Lakeside Arts
Part of University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts

chinese symbols like lampion, flowery branch and an ox in yellow on a red background

CHINESE ZODIAC STORIES

There are several legends about how the animals were chosen for the Chinese zodiac. This is one of them.

The Jade Emperor is the name of the Emperor of Heaven. Long ago, in China, the Jade Emperor decided there should be a way of measuring time. On his birthday he told the animals that there was to be a swimming race. The first twelve animals across the fast flowing river would be the winners and they would each have a year of the zodiac named after them.

All the animals lined up along the river bank. The rat and the cat, who were good friends, were worried because they were poor swimmers. Being clever they asked the strong ox if he would carry them across the river.

'Of course' said the kind ox. 'Just climb on my back and I will take you across.'

The rat and the cat quickly jumped up and were very excited when the ox soon took the lead in the race. They had almost reached the other bank when the rat pushed the cat into the river leaving him to struggle in the water. Then just before the ox was about to win the race the rat leapt on his head and on to the bank to finish first.

'Well done,' said the Jade Emperor to the proud rat. 'The first year of the zodiac will be named after you.'

The poor ox had been tricked into second place and the second year of the zodiac was named after him.

Shortly after the exhausted tiger clawed his way to the river bank to claim third place. Swimming across the river had been an enormous struggle for him against the strong currents. The Emperor was so delighted with his efforts that he named the third year after him.

Next to arrive was the rabbit, who hadn't swum across at all. He hopped across on some stepping stones and then found a floating log which carried him to the shore.

'I shall be very happy to call the fourth year after you,' the surprised Jade Emperor explained.

Just then a kind dragon swooped down to take fifth place.

'Why didn’t you win the race, as you can fly as well as swim?' the Jade Emperor asked.

'I was held up because some people and animals needed water to drink. I needed to make some rain,' the dragon explained. 'Then when I was nearly here I saw a poor little rabbit on a log in the water and I blew a puff of wind so that the log would float to the river bank.'

'Well that was very kind of you and now you are here you will have the fifth year of the zodiac named after you.'

The next thing the Jade Emperor heard was the sound of the horse’s hooves. Just as he was thinking the horse would be the next animal to arrive, a sneaky snake wriggled out from around one of the horse’s hooves. The horse was so surprised that he jumped backwards giving the snake a chance to take the sixth place in the race. The poor horse had to be satisfied with seventh place.

Not long afterwards a raft arrived carrying the goat, the monkey and the rooster. They explained to the Emperor how they had shared the raft that the rooster had found. The goat and monkey had cleared weeds and pushed the raft to the shore. The Emperor was very pleased that the animals had worked together. He said the goat would be the eighth zodiac animal, the monkey the ninth and the rooster the tenth.

The next animal to finish was the dog.

'Why are you so late when you are one of the best swimmers?' asked the Jade Emperor.

'The water in the river was so clean that I had to have a bath on the way,' explained the dog.

His reward was to have the eleventh year named after him.

Now there was one place left in the zodiac and the Emperor wondered when the last winner would come. He had nearly given up when he heard a grunt from the boar.

'You took a long time to cross the river,' said the Emperor to the boar.

'I was hungry and stopped to eat,' explained the boar. 'After the meal I felt so tired that I fell asleep.'

'You have still done well,' said the Jade Emperor. 'The last year of the zodiac will be named after you.'

As for the cat who had been pushed into the water by the rat, he finally crawled out of the water but was too late to have a year named after him. He felt very cross with the rat and since then cats have never been friends with rats.

From that day to this the Chinese Zodiac has followed this cycle of years named after these twelve animals.

decorative strip on a red background with yellow symbols including an ox

ZODIAC CHARACTERISTICS

The Chinese zodiac follows a twelve year cycle, each of the years being named after an animal. The Chinese believe that people born in a particular year take on the characteristics of the animal associated with that year.


RAT

yellow rat on a red background

 

Ambitious, clever and devoted to their family. Hard-working and imaginative. Not always sure of themselves and do not always plan for the future. Will always stand by their friends.


OX

yellow ox on a red background
 

Born leaders who will work hard to achieve their aims.

 Dependable, good organisers and not easily influenced by others. Patient, loyal to their friends and expect loyalty in return. Tend to have lasting relationships.



TIGER

yellow tiger on a red background

Sensitive, emotional and adventurous. Confident, risk takers and dislike taking orders. Good at seeing problems, but less able to see the solutions. Often seek a shoulder to cry on when feeling down. Warm and generous to the people they love.

 

 


RABBIT

yellow rabbit on a red background

Affectionate, gentle with strong family ties. Caring and hates conflict. Peace-makers with lots of friends. Dislike being the centre of attention and enjoy the good things of life.

 


DRAGON

yellow dragon on a red background

Confident, hardworking and always strive to be at the top. Full of energy, determined and will inspire other people. Don’t like routine and are excited by new projects. Show loyalty to friends, popular and fun-loving. The Dragon is the only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac and is looked upon as the luckiest of all the animals.

 


SNAKE

yellow snake on a red background

Charming and good thinkers. Love the finer things in life, so only the best is good enough. Good at making and saving money. Patient, charming and wise. Prefer not to rely on other people.

 


HORSE

yellow horse on a red background

Very hardworking and independent. Will work on and on until a job is finished. Very intelligent, ambitious and expect to succeed. Can cope with several projects at once. Easily fall in love.

 


GOAT

yellow goaton a red background

Elegant, artistic and good-natured. Inclined to worry too much. Peace-lovers who prefer to avoid disagreements. Others may put upon them, but they are stronger than they seem. Family is very important.

 


MONKEY

yellow monkeyon a red background

Very clever, but mischievous. Love a challenge and can wriggle out of difficult situations by thinking through difficult problems. Highly successful and well-liked.

 

 


ROOSTER

yellow roosteron a red background

Hardworking, strong-willed and confident. Well organised and good time keepers. Enjoy being the centre of attention and love flattery. Often outspoken and hate criticism of themselves though they can be inclined to find fault with other people.

 


DOG

yellow dogon a red background

Faithful, honest and ready to serve others. Believe in truth and justice and loyal to friends. Always willing to listen to people’s problems and is able to gain the respect of others. Will share their thoughts but do not easily forgive those who cross them. Trustworthy. Tend to worry too much.

 


BOAR

yellow boar on a red background

Honest, peace-loving and make good friends. Will try not to argue and rarely lose their temper. Love the good things in life and are very willing to share with others. Enjoy gossip and fall in love easily. Can be untidy people at home.


decorative strip on a red background with yellow symbols including an ox

This year's Chinese New Years celebrations will take place online for the very first time.

We invite you to enjoy the performance between Thursday 11 – Saturday 20 February.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE EVENT