Monday, March 25, 2013

Douglas Jaffe - The Chinese Zodiac: Where’s Kitty?

It’s always a pleasure to meet ‘new-to-me’ authors and learn how they came to be writers. When those writers live in other countries, it makes me realize what an important role reading is to the world at large.

I’m delighted today to welcome one such author to Thoughts in Progress. Writer Douglas A. Jaffe is from Asia and recently published his first novel, Chasing Dragons. Here’s a brief synopsis of it:
    Sebastian is the owner of a bookstore café in Hong Kong who provides informal counseling services to an array of offbeat characters. His quiet life is suddenly upended when he meets Chloe, and their relationship takes a startling turn, as it begins to parallel the relationship of a pair of mythical dragons from Chinese history. The lovers struggle with questions of mortality and immortality, before a choice is made that could pull them apart.

Doug has an interesting story to share with us. 

Hi Mason. Thank you for the opportunity to blog on your wonderful site!

I notice that you’re a fan of felines and I’m guessing that many of your readers also share your love of four-legged mouse maulers! With that mind, I thought it might be interesting to briefly look at cats within Chinese culture. Being as Chinese New Year has recently come and gone here in Hong Kong, this is also a timely topic for those interested in the Chinese zodiac. As some of you may know, the year of the Dragon has ended and we are now in the year of the Snake.

For cat fans, a quick glance at the zodiac reveals that the domestic cat is not represented, just the tiger. This may seem out of sorts considering cats were revered by many ancient cultures, and in more modern times, have become Internet superstars. Nevertheless, they never made it into the zodiac and in the course of doing some research for one of my books; I actually dug around to see if I might find an explanation.

There are various myths and stories as to why cats were excluded, but here are two that I found pretty amusing. 

Story One: A long time ago, the cat and the rat were the best of BK00010691friends. They were inseparable and even shared their food. One day, the cat learned that the Jade Emperor was going to select twelve animals to represent the twelve calendar years, and invited all animals to a party. The cat suggested to the rat that both of them should attend. When the day finally arrived, the cat told the rat, 'I am going to take a nap so that I will be well rested for the party. Would you please wake me when it's time to go?' 'No problem.' the rat replied, ‘I will wake you up when the time comes.'

As you can expect, the rat failed to wake the cat and was thus excluded from the zodiac. Two reasons are commonly given for the rat’s treachery – A. He believed himself too small to make it into the zodiac and felt that eliminating the cat would help his chances. B. He was worried because the cat was so handsome and elegant while he was so small and unsightly.

Story Two: One day the Jade Emperor organized a race to decide which animals would be included into the zodiac. The race required all animals to cross a wide river and the cat and the rat were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. Although weak swimmers, they were both highly intelligent. They decided that the best way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the ox. The ox, being a naïve and good-natured animal, agreed to carry them across. 

However, overcome with a fierce competitiveness, the rat decided that in order to win, it must do something and promptly pushed the cat into the river. Because of this, the cat has never forgiven the rat, and hates the water as well. 

Sadly, rats do not have a comparable Internet fan base, so it is unlikely anyone reading this will have much sympathy for them. At least now, when your favorite furry feline decides to leave a dead rat at your doorstep, you will realize that this is not just a gift to a devoted owner, but the settling of a long and ancient score.
Doug, thanks for visiting with us today and sharing these stories. I’d say the second one would be may favorite as cat do hate water. It’s a shame cats aren’t included in the zodiac.

Now, let me give you a bit of background on Doug. He has been in Asia for most of the last two decades and originally came to the region from New York as a graduate student, studying in China and Taiwan. He has a dual Masters in Chinese Studies and International Affairs and speaks passable Chinese on a good day. 

In recent years, Doug has pursued his interest in writing fiction and has published his first novel, Chasing Dragons. A second book is currently in the works.

For more on Doug and his writing, you can find him on his Chasing Dragons Facebook page or on his Goodreads author page. Chasing Dragons is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers. 

Thanks everyone for stopping by today. Which of the two stories is your favorite as to why the cat is not included in the zodiac?


  1. Doug, thanks again for visiting Thoughts in Progress. I enjoyed learning about the two myths. Wishing you much success with your writing.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Doug.

    Doug - Thanks for sharing those cat stories. Mythology is fascinating and that's one part of it that I didn't know. What an interesting idea too to craft a novel based on parallel stories between real people and mythical characters. I wish you success with your work.

  3. I like the story where the cat didn't wake up in time to be included and that the rat didn't wake it. That seems quite plausible to me. Thank you for sharing this info!

  4. I'd never heard either tale, but both are charming!

  5. Hmm. Rats don't get much love on Facebook, do they? Maybe we should change that.

  6. Hi Mason .. I'd go with the rat not waking the cat .. cats do love to zizz ... but that's a little mean of the rat - perhaps that's why they now live in sewers, and clever cats inhabit homes?!

    Douglas' books look interesting and I love learning about different regions ..

    Cheers and happy Easter to you both .. Hilary


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.