Ever Wondered How The Lunar Zodiac Animals Were Selected? Here's How
Published in Jul 2019 / Updated in Oct 2021
There are many
stories of how the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac came about.
Today, we'll look at a version involving an emperor, a race, and a
friendship that turns into an eternal feud.
in East and Southeast Asia tell their stories differently.
In one version of
the story, the Jade Emperor called various animals to apply as
guards. Their ranking as guards would depend on their position in the
race. Apparently, the ox was willing to give the rat a ride if he
would sing throughout the race. The rat might have been a terrific
singer considering how insufferable having someone sing to you can
get. Nonetheless, the ox considered singing a fair payment for his
In the Vietnam
version of the story, there is no ox. Instead, they have the buffalo
taking up the second place. Additionally, in the rabbit's place,
there is a cat.
All these tales aside, one thing that stands out in all these stories is that the animals represent various days, hours, and even months. For example, the hours starting from 11 pm to 1 am are associated with the rat, and for one simple reason — these rodents usually rummage for food during these hours.
So, the animals in
the Chinese Zodiac have certain features that are thought to be
present in people born over the periods they represent. For instance,
although pigs are not considered very attractive, they are very
active. Rabbits, on the other hand, might be kind, but they also
possess a lot of inner strength.
take a closer look at how various animals made it into the Chinese
Once upon a time,
the Jade Emperor, whom you can also call the Emperor of the Heaven
and Earth if you like, saw it fit to give his earthly subjects a way
to determine the passage of seasons. He had a bold solution — to
find an answer from the animal kingdom. It was simple, an animal
would represent each of the 12 sections of the year.
Although the news
was most welcome, it was not clear which animals would serve this
purpose. The animal kingdom has a lot of animals, but only 12 were
In his ingenuity,
the emperor decided there would be a race. These animals would swim
through a strong current, and the first 12 animals to make it across
would have their names immortalized in the zodiac.
Some animals were up
to the task, but others didn't have a chance unless someone was
willing to assist.
The cat and the rat,
for instance, being terrible swimmers but great friends, managed to
convince the ox to help them out. The ox turned out to be an
excellent swimmer, and the three animals were poised to become the
first three winners in the race.
But the rat was not
willing to settle for the second place. So, as the race neared
completion, it pushed the cat into the water to reduce its
competition. And once the ox was on the shore, it quickly jumped
ahead and crossed the finish line first. The ox managed a respectable
The tiger took the
third place, and the rabbit settled for the fourth position. However,
the rabbit did not complete the race without a fair share of
challenges. It had completed the journey by hopping from one stone to
the next. While it was a great plan, a mistake saw it get into the
water. But it was smart enough to ride on a floating log and as luck
would have it, a gust of wind pushed the rabbit and the log to the
despite its power of flight, the dragon came in fifth. Even the
emperor was baffled by its poor showing and wanted to know what had
taken place. However, the dragon was caught up in an emergency. He
was helping a farmer put out a fire in his field.
The horse would have
taken sixth place, but it was spooked and froze when it saw the
snake, which confidently claimed the sixth place. The horse had to
settle for the seventh place.
The sheep, the
monkey, and the rooster had worked together to create a raft.
However, the monkey and the rooster agreed that the sheep deserved
the eighth place for keeping its cool while the two panicked during
the race. The monkey took the ninth position, while the rooster
became 10th in the race.
The dog, despite its
great swimming skills, managed the eleventh position. Apparently, the
delights of playing with the water distracted it from the race.
Finally, the pig
took the twelfth place. The problem was that the race left it
famished, and once it got to the riverbank, it started looking for
food. It even took a quick nap before getting up to claim the last
place in the Chinese Zodiac.
The cat did not like
how things turned out, and the feud between it and the rat was born.