A long time ago, 13 animals lived in harmony. The 13 animals were the rat, cat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The king organized a race, telling the animals that they must compete in the race. In this race, the animals had to cross a fast flowing river and get to the other side to receive their prize, but there were only 12 prizes available. The rat and cat were really good friends, but were worried that they would not finish the race because they were both poor swimmers. The two came up with a plan. They went to the ox and admired the ox’s strength, asking if the ox would be kind enough to let them ride on its back across the river. The ox agreed. The race began and the ox quickly took the lead with the rat and cat sitting on his shoulders. When the ox neared the bank of the river, the rat pushed the cat into the river. The cat struggled to swim but was washed away by the currents. Then, the rat decided to jump off the shoulder of the ox, taking first place. The king gave the rat its reward, which was that the first year of the zodiac would be named after it. The ox received second place and got the second year of the zodiac named after him. Then the tiger crossed the bank and got the third year named after it. Then the rabbit appeared and got the fourth year named after it. Then the dragon appeared and got the fifth year named after it. Then the snake appeared and got the sixth year named after it. Then the horse appeared and got the seventh year named after it. Then the goat appeared and got the eighth year named after it. Then the monkey appeared and got the ninth year named after it. Then the rooster appeared and got the tenth year named after it. Then the dog appeared and got the eleventh year named after it. And then, in last place the pig appeared, slowly trudging along, and got the twelfth year named after it. Crawling out of the water, the cat appeared, but did not receive a prize. Since then, cats and rats have always been enemies. And that is how the animals of the Chinese Zodiac came to be.
My informant first heard this myth from his parents around Chinese New Year. That time of year lends itself to this story as it serves as an explanation for the ordering of the years in the Chinese Zodiac and is the basis for the personality profiles of people born in the different years.. This myth is fairly wide spread and has a number of different forms. Here I have included my informants favorite version, but there are others that include why the dragon. This myth emphasizes intelligence and cunning over brute strength, as the meek rat is ultimately triumphant. It also seems to condone betrayal, as the rat is rewarded despite his actions.