Story: “Before the Jade emperor announced his great race, the cat and the rat were best friends. After hearing that the race was going to happen soon, the cat and the rat made a pact to cross the finish line together. The cat was a frequent napper and very lazy, so he asked the rat to wake him up. The rat agreed. However, on the day of the great race, no matter how many times the rate tried, he could not wake the cat up. Because of this, he had no choice but to set out on his own and complete the race. Being a fast runner, he had no problem getting ahead of most of the other animals. The last part of the race was crossing a great river. Because the rat couldn’t swim, he in the ox’s fur and waited until the last second to jump across the finish line, beating the ox and earning first place. After the race, the cat woke up and realized that he had missed it. He thought the rat tricked him and purposely did not wake him up, so he chased the rat and tried to eat him. That is why cats hate rats ‘till this day and eat them.”
Background and Context: This is another one of the twelve stories told about the twelve different Chinese zodiac signs that serve as the symbols for each year in the lunar calendar. My father was born a year earlier than my mother in the year of the rat, and my mother was born in the year of the ox. My father told me this story of the rat after he told me about the story of the ox and I got curious about his zodiac sign. This happened when I went back home for dinner on Chinese New Year. My father heard this story from his parents and grandparents growing up in China. My father used this story to explain that people born in the year of the rat are very smart workers, much like the rat in the story. He compared it to the story of the ox, reminding He also used the story to explain why cats don’t like him and why he is allergic to them.
Thoughts: After hearing the story of the rat, I still didn’t think much of the twelve Chinese zodiac myths. Although my mother is very hardworking and I’ve seen many instances of my father working smarter and not harder and teaching me to do so, I still think that these behaviors are coincidental. There are certainly instances of people born in the year of the rat being allergic to cats, and instances where people born in the year of the rat love cats and are not allergic to them. While the myth does hold a bit of truth, my interpretation is that any association of a behavior with a zodiac sign has to be true to some extent purely due to chance. However, I did observe that in Chinese culture, these myths are very important and that everyone I’ve known and met knows them. They are imperative to Chinese culture because of the many holidays and beliefs that are centered around them.