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Chinese Zodiac Animals Story

Updated on October 27, 2010

When talking about Chinese astrology, most of you must been familiar with the twelve animal signs. But have you ever wonder how were the 12 animals chosen? Why the rat is the first among the dozen? At first glance, there are some choices seem a little odd, but when we look back to the agricultural society in China in 2637 BC, then we will understand why those animals were selected. At that time, the Chinese used familiar  rural animals that had distingushing characteristics to represent years of similar tones.

Among all the various folk tales about how the animals were chosen, there is one interesting legend that has been passed down for generations and this is probably the most popular one:

Once upon a time, the Heavenly God decided to develop a calender system because he realized that there hadn’t been any system to keep track of time. So one day, the Earth God was being summoned by the Heavenly God to hold a race for the animals inhabiting the earth. The Earth God then started to gather all the animals and announced to them that the first twelve animals to cross the fast flowing river would be the signs in the zodiac calender. All the animals were very excited, all of them wanted to join the race and lined up along the river bank.

Chinese Zodiac Animals

Zodiac Order
Zodiac Order

The Cat and the Rat

The cat and the rat, who were good friends, were worried because both of them were poor swimmers. At the same time, the Ox grumbled to himself and said “How can i cross this river with my poor eyesight?”. The smart and cunning rat looked at his best friend (the cat), then the Ox, and suddenly a brilliant idea entered the rat’s mind, “I’ve got it!” He asked the old Ox whether he would carry them across the river, in return they will guide the Ox across the river. The Ox said “Okey, that’s a nice idea!”. The cat and the rat quickly jumped up on the Ox’s back and three of them were cruising slowly and confidently in the river, leaving all the competition behind.

When three of them reached the middle of the river, the greedy and calculating rat pushed the cat into the river. Unaware of the commotion on his back, the focussed and hardworking Ox kept paddling straight ahead. Then just before the enduring Ox was about to win the race, the aggressive rat leapt on his head and on to the bank to finish first. The poor Ox had been tricked into second place.

The Tiger and the Rabbit

The ferocious tiger raced to the finish line in third place. Next to arrive was the cautious but intelligent rabbit, who hadn't swum across at all. The rabbit hopped across on some stepping stones, he was then so lucky to have found a floating log which he used it to help himself reaching to the shore.

The Dragon

Coming in 5th place was the magnanimous dragon. But of course, everybody was deeply curious as to why this strong flying creature should fail to reach first. The mighty dragon then explained that he was held up because some animals and people needed water to drink, so the dragon had to stop and make rain in order to help all of those creatures. Then on his way to the finish line, the dragon saw a little helpless rabbit on a log in the water, so the dragon decided to give the nervous rabbit a little help by blowing a puff of wind so that the log wuold flow to the river bank.

The Snake and the Horse

Not long after the dragon reached the finish line, a galloping sound was heard, and the energetic horse appeared. But surprisingly enough, there is a snake hidden on the hoof of the horse and its sudden appearance gave the horse a fright. The horse was so surprised until he jumped backwards giving the sneaky snake a chance to take the sixth place in that race. The horse had to be satisfied with seventh place.

The Sheep, Monkey and the Rooster

Not long after that, a raft arrived carrying the sheep (or goat), monkey and the rooster. These three lovely animals helped each other to get where they are. The rooster is the one who had found the raft and he took the other two animals with it. Both the monkey and the sheep cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled. Because of their combined efforts, the sheep was given 8th, the monkey was given ninth and the rooster tenth.

The Dog and the Pig

The dog was the next animal to reach the finish line. Meanwhile, the Heavenly God counted the animals and realized there is still one animal short. He wondered when the last winner would come. At this moment, the pig arrived just before the race came to an end. ‘Why you took a long time to cross the river’ asked the Heavenly God. The optimistic pig replied ‘I was hungry and stopped to eat, and after the meal I felt sleepy that I feel asleep.’

A moment later, the poor cat arrived soaking wet but unfortunately he was too late to have a year named after him. Needless to say, from that day on, the rat has been the cat’s sworn enemy. From then, cats hate waters and rats.


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    • telltale profile image


      8 years ago

      Good hub to read... it leaves much to imagination as to what is true, and what is myth. Although Chinese, not sure how the 12 animal signs started and not sure whether yours is the only version of it.. :)


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