; 1993; 2005; 2017; 2029)

Traditional

Roosters are an indispensable source of protein-rich nourishment, nature’s alarm clock and key player in sacrificial offerings associated with worship and festivals.

The Rooster’s cheekiness may lead to trouble but, if he can control this aspect, success will follow as roosters are naturally skilled in many fields. Roosters are very stylish.

Dark Side – the boastful one

Roosters love to talk and get agitated if no one listens. They are vain and boastful as well. In short they strut around like self-important, outspoken politicians who are in love with the sounds of their own voices.

In terms of genuine content there is not much to what a rooster says. Just the same self-serving slogans repeated over and over so often that the hope is they become truth by some osmotic process. Cock-a-doodle-doo, cock-a-doodle-doo, cock-a-doodle-doo …

Dog – the faithful one (1958; 1970; 1982; 1994; 2006; 2018; 2030)

Traditional

Dogs are deeply respected for their faithfulness and their ability to keep secrets.

Dogs are nervy and need time to develop trust in relationships as trust is so important to them. Vietnamese people believe that male Dogs should ceremonially bring their brides home twice to avoid their marriage breaking up in the future. Once Dogs’ relationships have strong foundations however, they are very secure.

Dark Side – the pessimistic one

Dogs may be faithful to one or two others but forget the rest of us. Their so-called ‘loyalty’ serves their petty ambitions and is only available to those who have something to offer.

Dogs are whingers and professional pessimists who drive everybody mad with their moaning and howling. Nothing is ever OK for them. Unfortunately, Dogs sometimes attain high office (notably the US Presidency – Bush Jnr, Clinton, Trump), and drag their bleak view across everything.

Nevertheless, Dogs are less scheming and nasty than many of the other signs. Hence their distant 11th position in the pecking order, far below the nasties above them.

Pig – the optimistic one (1959; 1971; 1983; 1995; 2007; 2019; 2031)

Traditional

The importance of pigs economically in Vietnam is somehow emblematic of optimism in the zodiac.

Pigs wear rose-colored glasses, don’t worry, love food and are unselfish. They’re honest and quick to forgive. While not as successful as many others, it doesn’t matter, as a pig’s rosy world leaves her content anyway.

Dark Side – the foolish one

Pigs are easily fooled and are literally pig-headed. Once they embark on one of their projects, no matter how ill-conceived, they will continue, even if it consumes a lifetime. If you’re married to a Pig their intransigence drives you mad.

Pigs will eat you out of house and home. Indeed, after feasting and eating, little else matters to Pig. In the ‘great race’ Pig came last because she got hungry during the race, stopped to feast and then fell asleep.

Pigs are the least nasty of all the signs however. Their worst trait is that they’re boring and as they don’t think far past the next meal, Pigs occupy last place in the zodiac.

Points of Interest

  1. Of East Asian zodiacs most follow the Chinese original with a few variations but Myanmar aberrantly attaches it’s eight animals to the eight directions and curiously the days of the week as well – Wednesday makes extra room by getting one animal in the morning and another in the afternoon.
  2. Despite a reluctance in Vietnam to embrace anything Chinese there is no getting round its debt to China when it comes to the horoscope. They both have 12-year lunar calendar cycles (not 12-months as in the West) and the twelve symbolic animals are identical except Water Buffalo has replaced Ox, and Cat, somewhat bizarrely, has displaced the Rabbit.
  3. For a brief account of the ‘Great Race’ use this link.
  4. If you’re not sure what year you belong to in this lunar system try this ready reckoner out for size.

Revised and updated January 2020

Written By
Stuart Neal

Former publisher at ABC Books and Consultant Publisher at Allen & Unwin in Australia, Stuart Neal is co-founder of the travel website, Hoi An Now.

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