Year of the horse and ‘The Race for the Chinese Zodiac’

image-medium (16)2014 is the year of the horse, starting 31st January (along with 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990 & 2002) and according to the children’s picture book “The Race for the Chinese Zodiac” by Gabrielle Wang, “horses are funny, popular, fearless and hard-working. … They are also confident, spirited, honest, sensitive and brave.”

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac tells the story of the first 12 animals to cross the river who will each have a year named after them. The book is illustrated with traditional Chinese ink on watercolor paper with ochre backgrounds and linocut chops or stamps showing the Chinese characters for each creature. The animals’ faces are alternately kind, curious and cunning.

The animals cross the water in their own way. Courageous Tiger has no trouble swimming and strikes out into the river “with his powerful paws.” Smaller creatures must team up to make it: “Charming Rat and Friendly Cat were very good friends. They did everything together. ‘Take us across on your back, Ox, and we will show you the way.’ Kind Ox agreed and they climbed on board.”

Rat though proves not to be much of a friend to Cat and today they’re enemies.

The back story is that Rat may be charming, but he’s ruthless, and in the middle of the river, he pushes Cat off Ox’s back. As the creatures make it to shore, the emperor names a year after them, in the order in which they arrive. Rat’s cruelty means Cat is left out, and “that is why, to this very day, cats have hated rats.” Yet

 Rat behaving badly goes unpunished. Cat’s the one who loses his place in the zodiac despite being the victim of double dealing because the Jade Emperor doesn’t intervene.