The Sunday Section - The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

As tomorrow is Chinese New Year, I thought it would be apt to write about the zodiac.  2016 is the Year of the Fire Monkey.  The Monkey is not only intelligent, quick-witted, and versatile, it is also gentle and honest, while Fire is the element of courage and passion.  The energy of the Fire Monkey is one of being true to yourself, and having the courage to strive for your dreams.

Unlike the Western zodiac, which is based on the solar cycle, the Chinese zodiac is lunar-based.  And I think I am correct in saying that the Chinese New Year always coincides with an Aquarius new moon.  The zodiac is also represented by 5 elements – metal, water, wood, fire, and earth.

As with most things, there is a story that explains the origin of the Chinese zodiac.  It was said that the animals were summoned to take part in a race across the river.  The first 12 to cross would be the ones chosen to represent the zodiac. There are variations as to who summoned the animals; some say it was the Jade Emperor, others say it was the Buddha.

Back in those early days, the Cat and the Rat were said to be best friends, and they planned to cross the river together.  But when they got to the river, the current was too swift, and they were too afraid to attempt the crossing.  At that moment, the Ox was about to step into the water, so the two friends asked him for help.  Being a kind-hearted creature, he allowed them to climb on his back and he carried them across.  Because of the fast-flowing water, the Ox had to keep adjusting his stride.  Rat was jolted forward, and he knocked into the Cat who was sent flying off the Ox.  Oblivious to the Cat’s plight, the Ox carried on his way, and was soon too far for the Cat to catch up.

As the Rat had done nothing to help the Cat, the Cat's anger was directed at his former friend.  From that day, the Cat came to hate the Rat.  And that is the reason why cats always hunt rats, and why they hate water.

The Ox clambered out of the river, and trotted towards the Emperor, confident he would claim first place.  But then Rat leapt from the Ox’s back and raced to the feet of the Emperor.  The Ox had to be satisfied with second place.

A great splash sounded from the river, and the Emperor eagerly looked to see which animal would come next.  The Tiger bounded from the water, his stripy coat dripping wet.  He shook the water off his coat, and his muscles rippled as he strode to claim his place, third to greet the Emperor.

On a rock in the middle of the river sat the Rabbit.  He had been keeping pace with the Tiger, leaping from rock to rock, but these were now spaced further apart, and the Rabbit had to take more care.  But he was worried another animal might overtake him, and that worry made him careless.  He slipped, and fell into the water.  As he surfaced, thinking the race was lost, a log floated by.  Kicking furiously with his powerful hind legs, sending a spray of water flying into the air, the Rabbit managed to grab hold of the log.  But it was barely moving.  He laid his head on the log, believing he would never finish the race before the others.  Then a sudden gust of wind sent the log hurtling along, and before he knew it, the Rabbit was by the shore.  Glancing back, he saw no other animal close by.  Hopping onto the shore, he continued to hop all the way to the smiling Emperor.

Feeling the breeze pick up, the Emperor looked to see the Dragon soaring past the finish line.  He swam through the clouds, descending towards the Emperor.  “Why have you not come in first place, majestic Dragon?” asked the Emperor.  And the Dragon replied, “Most glorious Emperor, as I flew towards your palace, I spied a village threatened by fire.  I could not ignore the danger the villagers were in.  I used my breath to extinguish the flames.  As I neared the river, I saw a small Rabbit clinging to a log.  I feared it would drown and so used my breath again to push it to shore.”  Nodding, the Emperor smiled widely.  None of this surprised him for he knew how benevolent a creature the Dragon was.

Just then, the sound of galloping hooves drew the Emperor’s attention as the Horse leapt out of the river, the water foaming behind her like a cloak.  As she neared the Emperor, a sudden movement from the grass startled her, and she recoiled in surprise.  The Snake darted forward, and reached the Emperor first.  The Horse hung her head, aware that her fear had relegated to 7th place, behind the Snake.

A raft was making its way along the river, carrying the Rooster, the Monkey and the Sheep.  The Rooster had found the raft, and the three animals had elected to work together to cross the river.  Using branches as makeshift paddles, they persevered in getting the raft across.  Whenever they had to pause to free their paddles, which got caught in underwater weeds, whenever they saw the other animals get ahead of them, it was the Sheep who comforted them, and helped them form a harmonious bond.  When they reached the shore, the Rooster and the Monkey graciously held back and let the Sheep be the 8th one to greet the Emperor.  The Monkey was the 9th , and the Rooster the 10th animal to greet the Emperor.

At that moment, the Dog appeared, taking a moment to shake his coat, spraying a ring of water around him.  His mouth open in a wide grin, he trotted up to the Emperor, and did not seem at all bothered that he was the 11th one behind such animals as the Rooster and the Sheep.  He had found the water warm and pleasant, and had decided to indulge in a most enjoyable bath.

The Emperor’s gaze was fixed on the river.  One more animal was required to complete the zodiac, and he wondered which one it would be.  Just then, an exhausted oink was heard.  The Emperor raised his brows as the Pig waddled into view.  Caked in dirt, the Pig stopped by the Emperor’s feet, looked up at him, then collapsed on his side and fell asleep.

The Emperor laughed, and was pleased.  The 12 animals of the zodiac had been decided.