Rat in Chinese culture
Due to its reputation as an impossibly resilient rodent pest, the rat might not be the most obvious choice to gain its own zodiac sign, yet alone to become the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac. However, in Chinese tradition the rat possesses qualities that are considered desirable in people. Rats are known as persistent, if not welcomed, companions to humans around the world and the species keeps astonishing with its craftiness and ability to adjust to almost any environment. Indeed, the rat needs to be crafty and sharp to endure and overcome all the obstacles that humans relentlessly keep piling up in its way. Surely many have been forced to admit failure and defeat as they have discovered that the clever rat never falls for the same trick twice. Rats learn from their mistakes and know to steer away from danger.
There are many examples of encounters between rats and humans in Chinese literature. The rat is mentioned in the Book of Songs, a Chinese classic dating back to well before our times, and it has appeared in many other pieces of Chinese literature ever since. As an animal that is mostly nocturnal, rat’s nightly adventures may have caused many a writer terrible insomnia and thus contributed to the rodent’s recurring appearances in literature. One Ming writer complained in a poem that the rat’s constant gnawing and racket kept him awake for hours and deprived him from sleep. Unlike the sleepless writer, his cat remained unaffected by the disturbance as it slept sweetly through the rats squeaking and gnawing.
The legend how the Rat came to be the first zodiac animal is very well known in China and there are a few popular versions of the story. According to one version, the Jade Emperor summoned all the animals to a Great Race so that he could put them in the right rank. Originally, the Cat wanted to participate the race too. The ambitious Rat schemed to win the whole race, although as one of the smallest participants, the odds were clearly against it. But the devious Rat told the Cat that it, too, planned to compete and since the animals were very good friends they should help each other to win the race. Needless to say, the Rat fooled the Cat and set out early in the morning as the Cat was still fast asleep. In the heat of the competition, the Rat ran into the Ox which it persuaded to carry itself to the palace. But as the two of them reached the palace gate, the Rat jumped off the Ox’s back and sprang inside the palace through the cracks in the palace walls while the Ox was still waiting patiently by the gate to be asked to enter the palace. The Emperor had no choice but to grant the Rat the title of the first animal, followed by the Ox. But the lazy Cat was left out entirely from the ranks of the Zodiac. From then on, the bitter Cat has held a grudge against the Rat and it never misses an opportunity to sink its sharp claws into the Rat’s skin whenever their paths cross. Therefore, the Rat chooses to stick with its own below the surface, under the ground, out of the reach of the vengeful Cat’s sharp claws.
In spite of generally being seen as a disgusting greedy thief, in China the rat’s role as humans’ loyal companion is acknowledged. It is true, that where there are people, there will undoubtedly be rats too. According to another Chinese story, when darkness and chaos still prevailed in the world, the Rat came to human’s aid. Despite the human’s desire to get out of the darkness, it did not possess the means to bring light into the world. But the Rat offered to help as it had strong, good teeth and an impossibly big appetite. It gnawed a hole into the sky and helped humans into the light.
The Rat in Chinese Zodiac
As the Rat is a nocturnal animal and at its most active at night, the time of birth determines what kind of qualities a person that is born in the Year of the Rat possesses. Those who are born in the evening or late at night are thought to be more open-hearted than those who are born closer to sunrise. However, those born at night can be ambitious to a point where ambition turns against them. Those who have been born in the morning are said to be prone to indecisiveness and do not seem to have any ambition at all. Rats love news and juicy gossip as well as spending time casually socializing. The Rat might be quite secretive about its own business and does not easily share its secrets with others, but few secrets are left unnoticed by the Rat. Despite its nosiness, the Rat is a good listener and it tends to use its knowledge to do good rather than to do harm. Rats love good stories and therefore it is not a surprise that those born in the Rat year often become writers, artists or researchers.
A Rat does not show its feelings easily and if it behaves badly or unkindly the reason to this is most likely to lie in some emotional imbalance that causes the Rat insufferable distress. In general, Rats are active and hard-working and they are easily irritated by the laziness or inefficiency of others. Rats can sometimes hurl into pettiness and intrigue. Despite its frugality, the Rat often indulges in small impulse purchases and discounts. If the Rat manages to hold down its greediness, it usually successfully achieves its goals. Persons born in the Rat Year are often very attractive and easily gather admirers around them. The clever and outgoing Rat is easy to get along with and never bores its friends. Rats get along best with reliable Oxen, courageous Dragons and resourceful Monkeys, whom the Rat particularly admires for its wittiness.
Year of the Rat
As the first zodiac animal of the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, new beginnings and change can be anticipated from the Year of the Rat. The Rat Year promises good prospects to almost all signs and wealth and growth are often associated with the year. Therefore, the Rat Year is a good opportunity to make new investments and start a new project or hobby. Yet one should not take too many foolhardy risks, as new projects need careful planning and rat-like craftiness in order to become successful.
Years of the Rat