Chinese Language Blog

The Year of the Rat Posted by on Feb 5, 2020 in Culture

Another Spring Festival has come and gone, and we are now in the Year of the Rat (鼠年 – shǔ nián). While it’s not exactly off to a great start thanks to the coronavirus, hopefully the year will take a more positive turn sooner than later. In this post, I’d like to focus on the Chinese zodiac (中国十二生肖 – zhōng guó shí’èr shēng xiào), as it’s a very interesting element of the local culture.

The Order of the Zodiac

You probably know that there are 12 different animals that make up the Chinese zodiac. What you may not know is the reason behind the order of the animals. For example, do you know why the rat marks the start of the zodiac? The answer may surprise you…

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According to legend, the Jade Emperor decided to have the animals take part in a little race. As the smallest of the bunch, the rat was definitely an underdog in the race. The little rat was very clever (聪明 – cōng míng), however, as it decided to jump on the back of the ox (牛 – niú) at the start of the race.

The big stubborn ox didn’t even realize the rat was on its back! Just before the ox was about to cross the finish line (终点线 – zhōng diǎn xiàn), the rat leapt off its back and won the race in a giant upset. And that’s the reason why the rat marks the beginning of the Chinese zodiac cycle.

Characteristics of the Year of the Rat

If you were born on or after the Spring Festival in any of these years, you were born in the Year of the Rat – 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, and 2008.

In addition to being clever, those born in the Year of the Rat are known to be industrious (勤劳 – qín láo) and curious (好奇 – hào qí). Rats are also good with money as they are thrifty (节 – jié jiǎn) and can manage their finances.

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In addition, it’s said that rats are good at taking advantage of opportunities. On the other hand, rats may lack the courage (勇气 – yǒng qì) to actually act on these opportunities. While rats have a kind personality, sometimes they can come off as being rude (无礼 – wú lǐ).

Those are just some general characteristics of people born in the Year of the Rat. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that, though. You see, each zodiac sign is associated with one of the five elements (五行 – wǔ xíng) – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. That means that someone born after Chinese New Year in 2020 is a Metal Rat, which only happens once every 60 years. I told you it’s complicated!


Relationships and Career

In general, rats are known to be sociable (社会的 – shè huì de) and they find it easy to make friends. While they are good at meeting people and starting relationships, they’re not so good at maintaining them.

Despite the fact that the rat basically cheated to beat the ox in the race, these two signs are actually thought to be very compatible. The rat also pairs well with the monkey (猴 – hóu) and dragon (龙 – lóng). On the other hand, rats are not compatible with the horse (马 – mǎ) or rooster (鸡 – jī).

Because of their imagination, rats are well-suited for creative jobs. They make a good writer (作家 –  zuò jiā) or musician (音乐家 – yīn yuè jiā), for example. They are also good at technical work, so a rat might work as an engineer (工程师 – gōng chéng shī) or architect (建筑师 – jiàn zhú shī).

Here’s a fun little video talking about the Year of the Rat.


Famous People

Some famous people who were born in the Year of the Rat include: Mark Zuckerberg, Bono, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pope Francis, Eminem, and Prince Charles. What an interesting group that is!

Interestingly enough, many US Presidents were born in the Year of the Rat, including George Washington, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. I’ll leave it to you to make your own joke about that nice coincidence!


Good and Bad Luck

There are lots of superstitions in Chinese culture. It’s why no one wants to live on the 4th floor, but everyone wants to live on the 8th floor. Four (四 – sì) sounds like death (死 – sǐ) and eight (八 – bā) sounds like wealth (发 – fā), in case you didn’t know. Of course, there are also things that are either lucky or unlucky for each of the signs on the Chinese zodiac.

For those born in the Year of the Rat, here’s a cheat-sheet for what’s lucky and unlucky:

  • Lucky Numbers: 2, 3
  • Unlucky Numbers: 5, 9
  • Lucky Colors: blue, gold, green
  • Unlucky Colors: yellow, brown
  • Lucky Directions: southeast, northeast
  • Unlucky Directions: west

Let’s hope that the bad luck this Year of the Rat has started with turns around real soon… after all, 2020 should be a lucky year!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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