The 12 Zodiac animal signs (生肖 shengxiao) are, in order, the rat, ox (or cow), tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (or boar). There are many legends to explain the beginning of the zodiac. One of the most popular reads, in summarised form, as follows:
- The rat was given the task of inviting the animals to report to the Jade Emperor for a banquet to be selected for the zodiac signs. The cat was a good friend of the rat, but the rat tricked him into believing that the banquet was the next day. The cat slept through the banquet, thinking that it was the next day. When he found out, the cat vowed to be the rat’s natural enemy for ages to come.
A variation tells that the cat had asked the rat to wake him up the day of the Race. The rat agreed, but on the said day, he did not wake the cat in his greed to win. When the cat finally woke up and got to the racing ground, he found the race to be over. The cat then swore revenge upon the rat.