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This week is the final one in our series "It's not fair."  At a time when we are considering issues around race and equality, this series of stories helps us to explore some of the wisdom that can be found in different religious traditions and worldviews.  The story this week is a Chinese folk tale, traditionally told as part of the new year celebration. It explores the idea of difference and the value of diversity.
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It’s not fair! - Chinese Folk Tale
All around the world, people tell stories to help explain what we are like. In Chinese culture, the year that you are born in is  very significant. Each year is named after one of twelve animals that make up the Chinese Zodiac and they use your birth animal to help predict your personality type and your future. 

The story of the Great Race is a fable about how the Emperor decided which animals he would name the years after. It is told in China, often around new year. Some people think the race was not fair to all the animals who took part as some were better able to succeed. Listen up to see what you think.

The Great Race

Long, long ago in China, the Jade Emperor wanted to find a way of measuring time. So, on his birthday he held a great race across a fast-flowing river, inviting all the animals to take part. The ox was a great swimmer, so it should have been the first to cross the river.  But the rat and the cat knew they were poor swimmers, so they asked the ox to carry them across.  The kind ox agreed, so rat and cat jumped on, but just as he was about to reach the bank, the rat pushed the cat into the water, leapt onto the ox’s head and jumped onto the bank first.
The Jade Emperor was impressed with the rat and named the first year of the zodiac after him.  The poor ox came second. The next animal to reach the other side was the tiger.  It had been difficult swimming against the strong currents in the river, so the Emperor rewarded his hard work by naming the third year after him. Fourth to arrive was the rabbit.  Rather than swimming, he had hopped across on some stones, gaining fourth place.
The Emperor was surprised to see the dragon landing on the riverbank. Surely, he could simply fly across the river.  “I stopped at a village to make some rain” said the dragon.  The Emperor was so impressed with his kindness that he awarded him the fifth place. Next to arrive were the horse and the snake, but the sneaky snake wriggled out from between the horse’s hooves and startled him, so the snake was able to slither over the finishing line first, gaining sixth place.
A short while later a raft arrived, carrying the goat, the monkey and the rooster.  The Emperor was very pleased with their teamwork, so he awarded the goat eighth place, the monkey ninth place and the rooster tenth place. The eleventh animal to arrive was the dog.  “But you are a really good swimmer, why did you arrive so late?” said the Emperor.  “The water was so clean; I just had to stop and have a bath!” said the dog. 

Finally, a twelfth animal landed on the riverbank, it was the pig.  “Congratulations” said the Emperor.  “But why did you take so long to cross the river?”  “I was hungry”, explained the pig, “So I had to stop to eat.  After that I felt sleepy, so I had to have a nap!”  The Emperor was still impressed with his achievement, so he named the twelfth year after the pig.
But what happened to the cat? The poor cat had been struggling in the water all this time, but he was too late arriving on shore to have a year named after him.  He has been cross with the rat ever since, which is why the two of them fight.  But the cat is still very much loved by Chinese people: you will see him in shops, homes and restaurants, waving a paw at everyone!
(Traditional Chinese tale)
Follow up questions:
  1. Who won the race? Why didn’t the ox come first?
  2. Which animals displayed good teamwork?
  3. Why do you think cats and rats fight according to this tale?
  4. Do you think the race was fair? Could the race be made fair?
  5. Who do you think was the winner in the end?
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