Whenever Chinese New Year is mentioned, the first thing that comes to the minds of most people is, “What year is this?” This is in reference to the animal representation for that year. The designation is usually explained with a simple story that a long time ago, Buddha called together all the animals to help guard and protect the year. Of all the animals, only twelve answered the call. In order to establish an orderly sequence, a race was called. In the race, the Ox would have taken the honor of taking first place had it not been for the clever and cunning Rat who rode on the back of the Ox and jumped forward at the finish line to steal away the top award.
The Tournament of the Twelve Animals
The Jade Emperor wanted to select twelve animals to represent the different years as totems. Hearing this, all the animals on earth rushed to the call with each desiring to be selected. Finding no suitable method on which to base his selection, the Jade Emperor decided to have a tournament of physical skills and abilities.
The Jade Emperor appointed the Elephant to be the undisputed judge of this tournament. The elephant was known for his calmness, great moral virtue and conduct. His judgment was principled and fair and because of this he is highly respected by all the animals.
When this tournament and its rules were announced, the Cat heard about it and went to tell this to the Rat. In earlier times, both the Cat and the Rat were very close friends. The Cat told the Rat that he was eligible to compete because being an animal was the only necessary qualification. When the Rat arrived, he saw that there was already a mighty strong brown Ox poised on the tournament platform welcoming all challengers.
The brown Ox was both large in size and extremely mighty. He thought little of having the tiny Rat as his opponent. He was over confident as he stood boldly on the tournament platform. Readying himself for the battle, the Ox raised his front legs and pawed and scratched on the ground as he was prepared to stomp on the Rat and flatten him into a small meat patty. However, the Rat was light in weight and quick and agile in movement so that he was successful in side-stepping the charging Ox. The Rat jumped onto his feet and catapulted himself onto the back of the Ox. The Ox was helpless to this attack and the pain inflicted caused him to scream out with an admission of defeat. The judge had no alternative than to award the Rat with the coveted First prize. The Ox was embarrassed and speechless to have lost to the Rat.
The rest of the animals battled one another, and this is how the ranking of the twelve animals came to be: (1)Rat, (2)Ox, (3)Tiger, (4)Hare, (5)Dragon, (6)Snake, (7)Horse, (8)Ram, (9)Monkey, (10)Rooster, (11)Dog, (12)Boar.