Year of the Pig
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Legend has it that the pig stopped for a nap, and was the last to reach the Heavenly Gate.

Why is 2019 the Year of the Pig? How the Chinese zodiac’s 12 animals were chosen

  • According to legend, the Jade Emperor wanted time segmented into 12-year cycles
  • A treacherous rat is apparently the reason why the cat is not recognised in the zodiac

This is the Year of the Pig, but have you ever wondered why and how the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac were chosen?

According to legend, the heavenly Jade Emperor wanted to segment time into cycles of 12 years with an earthly animal guarding each cycle. He sent word that the fastest animals to reach the Heavenly Gate would be chosen, ranked accordingly and have a year in the cycle named after them. Sensing an opportunity, the animals raced against each other to win the emperor’s favour.

The quick-witted rat set off first but had to wait for the other animals to catch up when it came to a fast-flowing river. He was able to cross the river by taking advantage of the tender-hearted ox, who carried him over on his ear.

Having crossed the river, the kind but dim ox charged off. As the ox approached the palace in first place, the rat suddenly leapt from his ear and dashed to the Jade Emperor’s feet, securing victory and relegating the ox to second place.

The tiger came next, followed by the agile rabbit who had jumped across the river from stone to stone.


In fifth place came the flying dragon. When the Jade Emperor asked why he hadn’t simply flown over the river to win the race, the dragon explained he had stopped at a village to help bring rain to some desperate farmers.

The horse galloped in, confident of securing sixth spot, when the snake slithered off his front hoof and beat him by a nose. The goat, monkey and rooster arrived after crossing the river on a raft they had built together, taking eighth, ninth, and 10th places respectively.

The dog was a late 11th having stopped to enjoy a bath in the river, and the pig, who had stopped for a nap, sauntered in for the 12th, and final, place.

There are many versions of the legend but they all agree the rat made sure the cat did not finish the race by either tricking him into sleeping through the event or by pushing him into the river. Due to the rat’s treachery, the cat failed to finish and was not recognised in the zodiac. Naturally, the cat never forgave the rat and Chinese legend holds this to be why they are natural enemies.

This is an excerpt from Chinese zodiac 2019: All you need to know about the year of the pig , a multimedia infographic