Enter the Year of the Dragon

The greatest festival in China, the Lunar New Year, will begin this Saturday 10th February. On this day, the year of the Wood Dragon begins.

You’re probably asking yourself, why do the Chinese name years after animals? And why is this year the year of the Wood Dragon? What’s going on?

The 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac system assigns an animal to each year, with 12 animals in total. Each of these animals is paired with one of the five elements from ancient Chinese philosophy. Yes, according to the ancient Chinese, there are five, not four elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.

The sequence of years goes like this: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

When an animal reappears after 12 years, its element shifts. Twelve years ago—2012—was the Year of the Water Dragon and in 12 years from now, 2036, it will be the Year of the Fire Dragon.

But how did this sequence come about?

Thousands of years ago, the Jade Emperor (some legends say it was the Buddha instead) organised a race involving various animals. The first 12 winners would give their names to the years of the Chinese calendar.

In order to win the race, the animals had to cross a rapidly-flowing river and reach the finish line on the opposite riverbank.

The sneaky Rat

Legend has it that the Cat and the Rat, who were good friends in those days, decided to help each other out. They asked the Ox, an early riser, to wake them on the morning of the race. However, on that fateful day, both the Cat and the Rat were fast asleep. The Ox decided to carry the sleeping Cat and Rat on his back and was crossing the river when the Rat woke up.

The crafty Rat realised that the Cat, his dearest friend, was a faster runner than he ever could be, and once the Ox reached the opposite short, the Cat was sure to run past every other animal to the finish line first. The sneaky Rat pushed his poor friend the Cat into the river, jumped off the Ox as it reached the riverbank, and ran to victory.

The Ox finished second and was followed by the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Hence, this sequence of animals remains to this day in the Chinese calendar.

But what happened to the Cat?

Well, he survived his dunk into the river, but held such a grudge against the Rat that, to this day, cats are still chasing after rats (and mice)!

What’s in store for the Year of the Dragon?

In Chinese culture, the dragon is considered to be a very auspicious animal. It represents positive qualities such as knowledge, power, strength, good luck, and wisdom.

The Year of the Dragon is traditionally associated with opportunities and exciting advancements for all. Those born in the Year of the Dragon are traditionally supposed to be innovative and inquisitive by nature, and often flourish in their professions, making waves in a variety of fields.

We hope you enjoyed this story, and if you’d like to learn the fascinating Chinese language (and how to say ‘Year of the Dragon’ in a variety of Chinese languages), then look now further than uTalk, where you can learn Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, and even Shanghainese!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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