Thursday 2 February 2023

Why is the cat omitted from the Chinese zodiac? It is not!

Answer (my answer!): the cat is listed as one of the 12 zodiac animal species as the tiger, a specific species within the cat family. The creators of the zodiac therefore included the cat but as a distinct species and not generically as at the time of creation of the zodiac - 2,500 years ago - there were no domestic cats in China.

There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs, in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. There is ostensibly a shocking omission: the 'cat'. With the domestic dog, the domestic cat is the most popular companion animal in the world.
However, the cat is listed in the zodiac as a specific species namely the tiger. If you read the serious version set out below, you'll see what I mean.

Chinese zodiac of 12 animals
Chinese zodiac of 12 animals. Image: MikeB

There are 2 versions for the reason for the omission. One serious and the other a myth. 

Serious version

The Chinese Zodiac was created about 2500 years ago. It hasn't changed since that time. At the time of its creation the domestic cat had not arrived in China. This occurred when pet cats were introduced to China along the silk Road during the period 386-589 A.D. around 1600 years ago.

On those figures, the Chinese Zodiac was created 900 years, almost 1000 years, before the people who created the Zodiac had seen domestic cats.

Comment: I think that's a pretty weak argument. My research indicates that the South China tiger was in China 2 million years ago. There must've been tigers in China when they created the Zodiac.


This is why the tiger is listed as one of the signs of the Chinese Zodiac. The tiger is obviously a cat, actually the world's largest cat species. Therefore, they could not include another cat species in the zodiac when the domestic cat arrived a thousand years later. Logically this must be the reason why the "cat" is not specifically listed as a generic name for all the species of cats.

The problem is that they have taken one species of the cat family - the tiger - and listed it whereas for the other animals they have used generic terms and not broken it down into specific species.


The myth plays out as follows. The divine Jade Emperor organised a race for animals and there would be 12 winners each one getting a spot on the zodiac.

The cat and the rat were in the race but they were friends. They joined the race together and they hitched a ride on an ox to cross a river. While they were crossing the river the rat pushed the cat off the ox because they were fearful of being beaten by the cat in the race.

The cat did not drown but lost the chance of securing one of the 12 zodiac signs. This, incidentally, is why the cat hunts rats which is not actually true because modern day rats are a little bit too big for the average domestic cat!

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