Stories of the Twelve Zodiac Animals
Chapter One: The Wild Ideas of the Cowardly Rat
Who likes to eat smelly rats?
During the Warring States period, Zhuangzi and Huishi were very good friends. They regularly debated their opinions on a wide range of topics. One day, Huishi became the Prime Minister of the Wei State. When Zhuangzi learned of this, he decided to go to Wei and pay a visit to his old friend. A few commoners who enjoyed slandering others spoke to Huishi:
“When Zhuangzi comes to our Wei, explicitly or not, he may wish to usurp your position. You must be very careful.”
“Indeed, they have spoken very wisely,” Huishi thought to himself. Thus he dispatched soldiers across the kingdom to search for the whereabouts of Zhuangzi. The soldiers searched for three days and three nights without finding him. However, on the morning of the fourth day, Zhuangzi arrived in person at the residence of Huishi to pay his visit.
“Old friend, did you know there is a bird calling to the south of here? This is a very precious and rare type of bird. It begins from the Southern Sea and flies north all the way to the Northern Sea. During its journey it will only stop to rest if it encounters a phoenix tree, and it will eat only from the fruit of bamboo, and nothing else. It will also not drink any water but the sweet water of a natural spring. While it flew leisurely in the sky, down on the ground an owl had just caught a very smelly rat. The owl, believing the bird was coming to rob it of its smelly rat, began yelling furiously at the bird. Now Huishi, you wouldn't yell furiously at me over the Wei Prime Minister position, would you?” Zhuangzi smiled at Huishi as he finished speaking.
Huishi, now ashamed of himself, faced Zhuangzi and said: “This… This I did for the satisfaction of the commoners and the wishes of the noblemen. Please accept my apology with a great feast!”
Stories of the Twelve Zodiac Animals
Chapter Two: The Big, Stupid Cow Gets Lucky
When speaking of cattle, an image of an ox hard at work in the fields is the first thing that comes to mind. It is said that the ox is a symbol of hard work and endurance. But in other respects, it is also a symbol of great stupidity. Do we not often ridicule others by calling them “big, stupid cow”?
China was founded on agriculture. To the Chinese, the ox is an animal that we cannot be without. It follows that there are also many legends concerning the ox. I’ll now select a few of these legends to be shared and appreciated by everyone.
The Lucky Ox
During the Warring States period, the monarchs of all kingdoms were increasingly only interested in gaining wealth. Moreover, constant fighting ensured that the lives of the citizenry were bitter and hard. Once, the King of Qi Xuan, sitting in a large hall, saw a servant leading an ox through the long corridor in front of the hall.
The King of Qi Xuan asked the servant: “Where are you taking that ox?”
“Your majesty, I am leading this sacrificial ox to be slaughtered, and then to spread its blood on the bell,” the servant respectfully replied.
The King of Qi Xuan listened, gazed at the ox, and said: “Let it go! Look how frightened it is. Why, its whole body is trembling! I truly cannot bear to see it. It feels as if an innocent person is about to be tortured to death!”
“Then shall we not use animal blood on the bell?”
“How could we just casually abandon this ritual? Go catch a sheep to kill. Using its blood to smear on the bell would be the same!” said the King of Qi Xuan.
When Mencius heard of this matter, he quickly came to remonstrate with the Qi Xuan king: “Great king, your merciful actions are very humane! However, Your Highness has only noticed how pitiable the ox is; Your Highness hasn't seen how the sheep is also very pitiable. If you were to take this animal-loving heart of yours and extend it to your people, then Your Highness would become the greatest king under the heavens!”
Cowherd and Weaving Maid
Weaving Maid lived on the east side of the Milky Way. She was the youngest daughter of the Celestial Emperor. She was known as Weaving Maid because she was very good at weaving cloth. Every day, Weaving Maid spent her time busily weaving cloth. In the morning, she would weave the bottomless stretch of sunlight coming from the morning sun; at noon, she wove a vast clear blue sky; come dusk, she wove a sunset filled with rosy-tinted clouds; and at night, she busied herself stitching bright, shining stars on deep, black cloth.
Working hard everyday, she was very lonely, and so often felt depressed. On the west side of the Milky Way was an ox herding cowherd. His job was to feed the many oxen of the Heavens. He directed the herd of cattle to fresh grass to eat and helped them bathe. His job had many everyday duties, but the cowherd was a diligent and practical young man. Working hard each day, he raised the Heaven’s cattle to be both strong and healthy. The Celestial Emperor greatly admired him.
One day, the Celestial Emperor called on Cowherd and Weaving Maid. “Weaving Maid, I’ve watched you work hard every day, but you are always unhappy. You are no longer young and I wish to betroth you to Cowherd. Would you be willing?” The Celestial Emperor asked Weaving Maid.
Weaving Maid knew that Cowherd was an honest and responsible young man, so she replied, “I will rely upon Father to decide.”
As she finished speaking, she lowered her coy expression downward. The Celestial Emperor, looking extremely pleased, spoke to Cowherd: “Cowherd, this most beloved little daughter of mine is a woman of many gifts. I see that you, too, are a promising youth. I now betroth my daughter to you. Would you be willing?”
Cowherd looked at Weaving Maid, and thought that she was a cute, gentle girl, so he joyously accepted. From then on, Cowherd and Weaving Maid had lived a very affectionate life together. They often roamed across the Milky Way, hand in hand, admiring the scenery. In the past, Weaving Maid had never gone out to amuse herself, she worked busily everyday and simply had no time to rest. Because of this she now felt that everything was very fresh and interesting. Cowherd was the same. Before he had to herd the oxen, so he could only ever stay on the grassy fields. Now, having Weaving Maid to accompany him all over, he was incomparably happy.
However, they both forgot about their jobs. Weaving Maid forgot to weave her cloth, resulting in the sky becoming a plain, white blank. There wasn’t any more beautiful color to the sky. As for Cowherd, he forgot to watch his cattle. The Heaven’s oxen ran amuck all over the place, causing the Heaven’s courtyard to be trampled into confusion.
The Celestial Emperor spoke angrily to them: “You two have caused me great disappointment. Playing all day, yet neglecting your own duties. I have decided to punish you two accordingly. From today onward, you two shall return to your own work post. On the seventh day of the seventh month each year you will be allowed to meet, but aside from this day, you will not be allowed to see one another. Should either of you disobey this order, you will be put to death.”
From then on, Cowherd and Weaving Maid could only but endure the pain of love sickness and continue working. All they had left to look forward to was the seventh day of the seventh month.
The Magpie, having sympathized with the misfortune that had fallen upon Cowherd and Weaving Maid, erects a bridge on the seventh day of the seventh month each year. Allowing them to meet on top of the Magpie Bridge, and lament the pain of unfulfilled love.
Stories of the Twelve Zodiac Animals
Chapter Three: Record of the Fierce Tiger Being Fooled
In the West, the “lion” may be known as the “King of the Jungle”, yet in ancient China the “King of the Jungle” is the tiger! Since ancient times, China has viewed the tiger as a type of spiritual being and a creature that should be faced with caution. Tigers were treated with a sense of foreboding. As soon as a tiger is mentioned the expressions on the faces of those listening will darken. Even the sight of a tiger might startled one to the point that their soul takes flight. Tigers are also described as the embodiment of ferociousness, courage, danger, and the fighting spirit. The remarkable instances involving tigers are too numerous to count. Let us now strengthen our nerves and slowly take a look.
The Fox Borrows the Tiger’s Might
A long, long time ago there was a large tiger dwelling deep within the remote mountain cliffs. This tiger had a great desire: to devour a hundred different types of creatures.
Just after the tiger had methodically eaten ninety-nine types of beasts and went searching for the final one, he caught a very cunning fox. As the tiger was thinking smugly of swallowing his one hundredth creature all in one bite, the cunning fox deliberately began howling at the tiger:
“Wait a minute! You arrogant, dimwitted tiger! You don’t even open your eyes to take a close look at which critter you’ve caught? All you do is make threatening gestures of wanting to eat me. You certainly are fearless! However, in actually, I am the King of the Wilderness appointed here by the Celestial Emperor. If you were to offend me it would be the same as provoking the Celestial Emperor himself! He’ll have your guts for garters! Anyway, enough lollygagging and staring into dead space over there, all the animals in the wilderness know of the Celestial Emperor’s edict. If you don’t believe me, then how about you come follow me and see for yourself?”
Even though the tiger was ninety-nine percent certain he was being lied to, he was still worried about that remaining one percent. So, as suspicious as he was, he strode behind the fox and followed him into the wilderness.
And just as the fox had said, as soon as any other animals spotted the pair, they would immediately break into a run. Seeing this, the tiger became fearful and began running away. Watching his foe flee, the fox couldn’t help feeling proud and thinking: “You stupid tiger! You don’t even know I have fooled you! The animals were running from having seen you, not me! Haha!”
Three Men Make a Tiger
In the Warring States period, the crown prince of the Wei State was sent as a hostage to the capital of the Zhao state, Handan. Among the personnel that followed with him was a famous Wei chancellor, Pang Gong.
Before departing, Pang Gong told the Wei king: “What if someone was to come running in and tell us that a tiger has appeared out on the busy streets, would Your Highness believe it?”
“Of course I wouldn’t believe it!” the Wei king replied at once.
“What if two people at the same time came and said that there was a large tiger on the streets, would you believe it?” Pang Gong asked again.
“I would still not believe.” The Wei king immediately replied .
“Then, what if three people unanimously agreed that there was indeed a tiger on the street, would you believe?” Pang Gong continued asking.
The Wei king thought for a moment and then responded: “I would believe it.”
It was then that Pang Gong admonished the Wei king and said: “A city street is clearly a place where tigers do not appear. All that is needed is for many people to say there is a tiger for a false rumor to cause us to believe there really is one. Now, Handan is much further than the city streets are, and in addition, those that agree with me are many more than three. Therefore, should anyone try in the future to slander this humble official, I hope that Your Highness will take note of this.”
Yet, when Pang Gong left, those who spoke out against him were too many for the king to ignore. In the end, Pang Gong was never placed in an important position again.