“The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac” by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson.

We are all familiar with the animals of the Chinese zodiac, but few know the origins to order of its symbols. The most popular legend is the one of the Race to the Jade Emperor, where a final river crossing proved to be the determining factor. The Rat, known to be crafty and guile, convinced the Ox to allow him to ride on its head to cross the river. The Ox, being naïve and good-natured, agreed and was beaten when the rat jumped off and scurried to first place. The Tiger, being a powerful and persistent animal, pushed its way through the dangerous currents to claim third place. Next came the rabbit, nimbly darting from one stone to another, yet almost drowned had it not latched onto a floating log that washed it safely to shore. Surprisingly, the Dragon came in 5th, but later explained that its delayed arrival was due to helping the people and creatures of the earth along the way, including a puff of breath to aid a helpless rabbit clinging onto a log in the river. Next came the galloping sound of the Horse, which was unknowingly carrying the Snake under its hoof. When the Snake suddenly revealed itself, the shock allowed the Snake to sneak into 6th place and forced the Horse into 7th. The goat, monkey and rooster arrived at the same time by working together, as the rooster spotted a raft, while the monkey and the goat cleared the weeds. Although the Dog is known for being an excellent swimmer, its love of a good bath and fresh water from the river, resulted in their second-to-last place. Finally, the pig trotted its way across the finish line after waking up from a feast and a nap along the way. The supposed 13th animal is the cat, which is not included because of the rat. The most devious explanation says both the rat and the cat were on the ox’s head, but at the final moment, the rat pushed the cat into the water, explaining why cats have a bitter rivalry towards rats and a hatred of water.

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