Mint Stamp Sheet Commemorates
the Year of the Rat
This stamp sheet was issued in 2008 to celebrate the year of the rat, the first animal in the Chinese zodiac.
The first words that often come to mind when thinking about the rat in Chinese culture are “clever” or “quick-witted.” The rat is a very talkative, charming, and adaptable creature, and very good at solving problems. This is shown in some of the legends surrounding the origins of the Chinese Zodiac.
Most legends about the setting of the Chinese Zodiac include Buddha. One suggests that when Buddha was finally leaving our world, he called all the animals to say farewell, and only 12 came. Those 12 had a month named in their honor when Buddha left. But other stories tell of a competition sponsored by Buddha.
In one legend, Buddha announces a race for all animals to participate, and the first 12 to make it across a wide river would be placed on the calendar. The clever rat jumped onto the back of the mighty ox, who waded through the strong current. As the ox approached the far shore, the rat leaped from the ox’s head so it could reach land first. That earned the rat the first place in the Chinese calendar, with the ox coming right behind.
Another story tells of why rats and cats are bitter rivals. In this legend, they used to be good friends and neighbors. When Buddha announced a feast with the promise that the first 12 animals to arrive would gain a place on the calendar, the cat suggested to the rat that they show up early together. The cat was often asleep, and made the rat promise to wake him up in time.
The morning of the feast, the rat forgot (or decided not) to wake up the cat, and was the first to arrive. The cat slept through the entire feast, waking up only after it was too late. He blamed the rat, and since that day, cats have always chased rats.