January 25th 2020 marks the official start of Chinese New Year – The year of the rat.

China adopted a zodiac system over 2000 years ago, utilising a total of 12 zodiac animals, each representative of a calendar year.

The Zodiacs

Legend has it that the Jade Emperor needed to choose palace guards. The Rat was first in line, after pulling one over on the Ox who’d began the queue, by jumping aboard his back. The Tiger and Dragon settled behind the Ox, before a Rabbit raced the Dragon for his position. This angered a Dog who came to claim his guard-ship, who bit the Rabbit and was sent to the back of the line as punishment. A Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey and Rooster fought amongst themselves for their position, before a Pig, keen to make it as a palace guard, shuffled into last place. – The 12 zodiacs!

Over the last 2000 years, the zodiacs have become more ingrained in Chinese culture and integrated into everyday life, with each animal holding its own unique meaning and characteristics.

These zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture, and it’s believed that they can be used to determine your fortune for the year ahead, marriage compatibility, career suitability, the correct time to conceive a child and much more.

Year of the rat

But, What Does It Mean?

When it comes to the Chinese principles of Yin and Yang, the rat is considered yang and represents the beginning of a new day. The rat also represents wealth, and due to the impressive rate at which they reproduce, they are prayed to by married couples wishing to conceive.

These zodiacs also correspond to years of birth. If a person is born in the years 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 & 2020, they were born in a year of the rat. It is believed, in Chinese culture, that these individuals are likeable by all, sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others but stubborn in their opinion, with a kind personality. Unfortunately, due to “weak communication skills”, their words can be misconstrued as rude or impolite.

But things don’t end there! When it comes to the genders of those born in the year of the rat, the Chinese believe that different characteristics are present.

Men born in these years are highly adaptable, creative and able to take advantage of opportunities, whilst sometimes lacking courage to do so. Though quick to offer good ideas, these gentlemen may not be appropriate for leadership positions.

Women born in these years are traditional, desire organisation and place huge importance on family. Capable individuals, they take care of everything, with a strong sense of responsibility and ability.

We at Key West happen to love our work, and the fascinating world of the creatures we encounter. So, to celebrate Chinese New Year, we thought we’d produce a blog that champions this often-misunderstood rodent!

Five Famous Rats

Celebrated less highly in many other cultures, the rat may be misunderstood, but there are some very famous ones. Let’s see how many you know!

Oh, and unlike Gucci’s Year Of The Rat campaign, we’ll be sure to feature actual rats, rather than the most infamous mouse on earth. – Though, we were tempted to include Stewart Little as a bit of sarcastic and topical fun.

Roland Rat

As non-millennials may remember, along with the now defunct channel the character originally rose to fame on, TV-am, Roland Rat was a children’s television puppet character, who first appeared in 1983.

Saving the breakfast television network TV-am, Roland Rat transformed audience figures from 100,000 to 1.8 million. The well-loved children’s TV character was later transferred to the BBC, where he stayed for 6 years, adored by children all over the country.

Aided, eventually, by the music world’s guardians of fine taste (sense the sarcasm) Stock Aiken Waterman, Roland Rat also recorded Two LP’s, and had three UK chart singles, two of which reached the top 40!

Why was Roland Rat so loved?

Like many quintessential British children’s shows of old, the programme saw a host of furry friends exploring landmarks of famous cities in the UK and beyond.

In a relationship with a guinea pig called Glenis, Roland Rat lives beneath King’s Cross Railway Station, and under Los Angeles’ Hollywood Sign.

Other much-loved characters include Roland’s infant brother Little Biggie, Welsh tech geek Errol the Hamster, and the excitable and self-appointed “number one rat fan”, Kevin the Gerbil, a pink bucket-loving Yorkshire-man.

Roland’s creator, operator and voice over artists, David Claridge, provided the voices for all the main characters.

Remy – Ratatouille

Remy is the lead character in Disney’s 2007 Ratatouille, an animated feature film, about a blue-ish grey Parisian rat with a passion for food and with culinary dreams of becoming a professional chef in one of the food capitals of the world.

Voted #41 in Empire Magazine’s The 50 Best Animated Movie Characters, Remy was a great success, with the movie grossing $620.7 Million in the box office.

Walking on two feet, Remy is modest regarding his cheffing abilities, but has a deep interest in people and their ability to prepare fine food.

Concerning his father, Django, Remy is not a typical rat (after all, he’s a rat with very human talents and dreams), but his talent is recognised by Django.

Firstly, his heightened sense of smell, being able to identify the ingredients on a plate using only this sense, is a talent recognised by his father who appoints him “inspector” of the rat clan. This role requires Remy to ensure that others in the clan do not eat toxic food, that they’d be otherwise unable to detect.

Eventually, his dreams become a reality, impressing diners with his culinary delights, and eventually becoming the head chef at the La Ratatouille bistro in Paris.

Scabbers – Harry Potter

Whilst comically belonging to the world’s biggest magic-related franchise, Scabbers might be the most true-to-life rat in this list.

That is, of course, until he’s found to be an ageing wizard named Peter Pettigrew.

Belonging to one of the franchise’s lead characters, Ron Weasley, Scabbers is a pet rat, handed down from Ron’s older brother Percy.

While Scabbers is often the object of scathing looks and remarks from Weasley, on account of his constant sleeping through action, Ron protects Scabbers and loves him, no matter how “useless” he may be.

Keen to escape the protective bubble of Ron’s hands, there are multiple occasions where Scabbers escapes, successfully or in vein. That is, before he’s found to be a desperate, dark wizard in disguise.

Perhaps Scabbers has the most complex storyline of any fictional rat before or since, with Peter Pettigrew’s story (crucial to the overall tale – if you’ll excuse the pun) dating back since before 1971.

Splinter – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

In the original comic books, and of course, the television show, Splinter, or Master Splinter as he’s known, is a mutant rat, instructing the turtles in martial arts and nunjustu, and acting as their adopted father.

Splinter couldn’t have escaped this list of 5 Famous Rats!

With so many incarnations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, from the Mirage, Archie and IDW comics, to the 1987, 2012 and 2018 animated series, the 2003 cartoon to the 2014 film, audience members of all ages have watched and grown to love this very famous rat.

The “elderly martial arts master” is wise, intelligent and highly skilled.

A zen sort of character, Splinter is almost always portrayed as calm, raising his voice rarely, and was clearly created with the image of the quintessential, all-knowing, wise, master of martial arts in mind.

A devoted father to his adopted turtle sons, Splinter’s protective instincts see him travelling far and wide to rescue his sons from trouble.

These protective characteristics stem from his desire to keep the lives he and the turtles live, undiscovered by the outside world.

I mean, who could blame him? A rat, training a bunch of turtles? It’s bound to encourage some unwanted attention!

Rizzo The Rat – The Muppets

A Muppet show favourite, Rizzo The Rat appeared in various Muppet movies, and was given a starring role in the 1992 film “The Muppet Christmas Carol”.

Rizzo was a scene stealing background figure, pulling focus away from veteran Muppet characters for 12 years, prior to his big break in the Christmas flick.

Created by Steve Whitmire, who made the original Rizzo out of plastic bottles, he named the character after Ratso Rizzo, from the movie Midnight Cowboy.

Closely associated with the much-loved character Gonzo The Great, who is of an indeterminate species, Rizzo is an acrophobic rat with a strong New Jersey accent.

Known for his risque humour, Muppets fans love the sarcastic and streetwise Rizzo, and the tricks he plays on others.

Unapologetically eccentric, Rizzo wears a different costume whenever he appears on screen, even during the same programme or movie.

So Happy New Year of the Rat to our Chinese friends, and from everybody at Key West, we hope 2020 is a great year for all.  Pest? Think Key West.