2020 Year of the Rat

Article By Dong Yi

According to Chinese calendar, 2020 will be the Year of Rat. I always thought it was strange that there was no cat on the Chinese Zodiac, but instead a rat, which puzzled me for a long time when I was little. After all, rats have not been considered a pleasant animal for many generations. It was one of the “Four Pests” targeted in the Four Pest Campaign of 1958 to 1962. So why have a year dedicated to what is often thought of as a menace?

After some searching, I found the reason, which is that a trick of time has changed the reputation of the rat. Back in ancient times, rats were regarded as clever, crafty, highly-productive, and flexible (meaning that they are more likely to survive various unpredictable situations). All of these are qualities that were highly desired and valued by people back then, as situations in history often led to a need for such characteristics.

This is evidenced by the origin story of the Chinese Lunar calendar, often dubbed The Great Race. The story states that the Jade Emperor, first god and ‘grandfather’ of the Chinese People, decreed that each of the twelve years in the calendar cycle would be named after an animal, and that there would be a race to cross a river to determine who would earn their place on the calendar. At the onset of the race, the Cat and the Rat – both intelligent creatures who could not swim well – climbed atop the back of the Ox, who could easily ford the river. As they neared the far bank of the river, the Rat pushed the Cat off of the back of the Ox and into the water. The rat then leaped from the nose of the Ox, thus being the first animal on the calendar. The Rat was followed by the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and finally, the Pig. The Cat never made it to the other side, thus was absent from the calendar.

Today, some people, especially older people, believe that each a person born in the year of a particular animal takes on the qualities and traits of that animal. For those born in the year of the rat, they are expected to be cunning, quick-witted, curious, but also cowardly, opportunistic, and narrow-minded. According to the Chinese theory of Yin (female energy) and Yang (male energy), the rat is considered a Yang symbol. If you were born in 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, or 1948, you were probably born as a rat (unless your birthday is in early January). Now hopefully you will understand better what the rat means on the Chinese calendar and perhaps will be less confused than I was when all of the rat symbols start appearing this January.

Dong Yi is a language teacher from Xi’an. She enjoys beautiful things like stunning sunsets, crystal skies and wonderful people, like you lovely readers.

2020 Chinese Public Holiday Calendar