Happy Chinese New Year! 2008 is the Year of the Rat. Every Chinese New Year is associated with one of the 12 animals found in the Chinese zodiac: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
According to Chinese legend the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.
All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last. http://www.kented.org.uk/ngfl/festivals/chinese/animals.html
All of the animals in the Chinese zodiac represents some positive trait except the rat. For example:
Oxen - Industriousness
Tiger - Power
Rabbits - Smartness
Dragons - Dignity
Horses - Vigor
Sheep - Gentleness
Monkeys - Cleverness
Roosters - Faithfulness
Dogs - Loyalty
Snakes - Flexibility
Pigs - Fortune
But the poor rat is nowhere to be found. So why is this wayward rodent given the honor or representing the Chinese New Year from time to time? Some say it is because rats made three great contributions to humanity.
1) Rats have created the universe. In Chinese folk tales, the sky and the earth were originally not separated. One day, a little rat ran out, saw the confusion, and gave a big bite to the entanglement of the sky and the earth, which separated the sky and the earth finally. So, people consider the little rat the hero that has created a new era.
2) Rats bring about light to humanity. It is said that after the rat separated the sky and the earth, a big black cloud blocked out the sun. Neither people nor animals could see in such darkness. So, the little rat and its friends set out to steal the sunlight and light up the earth.
3) Rats stole seeds of grains to feed humanity. From that time people on the earth began to farm and feed themselves.
Interested in reading more about our furry friend and the Chinese New Year?
Go to China.org
There are many wonderful myths, folktales and legends from China. Here is one book published in 1848 that is now in the public domain. You can even download a copy for free for your own files.
Chinese Legends or The Porcelain Tower by Thomas Henry Sealy
For more story links on China visit my Storytelling Links page on my website.
And in case your wondering, my Chinese Zodiac sign is the sheep, as was Mark Twain's, not bad company at all! So my friends, in the venacular of the
1970's "What's your sign?"