Chinese New Year Race Story

My informant is an Asian American with a Chinese mother. As a child her mother would frequently tell her Chinese folk tales. While she does not remember them in great detail she still values these stories and considers them to have had a large part in her upbringing. When asked to tell a story she told a myth of how the Chinese calender was determined. She mentioned that this story would be traditionally told to kids during the Chinese new year to help them understand and become invested in the origins of the Chinese calendar. Her oral telling of the story is attached.

In this story, the slow but witty mouse/rat (she says mouse but based on my familiarity with the zodiac animals I believe she may have meant rat) manages to use his intelligence to win a race to determine the order of the Chinese calendar despite having a clear physical disadvantage. The mouse/rat manages to stow away on the head of the bull and uses his strength to carry him to victory. This is, in essence, the most important moral of the story. While my informant likely did not tell it perfectly and seems to have generalized some parts of the myth, it is clear that this myth is meant to show the importance of brain over brawn. The rat is able to win the race not because he is stronger or faster than the other animals, but rather is able to win because he outsmarted everyone else.

The story in her telling does not follow Propp’s Morphology, but I believe that when told by other people it might. This is because there are many aspects of the story, such as the Rats initial struggle, his seeming inability to win and the mentor figure that helps him win all are present in Propp’s Morphology.