Gong xi fa cai!

Have you ever wondered how and why animals are assigned to your birth year according to the Chinese Zodiac?

Among the many legends, three began with Yudi, or the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven and earth.

The Great Race
According to a legend, Yudi wanted to invent a timepiece. He then organized a race in which the first 12 animals to cross the river would earn a spot on the calendar.

When the early rat entered the river, he saw the ox, tiger, and horse. He asked the larger animals to carry him across because of his size and inability to swim.

The ox agreed to carry the rat on his back after both the tiger and the horse refused.

Just as they reached the opposite bank of the river, the rat leaped into first place. The ox came second and the tiger came after him.

The rabbit, with its ability to jump, hopped across stones and logs and came next. The dragon, who has the ability to fly came fifth after helping some animals on his way.

Just when the horse is about to reach the other side of the river, the snake slithered by and scared the horse making the snake earned the sixth place followed by the horse.

Then there came the sheep, the monkey and rooster helping each other navigate across the river through a raft. When they reached the final point, the three agreed to give the eight place to the sheep, followed by the monkey and the rooster.

Next up was the dog that was so distracted by the water that he forgot he was in a race. Last came the pig who got hungry along the way and rested too much.

The heavenly guards
Another legend says that Yudi was looking for 12 animals to serve as his heavenly guards. The earlier an animal arrives at the heavenly gate, the higher its rank will be.

Same as “The Great Race”, the witty rat took advantage of the diligent ox.

Next came the fast tiger and the competitive rabbit.

Yudi noticed the good looking dragon and was enamored by it. He decided to make the dragon’s son take the sixth place. But the dragon didn’t come with his son and the snake presented himself as the dragon’s adopted son.

The horse and the goat were kind and modest that they let each other go ahead first. Yudi saw it and placed them seventh and eighth.

The monkey came next with the rooster, dog, and the pig.

The missing cat
Although the cat replaced the rabbit in the Vietnamese zodiac, the story is different in the Chinese zodiac.

Yudi asked his creations to visit him in the heavens curious of what the animals look like.

The cat, being the most attractive of the animals, requested that the mouse to wake him up the next morning. The rat chose not to wake the cat because he was afraid Yudi would prefer the cat to him.

The cat was then replaced by the pig and missed the meeting with the Jade Emperor.

Yudi was delighted to see the animals and divided the years among them.

When the cat discovered what had occurred, he became enraged with the rat, and thus the fight between cats and rats continues to this day.

Since then, each year has an assigned animal according to that order in a 60 year cycle

60 year cycle
The Traditional Chinese calendar is made up of two overlapping systems.

The 12-animal zodiac is made up of 12 “earthly branches” and 12 “heavenly stems” based on metal, wood, water, earth, and fire elements, each with their own yin and yang.

Each heavenly stem is paired with an earthly branch to form the Gan-Zhi sexagenary cycle of 60 years with different combinations.

This makes 2022 the year of the Yang Water Tiger and 2023 as the year of the Yin Water Rabbit.

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