James Stories

This is a story that not many people know…

It tells of a time not so long ago, when the Buddha, (who had seen it all), decided that the ‘next place’ beckoned.


Buddha was leaving the earth and asked that all the animals come to say goodbye. So all the animals were excited and they talked amongst each other about who loved the Buddha the most and who would get to the meeting place first. Of course they could not agree, so a race was set to start on the Emperor’s birthday!

All the animals prepared for the race, which was to begin from the Great Wall in Beijing and end with a crossing of the river Lijiang in Guilin.

The cat who was confident but not being very good with dates asked the rat: “When is Emperor Shang’s birthday anyway?” The rat being a devious sort told the cat that the day of the Emperor’s birthday was “the day after tomorrow”, when in fact it was the next day – poor cat.

The Dragon could fly thought the horse and buffalo and they couldn’t think of any way to beat it. So they asked the rooster (who was very proud), will you give us some advice as to what we can do to outpace the dragon that can fly like you, (although a lot better – ahem)? The rooster said that there is no way to beat the one that can beat its wings and fly so high. So they went to the rat…

The rat said: “I have decided that I can help only one of you and to do this I must sleep with you tonight and whisper in your ear until you sleep”. “The one that I choose to help is you Buffalo”. So they both walked out to the field and the buffalo lay down and rested while the rat told him stories of green fields and marsh meadows and butterflies and milk until he fell asleep.

The cat thought – do you know, I think tonight I can forgo on sleep – for what do I need to sleep tonight when there is so much adventure by the light of this full moon. I will sleep tomorrow and rest in the evening and be ready for the race after that.

The sheep was happy to sleep in her usual place, near the pig that was very busy eating – despite the dog barking and telling him how silly he was to eat people’s stylish underwear and other fashion items, like hats and bracers and neckties and gloves.

The monkey decided that before the race began, he would play a great song but he needed to compose it first: So he summoned all his subjects (who were all monkeys too – but apparently not as kingly as this fellow) to bash and mash and whoop and schwoop and holler and coller and beat and greet and bleet and screech and make “a damn lot of racket to be brutally honest” – said the tiger who was stretching against two trees at the same time, two tress that were: “so far apart that he really had no right to be able to … well stretch against both of them - at the same time and in such a majestic way”, thought the rabbit who watched from her warren that was in front of the cave, where the dragon slept.


Next morning ‘most’ of the animals heard the soldier’s call: “Yin shi! Yin shi – the race is starting!” (The cry Yin shi means that this is the end of the 3rd period of the day and the beginning of the 4th – and in modern times that means 6am)


Here’s what happened next . . .


The Chinese Zodiac legend explains that the rat used his brain rather than his brawn. He hitched a ride on what he perceived was the mightiest swimmer. Just before the buffalo reached the shore, the rat jumped off the buffalo’s back and crossed the finish line before the buffalo, putting the rat in first place.

The buffalo came in second and as promised in the legends and mythology, was the second animal listed on the Chinese Zodiac. The tiger, also being strong, came in third, followed by the rabbit that jumped her way across and was helped during the last stretch, (where the river was strong), by the dragon Why would the dragon help the Rabbit you may ask? Well that’s easy, because at the start of the race, the dragon being so far inside the cave, did not hear the soldier’s cry – so the rabbit made her way deep inside the cave to find the dragon and wake him. A very brave act this was indeed and all that followed, is in fact quite a fascinating story… but I will not tell it to you now.

The snake, similar to the Rat had a good idea too – however not quite as good. He hid in the hoof of the horse, which is how he managed to make it across the river. At the last minute the snake jumped out and scared the horse into seventh place. By all accounts, this was when the snake learned how to swim.

The sheep, monkey and rooster helped one another across and earned their spots on the calendar as well. The dog made it too, but decided a bath was more important than position, which is why he came in eleventh. Finally, the pig appeared and is listed last. According to the legends, the pig feasted and rested halfway through the race, but made it across before Buddha left this world - guaranteeing his position.

As for the cat – she slept the whole race through and awoke only to see a vision of Buddha by her side saying, “never mind, although there is no place for you in the Chinese horoscope, there is a place for all creatures in the living of each year. And because you had the intention of saying farewell to me, I will give you nine lives, one for each level of enlightenment and until you are with us, you will find I am with you. The cat always remembered that vision - with a smile.


But equally, she remembered the Rat!


James McLaughlin 18th July 2007


(some added material from http://www.chinesezodiac.com/chinesezodiachistory.php )