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The Year of the Rat

Dr Xiang Tony Ren – Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture, Western Sydney University

The Chinese zodiac (生肖) is made up of 12 animals and the Rat ranks first. How did the little rat earn the first place? Legend has it that when the Jade Emperor decided to make the Zodiac, he called for a great race to the Heavenly Gate to decide the order of animals. The diligent OX was leading the race, but Rat tricked OX into giving him a ride. Just before arriving at the finish line, the Rat quickly jumped ahead and became the first.

People born in the Year of the Rat are usually clever, sociable, flexible, and quick-witted, but they can also be timid, suspicious and stubborn. Famous Rat people include George W. Bush, Mark Zuckerberg, Cristiano Ronaldo, Scarlett Johansson, and Marlon Brando. Do you think they possess these personality traits?

In Chinese language, there is no difference between "rat" and "mouse". As “Rat” is homophonous to “book (书)” and “number (数)”, it becomes a cultural symbol of wisdom and wealth and the Year of the Rat is seen as a year of prosperity. In the Chinese classic warrior novel, The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants (七侠五), the word “rat” appears in the nicknames of five famous warriors as a metaphor for their agile martial arts skills. Interestingly, the rat also symbolises the immoral corrupt officials in the classic poem Huge Rat (硕鼠) in The Book of Odes (诗经). Rat or Mouse is a popular fictional character in other cultures as well, such as the adorable Mickey Mouse and the cunning Mouse Jerry. 

We wish you a happy year of the Rat!

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