A Story behind the Chinese Zodiac

2021 is the year of the Ox! The Ox is in the second of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Do you know why these animals are in this order? Why is Rat, a small and much weaker animal than Dragon or Tiger, the first zodiac animal? There are many different versions of the mythology surrounding this, and today I’m going to introduce one of the most popular ones.

Smart Rat and trusting Ox 

Once upon a time, the Jade Emperor, the Emperor in Heaven in Chinese folklore, decided to make a calendar for humans. He told all the animals in the kingdom that the first 12 animals able to cross the large river would be assigned to a year of the Chinese zodiac system in order of appearance.

Each animal was very excited and looked forward to the race with keen anticipation.  On the day of the race, Rat, small and not a good swimmer, fond that the river was too large to cross on his own. Rat thought hard and came up with a brilliant idea. He sidled up to Ox, saying “Hey, you are a mighty swimmer, and I have marvellous eyesight. Working together, we’ll have a better chance to win!” Ox, being a kind and straightforward animal, agreed to let the Rat ride on its head and to swim across together. When they neared the other side of the river, Rat quickly jumped off Ox’s back and sprinted to the finishing line! The cunning Rat became the first animal of the Chinese zodiac, followed by Ox, who came in second.

Tiger, who was a powerful swimmer, claimed third prize. Rabbit who crossed the finishing line after Tiger, crossed the river by jumping from one stone to the other. Dragon, who was expected to finish first, was making rain to help all the creatures on earth and came in fifth place. Horse approach the finish at a thunderous gallop. Suddenly, Snake, who had caught a free ride on Horse by hiding in its hoof, appeared, startling Horse.  He was named sixth animal and poor Horse ended up seventh. After that, unlike other animals, Goat, Monkey and Rooster cross the river by working together. The Jade Emperor was very pleased to see their teamwork and assigned Goat as the eighth animal of the cycle, Monkey the ninth and Rooster as the tenth. Dog, who was playing too long in the river before crossing it, arrived eleventh. The last animal to arrive was Pig. He got hungry during the race and stopped to grab a quick bite, but fell asleep afterwards. And this is how the Chinese zodiac was formed.

Why cats and rats don’t get along 

Cat is not one of the zodiac animals. The myth says that Rat and Cat, who were best friends in the ancient time, agreed to race together. As Cat had a habit of waking up late, he asked Rat to wake him up on the morning of the race. Rat, however, left Cat sleeping and hurried to the start.  When Cat finally woke up, he discovered that the race was over and Rat had finished first. Cat was furious and swore he would never forget what Rat had done. This is why, until this day, Cat always chases after Rat!

So, the zodiac animals are not ordered according to their physical strength.  Craftiness and luck play an important role. Share this amusing myth with your child. Ask them which animals they would pick for their own zodiac, and why.