The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac Animals
The Great Race
An ancient folk story tells that Cat and Rat were both very bad at swimming. Although they were poor swimmers, they were both quite intelligent. To get to the meeting called by the Jade Emperor, they had to cross a river to reach the meeting place. The Jade Emperor had also decreed that the years on the calendar would be named for each animal in the order they arrived to the meeting. Cat and Rat decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of Ox. Ox, being kind-hearted and naive, agreed to carry them both across.
Midway across the river, Rat pushed Cat into the water. Approaching the other side, the Rat jumped off the Ox and rushed to the Jade Emperor. It was named as the first animal of the zodiac calendar. The Ox, came in second. The third one to come was the Tiger. Even though it was strong and powerful it explained to the Jade Emperor that the currents were pushing him downstream.
Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the Rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race, but it was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the fourth animal in the zodiac cycle. In fifth place was the flying Dragon. The Jade Emperor was wondering why such a swift airborne creature such as the Dragon failed to come in first.
The Dragon explained that it had to stop by a village and brought rain for all the people, and therefore it was held back. Then, on its way to the finish, it saw the helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log so it did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was astonished of the Dragon's good nature, and it was named as the fifth animal.
As soon as it had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the Horse appeared. Hidden on its hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance gave it a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the Snake the sixth spot, while the Horse placed seventh. After a while, the Goat, Monkey and Rooster came to the heavenly gate. With combined efforts they managed to arrive to the other side. The Rooster found a raft and the Monkey and the Goat tugged and pulled trying to get all the weeds out of the way.
The Jade Emperor was pleased with their teamwork and decided to name the Goat as the eighth animal followed by the Monkey and then the Rooster. The eleventh animal placed in the zodiac cycle was the Dog. Although it should have been the best swimmer it wanted to stay in the water and play for a bit. Though his explanation for being late was because it needed a good bath after a long spell. For that, it almost did not make it to the finish line.
Right when the Emperor was going to close the race, an "oink" sound was heard: it was the Pig. "Lazy little Pig" originated from this story. The Pig felt hungry in the middle of the race, so it stopped, ate something and then fell asleep. After it awoke, it finished the race in twelfth place and became the last animal to arrive. The cat eventually drowned, and did not make it in the zodiac. It is said that this is the reason cats always hunt Rats.
In Buddhism, legend has it that Buddha summoned all of the animals of the earth to come before him before his departure from this earth, but only 12 animals actually came to bid him farewell. To reward the animals who came to him, he named a year after each of them. The years were given to them in the order they had arrived.
The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were developed in the early stages of Chinese civilization, over hundreds of years before it developed into the current version; it is difficult to investigate its real origins. Most historians agree that the cat is not included, as they had not yet been introduced to China from India, with the arrival of Buddhism.