The Jade Emperor ruled the heavens and all they contained but he had never been to earth, and he wondered about the shapes and colours of al its creatures. One day he summoned his chief advisor.
"I have ruled for many years," said the Emperor, "but I have never seen these strange animals. What do they look like? I want to see their features and characteristics; I would like to observe the way that they move and hear the sounds that they make. How intelligent are they, and how do they help humanity?"
The advisor told him that there were thousands of earthly creatures - some walked, others flew, some crawled and others slithered. It would take many months to gather examples of each and present them. Did his majesty want to see them all?
"No, I shall waste too much time. Select the twelve most interesting animals and bring them to me so I can grade them according to colour and shape"
The advisor thought of all the animals he knew and decided to send an invitation to the rat, and told him, in turn, to give an invitation to his friend the cat. Further invitations were sent to the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the ram, the monkey, the rooster, and the dog asking them to present themselves before the Emperor at six o'clock the following morning.
The rat was proud to receive this invitation and immediately set off to reveal the good news to the cat. The cat was also overjoyed but, afraid that he might oversleep, made the rat promise to wake him in time. That night the rat pondered on how handsome and sleek the cat was and how ugly he would appear in comparison. He decided that the only way to prevent the cat taking all the praise was to let him oversleep the following morning.
At six o'clock eleven animals lined up before the Jade Emperor who slowly inspected them. When he came to the end of the line he turned to his advisor.
"They are all interesting but why are there only eleven animals?"
The advisor had no answer but quickly sent a servant down to earth to catch the first animal he saw and bring it back to heaven. The servant arrived on a country road and saw a farmer carrying a pig to market.
"Please stop," entreated the servant, "I need your pig now! The Jade Emperor wants to see this creature immediately. Think of the honor of displaying this pig to the ruler of heaven."
The farmer was duly impressed by the servant's news and so he handed over his pig, which was then carried off to the parade.
Meanwhile the rat was afraid he would go unnoticed and so he jumped on the ox's back and began to play a flute. The Emperor was so charmed by this unusual animal that he gave him first place. The Jade Emperor then gave the ox second place since he had been generous enough to let the rat sit on his back. The tiger looked courageous and was given third place, and the rabbit, because of his fine white fur, was given fourth place. The Emperor thought the dragon looked like a powerful snake with legs and so placed him fifth. The snake was sixth because of his curving, sinuous body, the horse seventh because of his elegant bearing, and the ram eighth because of his strong horns.
The monkey was agile and alert so was given ninth place, the rooster had such fine feathers he was tenth, and the watchful and protective dog was given eleventh place. The pig stood at the end of the line; he may not have been as interesting as the others but he had made the effort to be there and was allowed the final place.
When the ceremony had finished the cat came running into the palace and begged the Emperor to consider him, but it was to late - the animals had been chosen. When the cat saw the rat standing in first place he chased him with intent to kill. This is why even today, the cat and rat cannot be friends.