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The smallest of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, the rat had only an outside chance in the Jade Emperor’s race to determine the zodiac’s order. Yet its intelligence, agility and quick-thinking enabled it to win the contest and become the first year in the system’s 12-year cycle.

According to ancient Chinese lore, the rodent hitched a ride on the ox to cross a fast-flowing river before sneakily jumping over its head to cross the finish line. The journey is in stark contrast to that of the last animal to finish, the boar, who stopped for a snack and then fell asleep.

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