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A Children's Bedtime Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Updated on February 17, 2017
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Born & raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian & Asian heritage & likes to share its mysteries, cultures & current issues.

The 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals
The 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals | Source

How the 12 Years in Chinese Zodiac Got Their Names

You already know that the New Lunar Year or Chinese New Year marks the beginning of a Chinese calendar year and is named after an animal, but do you know how this came about?

A Great Bedtime Story for Kids

As in any folklore, legends, or mythologies, there are many versions of the story. Likewise, there are also many versions of the Chinese Zodiac story. The version that you will be reading is based on the great race. This is probably the best version and is a good bedtime story for the kids.

Invitation to a Grand Race

A long long time ago, before his departure from earth, Buddha decided to have a grand race and all the animals in the kingdom were invited.

Unfortunately only 12 animals showed up at the event. Grateful for their efforts, Buddha rewarded them by naming each year of the Chinese Zodiac calendar after these 12 animals. And it was arranged according to the order of their arrival.

The 12 animals that came for the grand race were a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

Cat and the Rat

Upon hearing of Buddha's invitation to the grand race, the Cat invited his best friend the Rat to join him, and they agreed to go together.

But the Cat has the habit of waking up late. So, fearing he might miss the grand race, he asked the Rat to wake him up the next morning.

The Rat however, forgot his promise and left without his best friend, the Cat.

Alas, when the Cat finally woke up, it was already too late and did not make it to the race on time. Hence, there was no year in the Chinese Zodiac named after him. This is why till this day, the Cat will always hunt the Rat.

Chinese Zodiac Animal, Rat
Chinese Zodiac Animal, Rat | Source

The Cunning Rat

The Rat was actually too excited about the race. That's why he forgot to wake up his friend, the Cat.

Along the way, the Rat saw other animals were in front of him and they all can run much faster. Before the finishing line, there is also a river to cross and it is not a small river!

It is still a long way to go and the Rat is already feeling tired. He is also a poor swimmer. So in order not to fall behind them, he came out with a brilliant idea.

He knows that the Ox is the mightiest swimmer and being a very straightforward animal, will believe in anything. So he pleaded with the Ox to let him ride on its head. He even convinced the Ox that being a small animal, he will not be able to run faster than him.

The Ox, being a kind and straightforward animal agreed to let the Rat ride and swim across together. As they neared the shore, the Rat quickly jumped off the Ox's back and sprint to the finishing line. Hence, the Rat was the first to arrive followed by the Ox.

The first year in the Chinese Zodiac calendar is therefore named after the cunning Rat and the second, after the Ox.

Chinese Zodiac Animal, Tiger
Chinese Zodiac Animal, Tiger | Source

Year of The Tiger

Not far behind is the Tiger. Although the Tiger is a fast animal, he had problem when trying to cross the river.

The heavy current kept pushing him downstream, but with all his might he finally managed to get to shore and came third in the race.

So the third year of Chinese Zodiac calendar is named Year of the Tiger

Year of the Rabbit

Then suddenly the Rabbit appeared. He was all wet and looked very tired. He tried to cross the river by jumping from stone to stone, but lost his balance and was almost drowned.

Fortunately he managed to hold on to a floating log and later got on to shore.

So the fourth year in the Chinese Zodiac calendar is the Year of the Rabbit.

Chinese Zodiac Animal, Dragon
Chinese Zodiac Animal, Dragon | Source

Dragon Year

Although the Dragon can fly, he only came in fifth. Apparently he had to slow down as he had to make rain for all the people and all the creatures on earth. And he also saw the poor Rabbit holding on to the floating log, struggling to stay afloat.

So, he puffed and puffed his breath, to push the log to shore. The Rabbit never realized that he was saved by the Dragon. That is why babies born in Year of Rabbit always enjoy good fortune in the Year of Dragon!

The Horse, then the Snake

As soon as the Dragon took his seat next to the Rat, Ox, Tiger and Rabbit, the Horse came charging in.

He thought that he will be the sixth animal to arrive, but he was wrong. Unaware to the Horse, the Snake had clung on to the his leg, and the moment they are about to reach the finishing line, the Snake quickly jumped. At that moment, the Horse, taken by surprised, lunged backward and hence, lost to the Snake who claimed the 6th position.

Then came in the Goat, Monkey and Rooster

Moments later, the Goat, Monkey and Rooster came in almost together.

Just before the Rooster was about to cross the river, he saw the Monkey and the Goat. He managed to convince them to work and help each other to cross the river, rather than doing it individually. So together they make a raft. But it wasn't easy with all three of them on a small raft. They had to push and pull and finally managed to cross the river.

Running to the finishing line, the Goat managed to arrive first followed by Monkey then Rooster.

Chinese Zodiac Animal, Pig
Chinese Zodiac Animal, Pig | Source

The Dog then the Pig

Although the Dog is a good swimmer, he came in at the 11th place. He was a playful animal and was splashing around in the water too much, leaving others to overtake him.

Long after all the eleven animals had arrived, the Pig finally appeared. In fact Buddha had given up hope of any more animals arriving when he suddenly heard the oink oink.

The Pig as expected, was hungry and although he was in the race, he decided to stop to eat. He ate too much and grew sleepy and finally dozed off. He was lucky to wake up just in time to come in 12th, the last position.

One rice Thousand gold - An old Chinese fable

Story of How Tiger Got His Stripes

© 2012 Mazlan

Comments or favorite Bedtime story to share?

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    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 2 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi Stephanie, This was written in January 2012 based on several articles on the Chinese Zodiac, Calendars and mythical stories and I don't have the link to these articles anymore.

      Unfortunately, this article that I had researched and written, has been copied by other bloggers who fail to appreciate the hard work of others, and claimed it is theirs.

      The biggest culprits are momstertories, betterchinatown and warrensburg. I am not surprised if all the articles on these blog-sites are copied from other writer's hard work

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      Stephanie 2 years ago

      Good evening I'm just wondering where did you find your source for this article. Such as books or journal ? Thank you

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Vinaya, thanks for dropping by again. I am glad you enjoyed reading the legend.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      I did not know about Chinese Zodiac and the legends associated with this.

      It was a delight to read about this.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi George, thanks for dropping by and thanks for the compliment.

    • profile image

      george 5 years ago

      Diz iz AWESOME!!!!!!

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Thanks Kenneth for the kind words. I also recently wrote another story for kids based on a Malaysian folklore, the tale of a cunning mouse deer. Hope you will like that as well.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 5 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      May I say it this way, "great stuff," greatstuff! Voted up and all the buttons. A sheer delightful hub to read. And to read to the youngsters in your life. Very touching. Love your work. Keep the great hubs coming.


    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi Angie..actually Rats are the luckier one this year, supposed to have good fortune and good luck as well!

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi great stuff ... not sure that us Rats come out of this too well. It makes us look a bit tricksy ... which of course is just not true! (Removes tongue from cheek :)

      Great tale ... now I've just got to try to remember it for my grand-daughters.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Thanks Nell for dropping by and your kind words. By the way, today, 15January is Pongal Day, the Thanksgiving day celebrated by Indian Tamil from South India as well as Tamil who now lives oversea such as in Malaysia. You can read more of this in one of my hubs.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, what a great way to remember the right order! I would never have thought I could remember it! now I think I will! this is a lovely little story! thanks!