The Rat () is the first of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Rat is associated with the Earthly Branch (地支) symbol zhī (子). The first day, the Lunar New Year Day, of Year Gēng zi (庚子年) falls on Saturday 25 January 2020.

天干 (the Ten Heavenly Stems) :


地支 (the Twelve Earthly Branches) :



The Rat is the first of all zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first.

Recent years of the Rat are: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020.

Chinese Zodiac years are based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Interested people born in January or February can check the date of the Chinese New Year to confirm their birth sign, for example at the following site:

In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. They can eat anything and they are highly adaptive to all environment.

The squirrel (松鼠 sōng shǔ) uses the same character in Chinese, confirming the Western name for a squirrel ‘tree rat’ and has the same symbolism. Rats and squirrels are often shown with trailing plants such as vines to give the wish for generations of children.

Characteristic of people born in the Year of the Rat

According to Chinese folklore, most people born in the Chinese zodiac sign of the Rat are clever, ambitious, having broad interests and strong ability in adapting to the environment. They are also able to react quickly to any changes. They are creative and great at taking advantage of opportunities.  They are content with living a quiet and peaceful life.

This is just a folklore with no scientific evidence. Please do not take this seriously. I have taught in high schools for many years. Students in the same class are of similar age and many students are likely to fall under the same Chinese zodiac.  However, their characters can be very different.

Ceramic of the Rats and Squirrels

Yuan Dynasty Grey Pottery and Colored Rat (元代 灰陶加彩鼠) Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
Azure glazed with flower pattern and double rat ears can (天青釉劃花卉紋雙鼠耳小罐) CUHK


Zodiac figurine of the Tang Dynasty, 700s , Rat 32 cm (h), earthenware (唐代陶鼠生肖俑)


Yixing Kiln, Qing Dynasty, Grapes and squirrels pen holder (清 宜興窯 萄葡松鼠筆筒) CUHK


Modern Yixing Kiln, Squirrel and Grape Teapot (松鼠葡萄壺) CUHK
Qianlong Period, Qing Dynasty Blue and White Squirrel and Grape Bowl (清 乾隆 青花松鼠葡萄紋大碗), CUHK


Qian Xuan (錢選)(1235-1305) Squirrels and plum branches (松鼠桃枝圖), CUHK


Su Wonong (蘇卧農)(1901-1975)1940 , Rats and Grapes Fan (老鼠葡萄扇面), CUHK


Qi Baishi (齊白石) (1864-1957) painted rats as cute and lovely animals. This is similar to the Micky Mouse, the mascot of the Walt Disney Company created in 1928.
Qi Baishi (齊白石)(1864-1957)  Two Rats and Oil Lamp
Qi Baishi (齊白石)(1864-1957) Three Rats and a Candle
Qi Baishi (齊白石)(1864-1957) Two Squirrels, a Pumpkin, Cherries and a Candle


Qi Baishi (齊白石)(1864-1957) Two Rats, Two Radishes and a Candle


Qi Baishi (齊白石)(1864-1957) Two Rats, Books, Peanuts and a Candle



I would like to thank Professor P Lam for his kind guidance and support throughout the years.



中国剪纸 Paper Cut in China 十二生肖 The twelve symbol animals 漢坤東方出品

Bjaaland Welch, Patricia (2008) Chinese Art- A guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery Tuttle Publishing ISBN: 978-08048-3864-1