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.