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.