Myth – Chinese

Chinese Myth

“Back in the pre-historic times, the Jade Emperor decided in order to keep track of time, he would pick twelve animals to represent the years.  He told his messenger to go the animal kingdom on Earth and tell the animals to race, the first twelve to race from wherever they live to the Jade Emperor would win, and would be the chosen animals, which was a high honor.  All animals heard this.  The rat, who was sneaky, knew he could run fast, but he could not swim.  He knew that there was a wide river that he could not cross.  He found an animal friend that would carry him over the river, an animal who was down-to-earth, and would not realize his motives.  The rat chose the ox.  He told the ox that they would go together.  The rat would lead the way on the fastest route in exchange for the ox letting the rat go on his back.  The rat and cat were very good friends.  The cat said he wanted to go, so all three went together.  They got up early and left together.  Once they got the river, they got on the ox’s back.  The rat already planned ahead, since the cat would most likely outrun him, so in the middle of the river, he played a trick.  He pointed out something in the water, the cat tilted his head to look over and the rat pushed the cat into the water.  The cat couldn’t swim, barely managed to survive, exhausted, and out of the contest, went back to shore.  The ox didn’t notice anything.  Once they got to shore, the rat said thank you and ran away.  The ox followed.  That is why the mouse was first and the ox was second.  The other animals slowly arrived from different places.  From that point on, the cat always wants to revenge on the rat, so every time the cat wants to chase the rat, so that is why they don’t get along today.”

This is a story that I first heard from my dad when I was little at the time I was learning about the Chinese zodiac.  This myth serves as an explanation for and the history behind Zodiac calendar and why those specific twelve animals are used.  Moreover, the tale serves to explain why cats like to chase mice and rats.  This story involves the blason popularie that often characterizes rats as sneaky creatures.  This myth reminds me of the Greek myths since both are set in times before the real world.  Myths serve to explain how the actions of the sky gods, the Greek gods and the Jade Emperor, have an impact on today’s world.

This folktale about the creation of the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the relationship between the rat and car can be found in Chinese Folktales: An Anthology titled as “From the Year of the Rat to the Year of the Pig”.  The story documented in the anthology is longer and more detailed, but the plot and characters are the same.  The characters are characterized the same way as they are in the story my dad told me.  The tale documented in the anthology also includes the other animals in the Chinese Zodiac and their experiences with the race to the get to the Jade Emperor.

Chin, Yin-lien C., Yetta S. Center, and Mildred Ross. Chinese Folktales: An Anthology. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1989.