The Zodiac Legend: (courtesy of Wikipedia)
The 12 Zodiac animal signs (生肖 shengxiao) are, in order, the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. There are many legends to explain the beginning of the zodiac (see Origins of the Chinese Zodiac). One of the most popular reads, in summarized form, as follows:
- The rat was given the task of inviting the animals to report to the Jade Emperor for a banquet to be selected for the zodiac signs. The cat was a good friend of the rat, but the rat tricked him into believing that the banquet was the next day. The cat slept through the banquet, thinking that it was the next day. When he found out, the cat vowed to be the rat's natural enemy for ages to come.
Interestingly, the cat does make it into the Vietnamese Zodiac, in place of the rabbit.
Another popular legend has it that a race was used to decide the animals to report to the Jade Emperor.
The cat and the rat were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. Although bad swimmers, they were both intelligent. They decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the ox. The ox, being a naïve and good-natured animal, agreed to carry them across. However, overcome with a fierce competitiveness, the rat decided that in order to win, it must do something and promptly pushed the cat into the river. Because of this, the cat has never forgiven the rat, and hates the water as well. After the ox had crossed the river, the rat jumped ahead and reached the shore first, and it claimed first place in the competition.
Following closely behind was the strong ox, and it was named the 2nd animal in the zodiac. After the ox, came the tiger, panting, while explaining to the Emperor just how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents pushing it downstream all the time. But with powerful strength, it made to shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle.
Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race but the rabbit was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the 4th animal in the zodiac cycle. Coming in 5th place was the dragon, flying and belching fire into the air. Of course, the Emperor was deeply curious as to why a strong and flying creature such as the dragon should fail to reach first. The mighty dragon explained that he had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore he was held back a little. Then, on his way to the finish line, he saw a little helpless rabbit clinging on to a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the dragon, and he was added into the zodiac cycle. As soon as he had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the horse appeared. Hidden on the horse's hoof is the snake, whose sudden appearance gave the horse a fright, thus making it fall back and gave the snake 6th spot while the horse took the 7th.
Not long after that, a little distance away, the ram, monkey and rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the ram and the monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named the ram as the 8th creature, the monkey as the 9th, and the rooster the 10th.
The 11th animal is the dog. His explanation for being late—although he was supposed to be the best swimmer amongst the rest—was that he needed a good bath after a long spell, and the fresh water from the river was too big a temptation. For that, he almost didn't make it to finish line. Just as the Emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little pig. The pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, the pig continued the race and was named the 12th and last animal of the zodiac cycle. The cat finished too late (thirteenth) to win any place in the calendar, and vowed to be the enemy of the rat forevermore.
Personally, I go by the one where the rat allowed the cat to sleep through the race/banquet. That's the first version I ever heard, so, yeah, it kind of stuck.
This is also kind of nifty. The differences in the zodiac in different Asian countries: For example, the Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to Chinese zodiac except that the second animal is the water buffalo instead of the ox, the fourth animal is the cat instead of the rabbit and the eighth animal is the goat instead of the sheep. The Japanese zodiac includes the wild boar instead of the pig, and the Thai zodiac includes a naga in place of the dragon.
The traits of the rat courtesy of Wikipedia:
Being the first sign of the Chinese zodiacs, rats are leaders, pioneers and conquerors. They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking. Rat people are endowed with great leadership skills and are the most highly organized, meticulous, and systematic of the twelve signs. Intelligent and cunning at the same time, rats are highly ambitious and strong-willed people who are keen and unapologetic promoters of their own agendas, which often include money and power. They are energetic and versatile and can usually find their way around obstacles, and adapt to various environments easily. A rat's natural charm and sharp demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone, but rats are usually highly exclusive and selective when choosing friends and so often have only a few very close friends whom they trust.
Behind the smiles and charm, rats can be terribly obstinate and controlling, insisting on having things their way no matter what the cost. These people tend to have immense control of their emotions, which they may use as a tool to manipulate and exploit others, both emotionally and mentally. Rats are masters of mind games and can be very dangerous, calculative and downright cruel if the need arises. Quick-tempered and aggressive, they will not think twice about exacting revenge on those that hurt them in any way. Rats need to learn to relax sometimes, as they can be quite obsessed with detail, intolerant and strict, demanding order, obedience, and perfection.
Rats consider others before themselves, at least sometimes, and avoid forcing their ideas onto others. Rats are fair in their dealings and expect the same from others in return, and can be deeply affronted if they feel they have been deceived or that their trust has been abused. Sometimes they set their targets too high, whether in relation to their friends or in their career. But as the years pass, they will become more idealistic and tolerant. If they can develop their sense of self and realize it leaves room for others in their life as well, Rats can find true happiness.
According to tradition, Rats often carry heavy karma and at some point in life may face an identity crisis or some kind of feeling of guilt. Rats are said to often have to work very long and hard for everything they may earn or have in life. However, a Rat born during the day is said to have things a bit easier than those who are born at night. Traditionally, Rats born during the night may face extreme hardships and suffering throughout life. Rats in general should guard themselves against hedonism, as it may lead to self-destruction. Gambling, alcohol and drugs tend to be great temptations to Rat natives.
I've always found it funny that Rats are supposed to avoid horses, as my brother is a rat, and I'm a horse.
Reese is a monkey. Here's her attributes, according to the zodiac. Look and see how close you think it is.
The Monkey is the most versatile sign of the Chinese zodiac. Such people are often inventors, plotters, entertainers and the creative geniuses behind anything ingenious, including mischief. They have natural quick-wittedness which enables them to understand what is happening and then make a right decision. Even during a conversation a person born in this year is aware of what is going on around him/her, and then makes a mental note of who said what and stores it away for future reference. In general, with their agile minds and multiple talents, monkey types can master any subject. They are reliable and honest people so that any secret is safe in their hands. These people are also honest in their dealings and are very good at problem-solving: knowing how to listen closely and work out solutions at the same time.
Although these people are trustworthy and unlikely to hurt someone out of spite, they would never let people escape if they have behaved badly or damaged a monkey's reputation. Their stamina and determination to achieve their main goals can make these people appear vain or manipulative. People born under this sign should be careful so they do not damage their friendships. It is important to remember for these persons that it would be wiser sometimes not to pursue their goals and simply let things pass.
Monkeys have flexible principles and serene self-confidence so they are completely content; but they usually manage to complicate the lives of others. After yet another plan or project has gone wrong, they are seldom there to help clean up the disorder and confusion that they leave in their wake. Monkeys can handle that too; with their charm and persuasiveness they can make people believe that just knowing them is a privilege.
Happy Chinese/Lunar New Year!