Saturday, April 13th, 2013

After the Chinese New Year celebration in February this year, 2013 became the year of the snake. It's too late to be wishing anyone a happy Chinese New Year, but ever wondered why it is the year of the snake?

Everyone knows about the years named after the animals but do you know the story behind these 12 animals?

One of the most widespread Chinese mythology stories, The Great Race has many versions, but this is the general gist of the story.

There was an Emperor in the Heavens — the Jade Emperor. He wanted to celebrate his birthday but as there was no way recording years at the time he had no way of knowing how old he was. So he came up with a way to count the years. The Jade Emperor decided that the animals had a very close relationship with people so it felt right to use the animals to keep count.

He made an announcement in the forest that there would be a great race among the animals and the first 12 winners would be in for a special prize.

On the day of the race the animals were told that the first 12 animals to reach the opposite bank of the river would have a year named after them, in the order that they arrived.

The animals all started toward the river. The rat being nimble and the cat being agile arrived first at the edge of the river, only to realise that the river was much wider and deeper than they had thought. As neither of them would consider themselves strong swimmers they spent some time coming up with ways to cross the river safely. As they discussed tactics the ox arrived. At this point the rat came up with a great idea. Back in the day the cat and the rat had a friendly relationship, in fact they were good friends. So the rat asked the ox if he would be so kind as to carry them both on his back across the river and once they got to the other side they'd let him win the race. The ox agreed to this thinking that he was much bigger and stronger anyway so he was sure to win.

The cat and the rat jumped on the ox's back and the three animals crossed the river together. As they approached the opposite bank where the Jade Emperor was waiting to name the first year, the rat pushed the cat into the river, leaving him to drown and jumped over the ox's head to be the first animal to arrive on the bank of the river.

The emperor named the first year after the rat as promised and second the ox. The cat never made it out of the river after the rat pushed him in, according to the Chinese this is why cats chase after rats. The years were then named subsequently after each animal made their arrival.

If Chinese mythology and legends are of interest visiting China during the Chinese New Year season is 

definitely a worthwhile experience. Take a flight to Beijing, book a Shanghai hotel, accommodation in Hong Kong or even a stop over at a hotel near Jiangbei international airport to see how the Chinese celebrate the biggest holiday of their year, how the animals relate to the year ahead and maybe other versions of the Great Race.


The order of the Chinese animal years or zodiac is as follows:













In the Chinese culture, each animal represents specific characteristics that are often related back to people born in that specific year.

Traditionally, it is said that:

People born in the year of the rat are considered ambitious, short tempered, honest, power-hungry, imaginative and charming.

The ox is a symbol of a powerful individual, stubborn, natural leaders, inspiring and conservative.

Tigers are sensitive, aggressive, unpredictable, charming and courageous.

Rabbit year people are affectionate, talented, valuing security and tranquility.

Dragons are intelligent, bossy, loud, popular and full of vitality.

Those born in the snake year are passionate, clever, intense and vain.

Horses are hardworking, friendly, popular and impatient.

The sheep is suggests a creative elegant and warmhearted person.

Monkeys are inventive, clever, entertaining and easily discouraged.

Roosters are said to be courageous, arrogant, eccentric and reckless.

The Dog is honest, quiet, generous and stubborn.

People born in the year of the pig are considered reliable, sincere, impulsive and shy.

How much truth these legends and beliefs have is open to interpretation but the Chinese animal years always bring with them a bit of intrigue and entertainment during the festive season.

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