Prosperous "Year of Birth"
It was a scientific way for ancient Chinese to use "tiangan dizhi" (the ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches) to count the years. However, at that time and even in the long historical process, only quite a few people could read and write. In order to make it easier for people to remember and calculate the years, twelve animals in accordance with the twelve earthly branches (dizhi) were used as another way of counting the years. Each animal is used as the symbolic animal of a year in the 12-year circle. Therefore, the symbolic animals make it easier for people to count the years. As there are ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches, twelve years make a small cycle while sixty years a big cycle. In this way, everyone will always encounter a year with the same symbolic animal as that of the year he or she was born every twelve years. This is "year of birth", as people call it.
In the year of birth, the Chinese will be particularly fond of red color. The preference for red color in one's year of birth is supposed to be a legacy of the worship to red color in traditional Han Chinese culture and customs. On Chinese New Year's Eve when their year of birth is around the corner, people will put on their red underwear, or wear a red girdle, and some of them may use red strings to carry their pendants ahead of time, so as to welcome their year of birth. It is believed that only in this way can it bring about fortune and protect them from evils, disasters and misfortunes.
There is also a custom of offering sacrifice to the "God of the Year of Birth" by those concerned. The Yuanchen Hall in the White Cloud Taoist Temple of Beijing houses the "Sixty Star Gods". Every first month of the lunar year, the hall would attract many worshippers, who come to burn joss sticks and candles as a sacrifice to his or her "God of the Year of Birth" and pray for safety.
Ancient Chinese believed that in your life time, you would come across several disasters and misfortunes no matter you were the emperor, high officials or the ordinary and underling. It is generally agreed by the folks that the year of birth is often ominous and is a crucial period of your life time. Why exactly has the year of birth become so appealing to the mind of the general public? According to the book On the Year of Birth written by Liu Xinwu, from the perspective of the psychological development of an individual, the year of birth tends to be a crucial and dangerous period in one's life time.
There are a great many views about the year of birth; however, it is hard to decide which is right or wrong.