Cyndi Chen, 陈老师 chen2 lao3 shi1, Chinese Language Instructor
The Chinese Zodiac has 12 signs or animals, each representing a year in the Chinese lunar calendar:
- 鼠 (shǔ) mouse
- 牛 (niú) ox, cow
- 虎 (hǔ) tiger
- 兔 (tù ) rabbit
- 龙 (lóng) dragon
- 蛇 (shé) snake
- 马 (mǎ) horse
- 羊 (yáng) sheep, goat
- 猴 (hóu ) monkey
- 鸡 (jī) chicken
- 狗 (gǒu) dog
- 猪 (zhū) pig
Together, these animals are called 生肖 (Shēngxiào). We believe that the order of the zodiac comes from the legend about the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝Yùhuángdàdì) and the race amongst the zodiac animals.
According to this story, the Jade Emperor had twelve spots open for animals to be his “palace guard”, and the exact position of the guards would be determined by a great race.
On the night before the race, the cat asked the mouse (who was his friend at the time) to wake him up the morning of the race so that they could start out together. Come race day, however, the mouse left his friend snoozing steadily as he went off to compete.
Now the mouse, having tiny little legs, decided to partner up with the cow in order to secure a better position. He said to the cow, “Let me ride on your back and I will sing a song for you that will surely help you win this race!” Naturally, the well-mannered cow agreed and sped off in front of the entire crowd. Just before the finish line, the clever mouse quickly jumped from the cow’s head to win first place and become the first year of the zodiac.
Meanwhile, the poor cat, which had woken up very late, came in the last and did not make to one of the palace guards. That is why, to this day, the cat and mouse are forever enemies.