Tag Archives: zodiac

Zodiac Animal Order Origin

Context: the informant is a 21 year old USC student and the daughter of 2 Taiwanese immigrants. She told me that this was the story of how the zodiac animals were ordered the way they were, and said it was a story she learned growing up

The story goes that one day, the gods held a contest for all the animals. She was unsure exactly if the animals had been chosen beforehand or if it was for all the animals, but essentially, twelve animals were in competition with each other, and the ones that completed the race first would be earlier in the zodiac cycle. The biggest obstacle in this course was a large river. The rat, which is first, won by jumping onto the ox and waiting for it to ford the river normally; once the ox had crossed, the rat ran further ahead, which is why the rat is first and the ox is second. The tiger came next, with the rabbit following quickly after as it had to jump across logs to make it across the river. The dragon was fifth, as it had stopped to help others out on the way. The snake and horse came next; the horse was initially first, but was scared by the snake and fell behind. The monkey, rooster, and sheep followed after, having tried to help each other through. The dog came second to last, and the pig came last, as it had accidentally fallen asleep during the race. The order that the animals arrived in was the solidified zodiac order.

Analysis: this is very much a myth about the origins of the Chinese zodiac calendar, attaching stories to animals in a way similar to how ancient Greek constellations were categorized. It’s not a story that’s meant to be questioned — only to be believed. The informant and her family don’t necessarily believe in this directly but they know the story regardless, and believe that children born in different zodiac years carry different qualities. I’ve been friends with many East Asian kids growing up, and all of their parents attach different qualities to the zodiac years, much in the way that Westerners typically do with astrology. They’re aware that it acts as a sort of pseudo-science, but this does not affect their belief in it, which stands in line with the idea that myths are not questioned, only believed.

The Unaired Night Stalker

The following informant is a stay at home mom from Upland. Here she is describing a legend about the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the 80’s. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as KA and I am identified as K:

KA: So there was this family, older man and lady, and he had got into the house, and they did not put this out in the news, but it was um… he had taken their eyes out and with blood wrote on the walls, that is what he had did

K: Do you know what he wrote?

KA: um… some devil, like the star and like devil symbols, like the zodiac symbols you know, but it was the star one, that’s the devil and that was on the wall

K: And this was never broadcasted?

KA: No they never put it in the newspaper, nothing, they did not tell nobody

K: so how did you hear about it

KA: at the salon, where I worked, people talk all the time, and some lady heard it from other people

K: What year was this?

KA: Probably in the 80s cause that was when he was going around

K: Do you think he actually committed this crime?

KA: oh yeah, he terrorized people, it sounds like something he did

Context: She was telling me this as we were sitting on her couch talking about scary stories my mother told me when I was a kid and she remembered this one that she heard.

Thoughts:

I am not saying whether I think he did or did not commit this particular crime, however I will comment on the supposed writing of the devil zodiac sign. I think that is a particular interesting piece of information, especially because it sounds identical to the Zodiac Killer, which is a completely different case. And maybe the Night Stalker did commit this crime, but it is interesting to see how despite terrorize the community, he persona has become a topic of urban legends.

Horoscopes

This folk belief was described by a friend and bandmate as we were finishing a rehearsal. I asked her to tell what she knew of the origin of horoscopes. Horoscopes are the belief that one’s birth date associates them with certain stars and planets, and that personality traits are given through this connection.

“Like, okay, so once upon a time someone was like, ‘Yo, homie, isn’t it weird that all these people who are born at the same time, or like, in the same general time period, have very similar attributes about them?’ And his friend was like, ‘Dude, agreed. I’ve definitely noticed that.’ And so they went off the, the stars. There wasn’t much else to do back then. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, Galileo is great,’ but what else did he have to do, besides look at the sky? Um, anyway, I digress. So, that happened. A few hundred years later, someone else was like, ‘Aw, shoot, we forgot one.’ So they added in another horoscope which threw off the entire thing, and I don’t know why everyone was just cool with that. ‘Cause that means a whole group of people weren’t the zodiac that they thought they were. So um, there’s that. Um, I’m an Aeries.”

Chinese Zodiac Origin Story

So I understand that you’re going to tell me a story?

“Yeah, I got you a story. This story’s about, umm… why the Chinese Zodiac’s in the order it is. So you know the Chinese Zodiac, right? It’s like, 12 years, it’s a 12 year cycle, there’s 12 animals, and it’s, umm… Rat, uhh, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat… Chicken… Wait, Monkey, Chicken…? I think it’s Monkey, Chicken… It’s either Monkey Chicken or Chicken Monkey, [laughs] and then it’s Dog and Pig [laughs].”

We’re off to a great start!

“It’s Monkey, Chicken. It’s Monkey, Chicken. Cuz’ I have to translate from Chinese to… yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay so the order that… so then, once upon a time, back in the old days, some god was like, ‘hey, we, uhh, there’s a lot of animals-‘ ”

Do you remember this in Chinese?

“Do you want me to say it all in Chinese?”

Yeah, if you can.

“You want me to, like, say this story, well I mean it’s, like, it’s a folk story, it’s just a story… Saying it in Chinese would be harder for me, because I remember the contents of the story, and my Chinese is worse than my English.”

Okay, then we’ll go on in English.

“Yeah.”

Who’d you learn it from? Let’s start there.

“Probably my grandma? Or my mom or dad? This was told to me when I was really young.

It was a race, the gods were deciding which 12 animals to deify, kind of, or like make into a calendar, or something, some sort of race. So it, so… yeah, so something was happening, but they were like, ‘Hey, alert all the animals, we’re gonna have a race to determine who’s the dankest- Oh, I’m sorry, who’s gonna be deified, who’s gonna be chosen, right- [laughs] Asian-American…

But yeah, so then, they told the rat to go alert everyone. So the rat was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do that.’

And the rat does go and tells everyone, but he tells everyone that the race starts a little bit later than it actually did, and then… the rat also specifically does not go to the cat, because the rat hates the cat.

So then, umm, then the day of the race comes, the rat’s there on time, and a few are early, or the ones that happen to be nearby, so then, umm, the race starts, and then the animals start running, and then some of them show up late, and some of them are on time. And then, umm, so you think, oh, it’s a race, how the heck is the rat first place then?

Well, the rat’s real smart. So he told the ox to show up on time, because the ox is a real strong, dependable guy, and the rat was like, ‘I’ll navigate for you, and you run, and together, we’ll be a great team.’

So the rat sits on the ox’s back, and he navigates, and they get a head start and ox is a strong, sturdy partner, and then they get to the end first, and right before the finish line,  the rat jumps off the ox’s head to be first place.

And that’s why the rat has this reputation of being like, really shrewd, and somewhat manipulative, and the ox is sturdy, solid.

The reason the tiger came in after, and so is the rabbit, but in the middle of the race. There’s also a river, so like, those animals weren’t as adept, so the ox could walk straight through no problem, because he didn’t mind it as much, and everyone else starts trickling in.

And normally the dragon would be like, number one, even more so than the ox, but uhh… the dragon and the phoenix were having a uhh, uhh, like a tussle. They were, they started the race, and then they, like, started arguing with each other, cuz’, historically dragons and phoenixes are, like, real bad to each other, they don’t like each other, fight a lot, they’re both like kings of the sky, but theyre like very different kinds of king, and they’re both very prideful animals. So then they started fighting, and the dragon won the fight, and then managed to end up fifth. [laughs]

And everyone else starts trickling in, monkey, dog, and the pig actually ends up making it.

Umm, yeah, and the cat woke up too late, cuz it didn’t know, cuz the rat didn’t, like, alert the cat, and then the cat’s basically like, oh, well I guess I dont, oh, [laughs]

So the cat’s not in it, even though there were a bunch of cats back then. That’s that story.”

Analysis: This is a very unique take on the Chinese Zodiac origin story, as told from memory and in constant mental translation. Yet, with the occasional bit of American slang, all of the animations that the informant was making use of, and the constant changes in pitch and inflection to emphasize humor, it was a very fun and unique experience to listen to.

Like many myths, the Zodiac origin story probably has a slew of moral wisdom packed into it. The full story, therefore, likely has more lessons for the audience from each animal’s experience. Knowing the informant personally, however, it is evident why he recalled the rat’s cleverness most clearly, as that part of the story was likely the most relatable to him.

The Zodiac Race

The Main Piece
Why is the cat not apart of the Chinese Zodiac calendar? Supposedly, the gods set up a competition, a race, for all the animals to compete and win their place in the calendar. However, while all the other animals knew what day the race would be on, the rat was clever and lied to the cat. The rat told the cat that the race would be on a different day so that when the race actually did happen, the cat was no where to be found. The cat wound up missing the race and was unable to be a part of the Zodiac calendar. This tale also explains why cats hate rats in the real world as well.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Being that her mother is Chinese and extremely cultured, she had a good understanding of the Zodiac calendar. Her mother would tell her this tale to explain how the animals got their place. She explained that it was a childhood story that she, and many of her other friends, grew up with. As a child, she enjoyed imagining and reenacting the race with her stuffed animals. It was because she could relate it with the Zodiac calendar, something she uses even to this day, that she can so easily remember the story and its relevance. She states that the story represents not just her childhood, but also her culture.
Context
This Chinese tale was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. We were discussing our life back home, the setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
I enjoyed hearing about the Zodiac calendar. My mother was never really too cultured so hearing about my own culture was a delight. I found it also intriguing that the tale was also able to incorporate an explanation for the cat’s dislike of rats, thereby offering some sort of validity to the story.