Humans have been fascinated by the stars since the dawn of man -- so much so that they connected those celestial points of light with earthly qualities. From there they connected everyone of us to the stars through the zodiac. Many different cultures created their own astrology. One that seems to intrigue us the most is the Chinese. One collection of sculptures now on display in Denver explores these animal symbols with an added historical perspective.

Ram Statue
Ram Statue

In the 19th century, at the Summer Palace in Beijing, in the Garden of Perfect Brightness, 12 animals heads representing the signs of the zodiac decorated a water clock. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the complex was looted by French and British troops. Five of the sculptures were lost and the other seven were scattered about the world. In China they then became a symbol of that country's humiliation by the West.

Installing The Circle of Animals
Installing The Circle of Animals

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has recreated these 12 heads with his own style and a touch of whimsy entitles Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. They are his nod to history and a statement about the importance of returning lost artifacts to their home culture. For those who aren't aware, the 12 animals are a Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

The Ox Awaiting Installation
The Ox Awaiting Installation

The animal heads, each weighing around 800 pounds and standing 10 feet tall on their posts, are currently on display in Civic Center Park in Denver, just steps from the Colorado state capitol. It will remain there until October 2018. The collection has also been displayed in Chicago, Prague, Toronto, London, São Paulo and New York.

The Circle of Animals on Display in Denver
The Circle of Animals on Display in Denver

According to Taoist mythology of the animals in the Chinese zodiac these animals were all chosen by the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. The story goes that all creatures were invited to join the emperor for a New Year's Day celebration but only 12 showed up. The years were then named for each animal in the order of arrival.

The Circle of Animals on Display in Denver
The Circle of Animals on Display in Denver

The rat arrived first, having hitched a ride on the back of the Ox to make it across a swiftly flowing river in their way. Rat jumped off in time to beat Ox to the feet of the Emperor and won first place. Tiger came in third and Rabbit took fourth by hopping across the river on stones and a log.

The Circle of Animals on Display in Denver
The Circle of Animals on Display in Denver

Dragon came in fifth and the Emperor, so taken with him, said that his son could be sixth. Sadly, Dragon's son had not come with him that day. Snake noticed and slithered forward to say that Dragon was his adoptive father so he became number six. Horse and Ram became seven and eight. Lastly came Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig..

Thus the 12 most honored animals became the zodiac and were thenceforth tied to the lives of every man, woman, and child. To find out what your Chinese zodiac sign is, click here.

Images via The Denver Post

Sources: Telegraph, Denver Post, Zodiac Heads, China Highlights, Wikipedia

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