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Year of the Rat: fun stories of the Chinese zodiac

(People's Daily Online)    15:11, January 23, 2020

As the Spring Festival approaches, many Chinese families have bought rat-themed decorations to give their homes a more festive atmosphere. You may know that 2020 is the Year of the Rat, but how did such an unpopular rodent become the top symbol of the Chinese zodiac?

To answer this question, it is first necessary to have a general understanding of the Chinese zodiac. Like its Western counterpart, the Chinese zodiac is also a classification scheme that assigns animals and its reputed attributes to a certain period of time in a repeating cycle, though for the Western one the cycle is 12 months long, while for the Chinese zodiac it is 12 years. But why does an animal as insignificant as the rat have a place among the 12 zodiac animals? Here is a fun piece of folklore that may give satisfy your curiosity.

Once upon a time, the Jade Emperor, the supreme divine being in China, decreed that the years on the calendar should be named for each animal of his selection, but the order should be discussed and decided by the animals themselves. In order to be selected, all the animals had to get up early and reach his palace before dawn.

The rat decided to get up early to be part of the selection. At that time, the rat was a good friend of the cat. Because the cat had a very bad habit of getting up late, he begged the rat to wake him up for the selection. Though the rat agreed, he left the cat without waking up him early in the morning, fearing that his friend may steal his glory.

When all the animals but the cat gathered at the palace, the Jade Emperor made his final decision: he chose 12 animals representing the sky, the earth and the water: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig.

At first, all the animals voted for the benevolent and honest ox to be the first animal of the zodiac, but the rat disagreed. He told the other animals that he was more significant and bigger than the ox, and thus should be the first. The animals then decided that the rat and ox should go to the street together to see which animal was more respected by the humans.

When the ox passed along the street, no one paid attention to him, but when the rat did so, people started to scream: “Such a big rat! What a horrible and disgusting creature!” Shouting, they picked up clubs and tried to kill the rat, who ran away as fast as possible.

Despite their discontent, the other animals had to agree that the rat actually drew much more attention from humans, and reluctantly put him in the first spot.

When he returned home, the joyous rat woke up the cat and bragged about his achievement. The cat became furious, and asked the rat why he broke his promise. Rat responded light-heartedly, blaming the cat for not hearing when he tried to wake him up. Consumed by rage, the cat jumped on the rat and ate him. And that is why cats hate rats so much.

Like the Western zodiac, the Chinese one is also associated with a culture of ascribing a person’s personality or events in his or her life to the supposed influence of the person’s particular relationship to the cycle. Follow us and find out what your Chinese zodiac animal is!

Year of the Rat: 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

Year of the Ox: 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Year of the Tiger: 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Year of the Rabbit: 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Year of the Dragon: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Year of the Snake: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Year of the Horse: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Year of the Sheep: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Year of the Monkey: 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Year of the Chicken: 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Year of the Dog: 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Year of the Pig: 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Kou Jie, Hongyu)

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