Do you know why the cat is the enemy of the rat?
As Chinese folklore goes, the rat and cat made an appointment to attend a competition held by the Jade Emperor. It would decide the zodiac animals. However, the quick-witted rat did not wake the cat up and at last won by riding on the ox’s back to sneak ahead.
Thus, the rat ranked first on the 12 Chinese zodiac signs and became an enemy of the cat. So when Chinese people talk about the rat, they are likely to see it as greedy and dishonest. For example, there is the phrase “a thief’s eyebrow and a rat’s eyes”, to describe someone who looks untrustworthy.
In the real world, rats are known for spreading diseases. It was regarded as one of the “four pests” in 1960s China.
Rats have also long been blamed for spreading the Black Death, which took the lives of about 25 million people around Europe in the 14th century.
Nevertheless, it’s time to know the other side of the rat, as the Chinese Lunar New Year is around the corner. The Year of the Rat starts on Jan 25.
Chinese literature has some positive views of rats. In the novel Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, written by Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling, a courageous, smart and faithful rat, smaller in size and weaker in strength, battles with a fierce snake to save its companion.
There is also folklore treating the rat as a great hero. It is said that the rat created the world by taking a bite of heaven, bringing light to humans. It helped people survive by stealing firewood and grain seeds. As a result, many people worship the rat by offering sacrifices and praying for success.
Since rats live together in societies and have many babies with a high survival rate, they also represent cooperation and reproduction.
With all these qualities, it is believed that people born in the Year of the Rat are smart and good at making money.