Chinese New Year Animals & Chinese Zodiac - A Great Children's Bedtime Story

Updated on July 11, 2018
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Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage and likes to share its mysteries, culture & current issues.

Chinese New Year Animals

The New Lunar Year or Chinese New Year marks the beginning of a Chinese calendar year and each cycle is named after an animal. Do you know how this came about?

Short Bedtime Stories 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 are about to read is based on the great race. This Chinese New Year animals story is probably the best version and is great as children bedtime story.

The 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs -  Animals
The 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs - Animals | Source

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. These are what we now know as the Chinese zodiac animals.

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 until 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 already in front of him and they ran much faster. Before the finishing line, there is also a river to cross and it is not a small river!

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

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

The Ox, being a kind and straightforward animal agreed to let the Rat ride on its head and swim across together. As they neared the shore, the Rat quickly jumped off the Ox's back and sprint to the finishing line, much to the Ox's disappointment. 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 a problem when trying to cross the river.

The heavy current kept pushing him downstream and 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

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.

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 he will be the sixth animal to arrive but he was wrong. Unknowing to the Horse, the Snake had clung on to his leg, and the moment they are about to reach the finishing line, the Snake quickly jumped. The Horse, taken by surprised, lunged backward and lost to the Snake who claimed the sixth position.

Chinese New Year Animals - Goat, Monkey and Rooster

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

Just before the Rooster was about to cross the river, he saw the Monkey and the Goat. He convinced them to work and help each other when crossing the river instead of doing it all by themselves. So, they make a raft. But it was a small raft and it wasn't easy with all three of them. 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.

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.

The Pig as expected was hungry and although he was in the race, he decided to stop and 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.

Chinese Zodiac Signs - Story for Kids

That's how the Chinese calendar year got its name from the animals and the start of Chinese zodiac signs.

So, which is your favorite Chinese New Year animal and do you know which animal year you were born in? Check the table below to find out.

Chinese Zodiac Years and Chinese Zodiac Compatibility

Just for fun, check if the following Chinese zodiac compatibility is true. Ask your friend and test if there are any compatibility or otherwise: Do you know who is the loneliest with only one friend?

If You Are Born in This Year
Years of Birth
Then You Are Compatible with People Born in These Years
1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Ox, Dragon, Monkey
1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Rat, Monkey, Rooster
1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Dragon, Horse, Pig
1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Sheep, Monkey, Dog, Pig
1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Rooster, Rat, Monkey
1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Dragon, Rooster
1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Tiger, Sheep, Rabbit
1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Rabbit, Horse, Pig
1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Ox, Rabbit
1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Ox, Snake
1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
Tiger, Rabbit, Sheep

More Children Bedtime Story - One Rice Thousand Gold

Kids Bedtime Story of How Tiger Got His Stripes

Questions & Answers

  • Why was the sheep not explained in the Chinese zodiac?

    The Goat and Sheep are similar in the Chinese Zodiac. Hence, it will be called Year of the Goat or Year of the Sheep and sometimes even Year of the Ram. They are all the same. However, the Year of the Goat is commonly used. So, in my article, I use Goat instead of Sheep.

© 2012 Mazlan

Comments or Favorite Bedtime Story to Share?

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    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      6 days ago from Malaysia

      Hi Gracia. Thanks for letting me know this. Have a great weekend.

    • profile image


      7 days ago

      Thank you for sharing, very interesting story and helped with a school project.

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      2 months ago from Malaysia

      Alexis, thank you for the compliment. We are still in the 2019 Chinese New Year Period i.e. Year of the Pig. This Year of the Pig is the last cycle in the Chinese Zodiac. 2020 will start a new cycle with Year of the Rat.

      Thanks for reading and dropping by.

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      Really nice book

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      2 months ago from Malaysia

      Thanks Max. The new lunar year just started and 2019, Year of Pig, is the last cycle in the Chinese Lunar Year.

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      I really enjoy this story and learned a lot. Thank you

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      3 months ago from Malaysia

      Hi Kian, it is difficult to remember the order. There are some memory techniques that you can apply like repetition to help you with the order of each animal. Give it a try.

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      Hi again I love this story

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      How do you remember which order it's in

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      3 months ago from Malaysia

      Hi Charm. The Goat and Sheep are somehow similar in the Chinese Zodiac. Sometimes, you might find Year of the Ram. They are all the same. However, Year of the Goat is mostly used instead of Year of the Sheep. Hence, in my article, I mentioned Goat and not Sheep.

      As a side note, due to the nature of Japanese and Mongolian written character, in Japan and Mongolia, it is Year of the Sheep.

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      I think the sheep was not mentioned in the story.

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      Thank you for this story I needed this for a Friday story/teaching session in the afternoon to my classmates

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      14 months ago from Malaysia

      Thanks Mariya

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      I love your website

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      3 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


      3 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 imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Malaysia

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

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 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 imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Malaysia

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

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Diz iz AWESOME!!!!!!

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      7 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 

      7 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 imageAUTHOR


      7 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 

      7 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 imageAUTHOR


      7 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 

      7 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!


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