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As you may already know, the Chinese calendar is based on the phases of the moon. and when a new year begins, it brings with it one of the 12 Chinese zodiac. Every 12 years, the sequence begins again. This year (2018) for example, is the Year of the Dog which will not come around again until 2030. When the animal you were born under comes around again, it becomes an important year when you might consider getting married, buying a house or starting a business. The Chinese zodiac is also important when being compatible with a lover, or considering whether you should have a child. The year you were born in will affect your future and many future parents will consider dates before trying for a baby if the current year is not a positive one.
The Order of the Chinese New Year Animals
There are many interesting myths relating to the 12 zodiac and where they came from, my favourite being the race between the animals, which gives us the order of the zodiac.
This is the story of the Chinese Zodiac 生肖 (shēng xiào) and how the order came to be.
(yù huáng dà dì guò shēng rì, xià lìng ràng suǒ yǒu de dòng wù qián lái zhù shòu, tóng shí jué dìng àn qián lái bào dào shùn xù xuǎn dìng shí èr shēng xiào de pái míng, dì yī gè dào dá tiān gōng mén kǒu de pái dì yī gè, dì èr gè dào dá de pái dì èr gè, yǐ cǐ lèi tuī.)
The Jade Emperor 玉皇 (yù huáng) wanted to celebrate his birthday (Chinese New Year) by designating the 12 signs of the zodiac. He told all the animals on earth that whoever reached the Gates of Heaven the fastest would be the first zodiac, then whoever got there second would be next in the zodiac and so on.
(suǒ yǒu de dòng wù dōu xū yào kuà guò yī tiáo hé cái néng dǐ dá tiān gōng dà mén)
All the animals had to cross a river to get to the Gate.
(nèi gè shí hou, māo hé lǎo shǔ hái shì hǎo péng you, yuē dìng yī qǐ yíng dé bǐ sài)
At this time, the cat and rat were still good friends and set off together in an attempt to win the race.
(tā men fā xiàn niú yǐ jīng zuò hǎo kuà hé de zhǔn bèi, suǒ yǐ tiào shàng niú bèi qǐng qiú niú dài tā men guò hé.)
They found the Ox already making good progress across the river, and after jumping on his back asked him to take him across the river.
(niú fēi cháng shàn liáng, suǒ yǐ tóng yì le bèi tā men guò hé.)
The Ox was extremely good-natured and allowed them to ride on his back.
(rán ér, dāng dāng dǐ dá hé duì àn shí, lǎo shǔ jiāng māo tuī jìn le hé lǐ, tóng shí tí qián tiào xià de, bǐ niú xiān dào dá tiān gōng mén kǒu.)
However, as they reached the opposite river bank, the rat pushed the cat into the river and jumped on to the ground, reaching the Gate before the Ox.
(huáng dà dì jiā xǔ le dì yī gè dào dá de lǎo shǔ, bìng dìng xià shí èr shēng xiào zhī shǒu wèi, ér niú zé wèi shēng xiào dì èr.)
The Jade Emperor congratulated the rat on arriving first, and made the first zodiac the Year of the Rat 鼠年 (shǔ nián).
The Year of the Ox 牛年 (niú nián) became the second zodiac.
(lǎo hǔ tōng guò hé shuǐ liú shuǐ liú bó jī yě chéng gōng guò hé, ràng yù huáng dà dì hěn gāo xìng, chéng wéi pái míng dì sān de shēng xiào.)
The third zodiac was the Year of the Tiger 虎年 (hǔ nián), who had struggled against a current to cross the river, and pleased the Emperor greatly.
(tù zi bù huì yóu yǒng, dàn shì jiè zhù hé zhòng dì shí tou yě chéng gōng tiào guò hé, chéng wéi dì sì gè dào dá de shēng xiào.)
Next came the Year of the Rabbit 兔年 (tù nián) who, being unable to swim had hopped from log to stone in order to cross the river.
(dì wǔ gè dào dá de shēng xiào shì lóng, tā zhí jiē fēi dào le tiān gōng de dà mén kǒu).
The fifth zodiac was the Year of the Dragon 龙年 (lóng nián) who flew down to the Gate.
(yù huáng dà dì wèn tā, jì rán tā huì fēi, wèi shén me cái dì wǔ míng)
The Emperor asked him, why, since he had wings, was he fifth in the race?
(shàn liáng de lóng jiě shì dào tā xū yào xiān qù jiàng yǔ wèi qí tā dòng wù tí gōng lài yǐ shēng cún de yǐn shuǐ)
The kind dragon explained that he had needed to provide drinking water for other animals and had been creating rain.
(jiē zhe dǐ dá de shì mǎ, dàn shì dāng tā yào dào mén kǒu de shí hòu, jiǎo huá de shé cóng tā de tí zǐ shàng pán xuán ér xià, xià le tā yī tiào, yīn cǐ, shé xiān yī bù dǐ dá, chéng wéi pái míng dì liù de shēng xiào, ér mǎ pái míng dì qī.)
Next came the horse, but just as he was about to arrive at the Gate, the crafty snake unravelled himself from the horse’s leg and, scaring the horse, make his way to the gate and the Emperor proclaimed the sixth zodiac, Year of the Snake 蛇年 (shé nián), followed by the seventh zodiac, the Year of the Horse 马年 (mǎ nián).
(suí hòu yáng, hóu zi hé gōng jī yī qǐ chéng mù fá dào le.)
Across the river came a raft carrying the goat, monkey and rooster.
(yù huáng dà dì kàn dào zhè sān zhǐ dòng wù néng gòu xié tóng hé zuò, gǎn dào hěn gāo xìng, suǒ yǐ fēn bié diǎn míng tā men wèi wèi dì bā, jiǔ, shí míng.)
The Emperor was happy that the three animals had worked together, and named the eighth, ninth and tenth zodiac’s, Year of the Goat 羊年 (yáng nián), Year of the Monkey 猴年 (hóu nián) and Year of the Rooster 鸡年 (jī nián) respectively.
(dì shí yī míng dào de dòng wù shì gǒu.)
The eleventh animal to arrive was the Year of the Dog 狗年 (gǒu nián).
(tā dào shí, yù huáng dà dì wèn tā wèi hé zhè me wǎn cái dào)
On his arrival, the Emperor asked him why he was so late.
(gǒu huí dá shuō, yīn wèi hé shuǐ tài qīng le, suǒ yǐ tā rěn bu zhù zài lái de lù shang xǐ le gè zǎo)
The dog told him that since the water was so clean, he had taken a bath on his way.
(zuì hòu, zhū yě zài chī bǎo shuì zú zhī hòu dào dá le tiān gōng mén kǒu, chéng wéi dì shí èr gè shēng xiào)
Finally, the boar arrived at the gate after having eaten and slept, and the twelfth zodiac became the Year of the Boar 猪年 (zhū nián).
(bú xìng de shì, yīn wèi bèi lǎo shǔ tuī jìn hé lǐ, māo zuì hòu yī gè dào dá tiān gōng mén kǒu, wú fǎ dēng shàng shēng xiào bǎng)
Unfortunately, since the rat had pushed him into the river, the cat arrived last and was unable to become part of the calendar.
(cóng cǐ yǐ hòu, lǎo shǔ hé māo yě chéng le sù dí.)
From that day on, rats and cats have been mortal enemies.
If you’ve heard other myths and stories about the Chinese New Year Animals, share them with us below! If you want to find out more about your own Year, take a look at the post about the Chinese Zodiac and each animal’s personality traits.