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The Cat: China’s Unofficial 13th Zodiac

Have you ever wondered why the cat isn’t part of the Chinese zodiac cycle? 

According to legend, the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Invited to a race by the Jade Emperor, they all competed to determine their rank and order in the zodiac calendar, with the Cat not being remembered as a player in the competition.

However, contrary to what the zodiac calendar might imply, China isn’t an exception when it comes to falling for feline charms. Throughout history, these magnificent creatures have actually long been praised and deified, with the cat goddess Li Shou even considered to be the first guardian to watch over the world after its creation.  

But if cats were so widely adored by the Chinese, why were they left out of one of the most widely known myths of all time? Well, apparently, it’s the fault of the “winner” itself — the Rat. 


Story #1: The Zodiac Great Race

The most popular myth of the Chinese zodiac is that of the Great Race. In this version of the story, of course, the Cat was at first considered to be a frontrunner. Initially best friends, the Cat and the Rat were working together to make their way back to the Jade Emperor when they suddenly came upon a river. Since they were poor swimmers, they both convinced the kind Ox to let them ride on its back so they could make their way across. 

However, as the three animals approached the other side of the river, the Rat suddenly pushed the Cat off the Ox’s back and into the water, sabotaging the Cat’s chances of completing the race. Like in the original story, the Rat then jumped off the Ox and rushed to the Jade Emperor, winning first place in the competition. The Cat, unfortunately, was left to drown. It is for this reason that cats are known to hunt down rats, being bitter enemies to this very day. 


Story #2: The Zodiac Banquet

In another version of the zodiac legend, the Jade Emperor decided to host a banquet to establish the cycle of the zodiac, which would only hold twelve slots. During that time, the Cat and the Rat agreed to go to the banquet together since they were the closest of friends and treated each other like brothers. 

Because of his irregular sleep schedule, the Cat asked the Rat for help in waking him up early so that they could arrive at the banquet in time. However, although the Rat agreed, he did not keep his promise. Instead, the Rat made sure to leave as quietly as possible the next morning, abandoning the Cat to his slumber. By the time the Cat finally woke up in the afternoon, it was too late to do anything. The news had already spread about the twelve newly appointed animals of the zodiac cycle, with the Rat ranking first among them all. 

Feeling betrayed, the Cat then decided to swear eternal vengeance on the Rat, becoming enemies for the rest of their lives. 


Story #3: The Zodiac Registration

In this origin story, the twelve animals of the zodiac cycle were already handpicked by the Jade Emperor. The only thing left for them to do was to register themselves in the heavenly palace. Trusting the Cat, the Jade Emperor then assigned him the task of contacting the other eleven animals, of which the Rat was not included. 

However, after eavesdropping on the conversation, the Rat decided to take matters into his own hands and secretly snuck into the heavenly palace, registering for the first position before all the other animals had arrived. Apathetic to the affair, the Jade Emperor did not bother checking whether or not the Rat was even eligible to register. It was only after having informed all the other eleven animals that the Cat returned to discover there were no more positions left for him in the zodiac cycle. Because of this, the Cat declared the Rat to be its nemesis for all of eternity. 


Want more zodiac content? Check out our zodiac-based relationship compatibility chart here!


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