Why the rat is the first animal in the Chinese zodiac

The rat is believed to be the first animal in the Chinese zodiac due to its self-serving and cunning personality. (Pixabay pic)

Move over, pigs. 2019 is over and a brand new 2020 is right at our doorstep. And instead of loud porcine squeals, you have instead rodent squeaks welcoming in the new year.

It is the Year of the Rat, and the small chittering mammals reign supreme as can be seen by the many adorable Chinese New Year decorations on sale depicting rats.

But how is it that the rat, a common pest, got the prestigious position of being the first animal of the Chinese zodiac cycle?

There is a popular Chinese myth told to youngsters about how the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac got their positions.

And it all boils down to The Great Race that was once organised by the Jade Emperor, the central figure of Chinese folk religion.

Legend has it that the Jade Emperor issued a decree to all animals that the first 12 that reached him first would be awarded a place in the zodiac calendar, the order dependent on whom arrived first.

The race course included a great river that had to be crossed before reaching him.

The first to set out were best friends, the rat and the cat.

The tiger occupies the third spot on the Chinese zodiac cycle. (Pixabay pic)

Both of them feared that they would drown in the fast-flowing river if they tried crossing it.

So, they appealed to the kindness of the ox to let them ride on its back to cross the river.

The ox obliged and they climbed aboard while the ox lumbered through the water.

During the crossing however, the rat grew concerned that the cat would outrun him to the finish line and in a devious act of treachery, pushed the cat off the ox into the water.

As the ox reached the other side, the rat sat atop its head and as soon as they approached the finish line, leapt off to claim the first position.

Following the ox was the tiger, who had some difficulty fighting the currents despite his strength.

Next was the rabbit, who had crossed the river by hopping from rock to rock.

The Jade Emperor was then greeted by the dragon, who could have easily won the first place due to its speed, but it had stopped to bring rain to a drought-ridden village.

The horse lost the sixth place to the snake after being startled. (Pixabay pic)

Afterwards, the horse emerged but upon its arrival, the snake unravelled itself from around its legs and gave it such a fright, delaying its arrival just enough for the snake to take the sixth place.

Crossing the river after the horse were the goat, the monkey and the rooster, all three of whom had worked together to build a raft.

The goat charged to the finish line, followed closely by the monkey and then the rooster.

Coming out of the river completely drenched was the dog, who had apparently found more interest in splashing about in the river than completing the race.

Unsurprisingly for the dog, it got distracted by the river while crossing it and took the time to play in the water. (Pixabay pic)

And finally, came the pig, who had nearly missed out on the 12th spot due to the fact it had taken a nap after snacking half-way through the race.

The Emperor, having had his 12 positions filled up, thus gave the animals their respective positions in the zodiac cycle.

However, it is only then that the soaked and exhausted cat emerged, having narrowly escaped drowning.

The Chinese zodiac myth states that due to the rat’s treachery, it has since been constantly pursued by descendants of the cat. (Pixabay pic)

Unsurprisingly enraged by the rat’s betrayal and the fact that it had lost out on its chance to be included as the first in the zodiac, the cat swore revenge on the rat.

From then on, the cat and its descendants would always pursue the rat and its kind, with the desire to deal out retribution onto them.

So, the next time your cat chases after a rat, perhaps it really is just waging a vendetta on behalf of its betrayed ancestor.