THE YEAR OF THE CATSo, as you may already know, there are twelve animals assigned to the Chinese Zodiac. However, out of those twelve, there is NO year of the cat! From artifacts and modern day things, we can see that culturally, the Chinese did in fact appreciate cats since the Egyptians domesticated them and brought them over. There are two main folktales as to why there is no year of the cat, and we can explore both of them here.
FOLK TALE #1:
Jade the Emperor initially selected twelve animals, and told the cat to inform the other eleven about the initiation feast. However, the rat was not one of those twelve selected. He eavesdropped on the conversation between the cat and the ox, and decided that he would register first before anyone even got there. Jade the Emperor, drunk with stupidity, didn't even realize that the rat had no former invitation, and allowed him to sign up. The ox was the second to get there, and so on. After the cat finally informed everyone, he went to sign up for his own position, only to find out that there were no spots left for him. From then on, the rat and the cat became life-time enemies.
FOLK TALE #2:
Jade the Emperor decided that it would be best to assign an animal for each year so that people could remember the Chinese Zodiac better. He decided to hold a meeting between the animals in order to elect 12 of them to represent the zodiac. At that time, the cat and the rat were very close friends, just like brothers, and were excited to attend the meeting together. Since the cat was used to taking regular naps, he asked the rat to wake him before the meeting took place. The rat promised to help him out, so the cat peacefully fell asleep that night. The next morning, the rat woke up and got ready for the meeting, leaving the cat behind. When the cat finally woke up mid-afternoon, he knew it was already too late. The twelve animals were picked, and the very first one was his best friend, the rat. From that day on, because of his betrayal, the cat turned the rat into his enemy. This is why we always see cats chasing rats.
Although these sound like funny stories, they are obviously NOT really why the cat is not a part of the Chinese Zodiac. Historians believe that because the twelve animals were picked in early Chinese history, there were no cats around to appreciate at that time period. Because of this, they were not selected to be apart of the twelve. However, I am sure that if they had domesticated cats during the time period when these animals were selected, a cat may have been put in place of one of the others. In the Vietnamese version of the twelve zodiacs, the cat is added and the rabbit was dropped. One explanation is that the "Rabbit" pronunciation in Chinese sounds like "Cat" in Vietnamese, so they made a mistake. (An image of the Vietnamese cat is to the right.)