Why does the Rat come first in the Chinese zodiac, a cycle of 12 years, each represented by a different animal? Indeed, why is it part of the zodiac at all, forcing more illustrious animals onto the sidelines?
One of the practical explanations for the Rat’s primary position is that they come out around midnight, giving them an early start to the day. However, a grander myth has it that the Jade Emperor, the ruler of all the Chinese gods, dictated that the order of the zodiac cycle would be decided in a race requiring the animals to cross a river. The Cat and the Rat were best of friends, so the two hatched a plan to ride the Ox across the river. But as the Ox started crossing the Rat jolted forward, throwing the Cat into the water. The Rat didn’t bother to check on his friend, instead jumping down ahead of the Ox at the finishing line and taking first place in the zodiac pecking order.
The story is said to explain the poor relations between the two animals ever since, as well as why the Cat never became one of the 12 zodiac animals. Perhaps it points to some of the negatives associated with Rats as well, especially a tendency for cunning or greedy behaviour (Pope Francis, George Washington, Wolfgang Mozart and William Shakespeare – all of whom were born in a year of the Rat – might disagree).
Despite Western stereotypes, rodents in Chinese culture are often seen as clever, inquisitive and resourceful. They are also said to be able reach their goals, despite everything that might stand in their way, thanks in part to their helpful charm and energy. And as the first in the cycle of the zodiac signs, the Year of the Rat is also seen as a time when life starts afresh and is thus a symbol of new beginnings.
US-based literary translator Berlin Fang pointed out this week in the China Daily that the rat is also the most versatile of the zodiac animals – as it can swim, run and climb. Another attraction is that “rats can feed themselves even during a famine due to their agility and the mobility afforded by their versatility”. That, he says, has an appeal to Chinese – a people with a history of subsisting on very little, meaning “many have accorded their top priority to food”.
Another factor complicating the stereotypes, Fang believes, is that the character for the zodiac animal is 鼠 (shu), which is not exclusively associated with the rat. It actually means ‘rodent’ and in the Chinese context shu can also refer to mice (where the connotations are not quite so bleak; think Mickey).
The last Year of the Rat was 2008 and few will remember it particularly fondly, given that it coincided with the global financial crisis. But in respect to relations between China and the United States, Rat Years can be momentous as well: consider that in 1972, also a Rat year, Richard Nixon (born in a Rat year himself) ‘opened’ China with his famous presidential visit.
Perhaps that bodes well for the second phase of trade negotiations between Beijing and Washington, after an initial deal was reached last week.
Nevertheless, this year is also the Year of Ganzhi, according to the sexagenary (or 60-year) cycle of the Chinese calendar. The last Ganzhi was 1960, the height of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), which resulted in a famine that killed an estimated 45 million people.
The Ganzhi before that saw a terrible rebellion in 1900, when rebels described in the Western media as Boxers (because they believed that physical exercise would help them withstand bullets), murdered foreigners as well as Chinese Christians, and likewise destroyed their property, in an effort to expel the ‘overseas barbarians’.
In this context a new Ganzhi may not bode so well for ‘phase two’ of Trump’s proposed trade deal…
So what else might this Rat Year – which kicks off on January 25 – entail? Factoring in the five elements of nature – Wood, Earth, Water, Fire and Metal – this is the year of the ‘Metal Rat’, which is supposed to make the rodent’s nature more determined and more resolute. Perhaps that’s just as well: Michael Chiang, a master of shu shu, or a mix of fortune telling and astrology, told the Hong Kong Economic Times that he believes that the year is going to be a rollercoaster ride, marked by a series of natural and man-made disasters. Joey Yap, another feng shui consultant, adds that the next 12 months may not be the best time to take many risks. “The year of the Metal Rat will not be conducive to speculative endeavours. The global economic outlook isn’t exactly vibrant despite the best efforts of various governments. Instead, the year is best spent focusing on fundamentals, stocking up on financial immunity and awaiting opportunities while waylaying disruption,” he recommends.
As Metal as an element creates Water, industries that are related to the Water element –including tourism, logistics and transportation – could come into focus in the new year, Chiang told the same newspaper. Another of his tips: Earth companies, like property and resources firms, will outperform.
Of course, some zodiac signs will enjoy better fortunes in the Year of the Rat than others. Read on for more on your own outlook…
Even though the year of their birth clashes with Tai Sui, the legendary God of people’s fortunes, those born in the Year of the Rat will get off to an auspicious start, says Hong Kong feng shui master Peter So Man-feng. Financially, it could be a lucrative year but it is not a time to take a lot of reckless bets, he says. Relationship-wise, those born under this zodiac (1960, 1972, 1984 or any 12 years before or after) will experience a lot of ups and downs as well. Married couples could be heading for turmoil, so Rats must be patient; avoid trivial squabbles that could weigh you down. Lee Shing-chak, another feng shui master from Hong Kong, warns that as Rats clash with legendary God Tai Sui (for feng shui masters Tai Sui also refers to the stars directly opposite the planet Jupiter during its 12-year orbital cycle), it will be a year with a great deal of emotional distress. Prince Harry, who is a Rat, should take heed now that he has given up his royal title and is planning to spend the majority of his time away from his blood family.
A year when there will be a lot of changes. Lee Shing-chak believes that those born in the Year of the Ox (1961, 1973, 1985 or any 12 years before or after), which include US presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, will encounter major changes in life, such as getting a new job, moving homes or even migrating to a new country. Lee isn’t too cheerful about all of the prospects, warning that those already in relationships will find it hard to move onto the next stage, while singletons will struggle to find a partner. Health-wise, Oxen are set to suffer as well. Lee suggests they avoid funerals and hospitals to boost their overall fortune.
Those born in the Year of the Tiger (1962, 1974, 1986 or any 12 years before or after) can look forward to a relatively drama-free year. That’s good news for Queen Elizabeth II, a Tiger, who has had a miserable time with her family over the last few months. With lucky stars shining upon them, Tigers can expect a financially rewarding year as well: investments will pay off, and entrepreneurs could hit the big time. However, with the ‘solitary star’ shining over them, Tigers may feel a bit lonely. Peter So Man-feng suggests that they go on more holidays for some R&R.
Rabbits aren’t on the best terms with Tai Sui, the god of popular fortune, this year either. So people born under this sign (1963, 1975, 1987 or any 12 years before or after) may find their prospects a bit dimmer. However, feng shui master Mak Ling-ling says that for ladies in a relationship, the Year of the Rat could be an auspicious one to tie the knot. Single women born under the same sign can hope for a romantic spark with someone younger as well. Peter So Man-feng then tempers the mood by telling Rabbits to watch their spending and not to rack up debt. Rabbits may also find themselves suffering from minor ailments, he says, so they should watch their diets and exercise regularly.
Without any lucky stars shining over them, those born in the Year of the Dragon (1964, 1976, 1988 or any 12 years before or after) will have to be careful. People born under this zodiac (such as billionaire Li Ka-shing) should steer clear of lawsuits, which might take a toll on their personal fortunes. Thankfully, when it comes to their careers, this could be the year to shine, however, says Peter So Man-feng. Even without trying too hard, Dragons will get plenty of new opportunities to progress. Keep an eye out for heartthrob Yi Yangqianxi, one of the biggest names in Chinese entertainment last year, who could see his stardom explode to new heights.
Those born in the Year of the Snake (1965, 1977, 1989 or any 12 years before or after) will learn that the more they work, the more they will be paid. Even though Snakes will find this year a challenging one in many aspects, they will also reap the benefits of being pushed out of their comfort zones. Zodiac masters say that taking on tasks with perseverance and diligence will see them earn bigger rewards, whether it is a promotion or a financial return. Chinese President Xi Jinping, (a Snake), will likely find himself busier than ever, but feng shui expert Peter So believes that he will be rewarded appropriately. It is also a year to watch your health, So says. Snakes are another zodiac sign that need to keep a healthy diet and avoid going to hospitals.
Unfortunately for those born in the Year of the Horse (1966, 1978, 1990 or any 12 years before or after), the next 12 months will be rocky and challenging. That’s not good news for former Vice President Joseph Biden and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, both of whom are seeking nomination as the Democrat presidential candidate. Horses will find themselves surrounded by a lot of gossip and it is not a year for career breakthroughs, warns Peter So. To avoid stirring up malicious rumours, the feng shui master suggests that Horses stay at home more and avoid entertaining others. Nor is it a year for rougher or more dangerous sports as the risk of injury is high.
The news is better for those born in the Year of the Goat (1967, 1979, 1991 or any 12 years before or after). With the star of Taohua shining over them, Goats are set for better fortune. Everything will go smoothly in their work and careers. People employed in large companies can look forward to a promotion; those who have been thinking about starting a business should go ahead as well. For Goats in romantic relationships, wait until the second half of the year to get married, recommends Lee Shing-chak. On a more sombre note: avoid climbing or any sports that necessitate great heights, he reckons.
People born in the Year of the Monkey (1968, 1980, 1992 or any 12 years before or after) can look forward to a financially rewarding year, not too dissimilar to Goats. However, Lee Shing-Chak insists that Monkeys should stay away from casinos and refuse to dabble in “unsavoury” businesses because it could have an adverse impact on their fortunes. Another feng shui expert Mak Ling-ling reckons singletons can hope to find love with someone in their workplace. In contrast, married people are warned not to spend too much time at work and neglect their family. The recently re-elected Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is a Monkey.
Roosters (1969, 1981, 1993 or any 12 years before or after) will also benefit from the gleam of the star of Taohua, especially in developing new relationships easily this year. On the flip side, they could be centre of a lot of gossip. That suggests that the controversy surrounding Meghan Markle, a Rooster, is not likely to subside anytime soon. Perhaps she should heed the advice from Lee Shing-chak, the feng shui master from Hong Kong, that Roosters wear more muted tones like grey and black – like Rats – to stay lower-profile.
Those born in the Year of the Dog (1970, 1982, 1994 or any 12 years before or after) can expect a more auspicious year. Feng shui master Peter So Man-fung forecasts career success (which could suggest a second term for President Donald Trump, a Dog?) and financial good fortune. However, he says it’s not a time for Dogs to make drastic decisions. “The less you do, the less you mess up,” he warns. For Trump, perhaps it is time to review his approach in the year ahead…
Pigs (born in 1971, 1983, 1995 or any 12 years before or after) are going to be particularly susceptible to outside influence and they could find themselves in situations beyond their control. For those already married and hoping to have a baby, this could be a good year to try for children. But pigs in general should also pay more attention to their health (something that is strangely accurate in the context of African Swine Fever) and make sure they get plenty of rest. Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming and Tencent chairman Pony Ma, are both Pigs (although they are 12 years apart in age).
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