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  • By Kara Newcastle

Myth Monday: Why the Cat and the Rat Hate Each Other (Chinese Folktale)

Myth Monday: Why the Cat and the Rat Hate Each Other (Chinese Folktale)

By Gennaro Visciano from Torre del Greco (NA), Italy

Several thousand years ago, the cat and the rat used to be the best of friends. They were totally inseparable, playing together, sleeping snuggled side by side, sharing their food—where ever one went, the other was always with him.

One day, the Jade Emperor announced that he would assign twelve animals to represent a year of the zodiac, and that anyone born in that year would gain the qualities of that animal. However, the Jade Emperor decreed that he would not pick the animals himself—there would be a great race among them, and the first twelve that reached the finish line would be the winners.

The cat and the rat were ecstatic—what an honor, to represent an entire year in the zodiac! Knowing that they were small and swift, they were both sure that they could get ahead of the bigger animals and set out together. They made excellent time and were having great fun until they came to the banks of a wide, roiling river. The finish line was on the other side of the river, and though both the cat and the rat were decent swimmers, they could see that the current was too strong for either one of them to make it easily across.

As they sat on the shore wondering what to do, the cat noticed the ox unhesitatingly striding into the river. “Look!” said the cat to the rat, “The ox will be able to get across the river with no problem. If we got a ride on his back, we’ll be able to get across the river.”

“Great idea!” the rat squeaked, and together the two friends raced up to the ox. Gently taking the rat’s scruff in his mouth, the cat sprang up onto the ox’s back, and the two friends settled comfortably on the great beast’s back as it moved deeper into the water.

As the ox began to swim, the river water rose higher around its body, forcing the cat and the rat to move from the ox’s back to its shoulders, then its neck, then finally to the top of its head. Even then, the water continued to inch its way up, splashing threatening around the cat and the rat’s feet.

Worried, the cat looked down at the roiling brown water. “Wow. The water’s getting really high.”

The rat winced. “Yeah. We’re going to run out of room.”

“What will we do?” the cat asked worriedly as water splashed up on his whiskers. “If the water gets higher, there won’t be enough room for both of us. We’ll be swept off, and then we’ll never get to the finish line.”

Glancing at the cat, the rat slowly nodded. “Yeah … you’re right.”

And with that, the rat planted his grubby little hands against his best friend’s body and pushed, shoving the horrified cat off of the ox’s head and into the water! The cat hit the water with a yowl, plunging under, and was carried off by the strong current. The river dragged the poor cat several hundred yards downstream until the gasping, shocked creature was able to pull itself out on the bank from which he came.

By the time the cat recovered and found his way across the river, the race was over … and not only was the race over, but the rat had won first place! The remaining twelve positions had been filled by the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig, leaving no room for the heartbroken cat.

The cat swore revenge, and ever since that day, cats and rats have hated each other.

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