Chinese New Year is upon us and people of Chinese descent around the world are prepping their red envelopes, bringing out the lucky red decor, and striving to become one with the year of the Earth Dog.
This year we decided to unpack the origins of the Chinese Zodiac using the story of the Great Race, which is the foundation for why this week will be chock-full of red-themed festivities! The story of the Great Race has been told in a variety of ways, but there remain recurring themes in all the stories.
Legend has it that the Jade Emperor – considered the first, and leader of all Chinese mythological gods – decided to host a race involving all the animals. The animals had to cross to the opposing side of a river to determine their position in the Zodiac.
First came the Cat and the Rat, who devised a plan to ride the oblivious Ox across the river. Little did the Cat know however, he didn’t really have a friend in the Rat and he was about to find out why. As soon as the Ox set off, the Rat scared the Cat off the Ox and in to the water. By the time the Cat could react, the Ox had already traveled too far ahead. This is said to be the beginning of the animosity between cats and rats, as well as cats’ loathing of getting wet.
The Ox was poised to be the first animal to complete the race, however the Rat then expeditiously leaped forward from above the Ox to effectively steal the title. The Ox was unperturbed by this so he simply eased his way to second place.
Moments later, the Tiger emerged from under water to claim third place. The Tiger’s progress had been slowed down by the weight of the water in his fur but he managed to eventually claim his spot.
The race was not yet over. The Rabbit, only slightly behind the Tiger, was nervously struggling to the finish. The Rabbit moved hastily from one river rock to the next. In his haste however, the Rabbit slipped and fell in to the river, making him even more anxious! As luck would have it, not much time passed before a log came floating by the Rabbit. He held on for dear life. Much to his disappointment however, the log was stagnant.
The Rabbit needed more luck. Suddenly, a gust of wind had developed, pushing the Rabbit down the river and to the finish line! Making the Rabbit fourth animal in the Zodiac. Yipee!
Next came the majestic flying Dragon. The emperor was surprised because this race should have been easiest for the Dragon who came in fifth place. The Dragon explained that he had been caught up helping villagers put out a dangerous fire. On top of this, the Dragon later noticed the Rabbit floating helplessly in the river, so he decided to give him the much-needed wind support as well. This pleased the emperor greatly.
Soon enough, the Horse came galloping in the water. Unbeknownst to the Horse however, the sneaky Snake was right behind him; submerged in the river by his hoofs. The Snake used the element of surprise to startle the Horse in to a frenzy, giving himself the opportunity to take the lead. Subsequently, the Horse had to settle for seventh place.
Following the Horse was the trio made up of the Monkey, the Rooster, and the Goat who were all floating on a raft that the Rooster had found. Using branches as paddles, the three made their way to the other side of the river. The Monkey and Rooster let the Goat off the raft first to take eighth place because he had shown good faith. The Monkey and Rooster then followed respectively.
Next in line was the Dog, who despite being a good swimmer, had taken his sweet time to get across the river. Legend has it that the reason behind this, is the Dog hadn’t had a bath in a long time and the sun had also perfectly heated the river so he took the opportunity to enjoy it!
Finally, in twelfth place came the Pig; who after chowing down on a wonderful meal earlier that day, had gotten sleepy and decided to take a nap. Once he was well rested, the Pig then embarked on his journey to the finish line.
At the end of the day, the Emperor was pleased with his selection of animals in the Zodiac. These animals each represent various sensibilities we should ideally embrace in each new year. It is for this reason that in the Year of the Dog, we must be prepared to let go and enjoy the moment like the Dog did. It’s easy to get stuck in the daily grind, but sometimes it’s valuable to stop and smell the proverbial roses too! Happy Chinese New Year from LIV to you!