Shen Yun Performing Arts
This Chinese New Year, we bring a story of mischief and mice.
Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and this year, the star of all festivities will be… the mouse!
Okay, it’s true that this zodiac animal is overwhelmingly referred to as the rat and the Year of the Rat. But, there’s often very little distinction in Chinese between the two animals—both are called shǔ—and doesn’t Year of the Mouse sound a whole lot better anyway?
Perhaps you’re also wondering, why all this talk about animals every year, come January or February? And what’s so significant about a little mouse? Now, hold your horses (that’s 2026)—we’ll need to dive into some Chinese folklore before we can give you the answer.
This all started a long way back, back to the beginning of time. People didn’t have a way to measure time. They didn’t know when they were born, nor did they know how old they were. To solve this dilemma, the mighty Jade Emperor decided to assign 12 animals to symbolize different years. But… which animals would be worthy of earning a spot on the zodiac?
And so began The Great Race. The Jade Emperor announced that the first 12 animals to cross the finish line would be awarded a place on the Chinese zodiac. Upon hearing the news, all the animals buzzed with excitement, preparing themselves for the long race ahead.
Among the restless critters were Cat and Mouse. They were, at the time, best of friends, and promised to stick together and wake each other up if they fell asleep so they wouldn’t miss the race.
On the day of the race, they woke up extra early, even before Rooster called everyone else up. Cat and Mouse quietly crossed the land together, taking full advantage of their head start.
As they got to the last leg of the race, they arrived at a wide, gushing river, with the finish line right on the opposite shore. Too afraid to swim, Cat asked, “Now what do we do?” Mouse didn’t have an answer, but continued to look around for solutions. He was not about to give up his chance at getting first place. Suddenly, he spotted Ox in the distance, about to step into the stream.
“Mr. Ox!” squeaked the little rodent. “Can you help us out and give us a ride across the river?”
Despite it being a race, the old Ox was too kind to refuse. “Sure,” he replied. “Hop on my back and hold on.”
Together, they steadily made their way through the rushing waters. Cat was exhausted from the early morning travels, so he quietly curled up and fell asleep. Mouse, however, still had his eye on the prize. He wanted to win. If they made it across together, Ox would be too slow to run, but Cat…
Mouse eyed his snoozing friend. With a swift move of his tiny paws, he pushed the feline into the water, and quickly ran to Ox’s ear. “Did you hear something?” asked Ox. “No, no, no,” said Mouse, “nothing at all, Mr. Ox! Just keep going, we’re nearing the end of the race! Hurry!” Unaware of the rodent’s trickery, the obedient Ox plowed ahead. Just as they made it ashore, Mouse leapt at the opportunity, jumped off from Ox’s back, and crossed the finish line first. Ox trudged in right behind him.
Shortly afterwards, they were followed by Tiger, Rabbit, and Dragon. Horse would have gotten sixth place, but she got a jump-scare from Snake, so she placed after the serpent. Then came Goat, Monkey, and Rooster, who crossed the river together on a log. Behind them was Dog, who could have finished sooner, but was too busy frolicking in the water. And finally, came Pig, who was utterly exhausted from the workout.
Thus, the Jade Emperor announced the lineup of the zodiac—starting with Mouse, ending with Pig, and so the cycle would repeat. But as soon as he went through the entire list, Cat crawled up onshore, gasping for breath: “I’m sorry I’m late! What place did I get?”
The Jade Emperor chuckled, “Thirteenth.”
All the hairs on Cat’s back stood on end. Furious, the feline pounced toward Mouse, eyes wide in disbelief that his best friend had betrayed him. Cat and Mouse have been enemies ever since.
Perhaps this goes to show that, as in the Buddhist belief, all relationships—be they of affection or enmity—have predestined causes behind them.
Or maybe it’s just a story about why the animals are in a certain order. Or maybe it tells us that the short-term gains of hyper-competitiveness and backstabbing might not be worth it. After all, the Year of the Mouse is now the Year of the Rat and, meanwhile, mice have since endured feline-inflicted terror for centuries, dynasties, eons… Who really knows how long it’s been? We’d have to count back endless cycles of the zodiac to know for sure.
Happy Chinese New Year, from all of us here at the Shen Yun!