Each zodiac sign is named after an animal, and each animal has its own unique characteristics. Do you know why the 12 Chinese zodiacs are in the sequence we can see today? There is a legend about this, which is detailed below.
There is an interesting folktale about how the order of the 12 animals was determined.
The legend goes that the Jade Emperor ordered all the animals that inhabited the earth to congratulate him on his birthday on January 9th one year, and he determined to select the 12 animals that arrived first to be guards of the Heavenly Gate, so they could take turns on duty in order to prevent deities from secretly descending to the earth.
All the animals were very excited and were itching to start upon hearing the good news. The Jade Emperor made a rule that all animals would run across a river, and each animal's position in the zodiac would be set by its place in the race.
Although the cat and the rat were neighbors, the former always bullied the latter, and the rat felt very angry but dared not say it out loud; therefore, he sought his revenge on the cat. The rat chuckled to himself upon hearing the Jade Emperor's decree and he thought to himself: "This is an opportunity".
The sleepyhead cat kicked the rat's door open, ordering the rat to keep him informed about when he was going to the Jade Emperor's birthday party, and the rat readily promised that he would.
The rat promised to do so; however, he was so excited that he left quietly without informing the cat on the morning of January 9th. All the other animals gathered at the bank of a river and the race began.
Early as he was, the rat had to stop by the river owing to the swift current. Having waited for a long time, the rat saw the ox crossing the river, so he swiftly jumped into the ox's ear.
The kindhearted ox did not mind at all and kept on crossing the river. After crossing it, he ran towards the palace of the Jade Emperor.
Suddenly, the rat jumped out of the ox's ear and rushed to the feet of the Jade Emperor; therefore, he won the first place, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon (an imaginary Chinese dragon), snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and the pig. These 12 animals became guards of the Heavenly Gate.
The cat didn't wake up until the race was over and it was too late — he was not able to make it into the cycle. After the party, a great enmity grew between the cat and the rat, so the rats scattered in all directions when a cat appeared.
The Chinese people created the 12 Chinese zodiac signs according to the arrival order of the 12 animals, and each zodiac sign is designated to a specific year, so the same zodiac sign returns every 12 years.
More interestingly, the wise Chinese people later created the love compatibility of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs, and even discovered the mystical relationships between zodiac signs and travel destinations, adding much luster to traditional Chinese culture.