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The 12 Chinese New Year Animals: A Zodiac Story for Kids

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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.

Learn about the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac and how the years came to be named after them!

Learn about the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac and how the years came to be named after them!

Learn About the Chinese New Year Animals

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

The Story of the Race

In any tale from folklore, legend, or mythology, 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 story is probably the best version, and it makes a great children's bedtime story.

Buddha sent out an invitation to all the animals.

Buddha sent out an invitation to all the animals.

An 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 twelve animals showed up at the event. Grateful for their efforts, Buddha rewarded them by naming each year of the Chinese zodiac calendar after these twelve animals. The calendar was arranged according to the order in which they finished the race.

The twelve animals that came for the grand race were:

  1. Rat
  2. Ox
  3. Tiger
  4. Rabbit
  5. Dragon
  6. Snake
  7. Horse
  8. Goat (sometimes called Sheep or Ram)
  9. Monkey
  10. Rooster
  11. Dog
  12. Pig

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

Where Is the Cat?

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 had a 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.

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

The Rat reached the finish line first . . .

The Rat reached the finish line first . . .

. . . after fooling the Ox!

. . . after fooling the Ox!

The Cunning Rat and the Kind Ox

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 that other animals were already in front of him, and they ran much faster than he did. Before the finishing line, there was also a river to cross, and it was not a small river!

The Rat was already feeling tired, and there was still a long way to go. He was also a poor swimmer. Worried about falling behind, he came up with a brilliant idea.

The Rat knew that the Ox was the mightiest swimmer and a very straightforward animal who would believe anything. So, he pleaded with the Ox to let him ride on its head. The Rat tried to convince the Ox that, because he was just a small animal, he would not be able to run faster than the Ox when they reached the shore.

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 sprinted 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 the Year of the Rat after the cunning Rat, and the second year is the Year of the Ox.

The Tiger had some trouble crossing the river.

The Tiger had some trouble crossing the river.

The Mighty Tiger

Not far behind the Ox came 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.

However, 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 the Year of the Tiger.

The Rabbit also struggled to cross the river, but he had some unexpected help!

The Rabbit also struggled to cross the river, but he had some unexpected help!

The Lucky 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 he lost his balance, fell in and almost drowned.

Fortunately, he managed to hold on to a floating log and later made it to shore.

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

The Dragon stopped to help the Rabbit.

The Dragon stopped to help the Rabbit.

The Helpful Dragon

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

The Dragon 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 the Year of the Rabbit always enjoy good fortune in the Year of the Dragon!

So, the fifth year is the Year of the Dragon.

The Horse almost came in sixth . . .

The Horse almost came in sixth . . .

. . . but the Snake hitched a ride on the Horse's leg and beat him to the finish line!

. . . but the Snake hitched a ride on the Horse's leg and beat him to the finish line!

The Swift Horse and the Clever 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 would be the sixth animal to arrive, but he was wrong. Unnoticed by the Horse, the Snake had clung on to his leg, and at the moment they were about to reach the finishing line, the Snake quickly jumped off! The Horse, taken by surprise, lunged backward and lost to the Snake, who claimed the sixth position.

So, the sixth year is named the Year of the Snake, and the seventh year is the Year of the Horse.

The Teamwork of the 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 together and help each other when crossing the river instead of doing it all by themselves.

So, they made a raft. But it was a small raft, and it wasn't easy to steer with all three of them on it. 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 the Monkey and then the Rooster.

So, the eighth year is the Year of the Goat, the ninth year is the Year of the Monkey, and the tenth year is the Year of the Rooster.

The Dog stopped to play in the water.

The Dog stopped to play in the water.

The Pig got hungry and stopped for a snack.

The Pig got hungry and stopped for a snack.

The Playful Dog and the Hungry Pig

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

So, the eleventh year is the Year of the Dog.

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

As you might expect, the Pig was hungry, and although he was in the race, he decided to stop and eat. He ate too much, grew sleepy, and finally dozed off. He was lucky to wake up just in time to come in twelfth, the last position.

So, the twelfth year of the Chinese zodiac is the Year of the Pig.

All twelve of the Chinese zodiac animals.

All twelve of the Chinese zodiac animals.

Which Year Were You Born In?

And that's how the Chinese calendar years got their names from the animals, and that's how the Chinese zodiac signs began.

Which is your favorite Chinese New Year animal? Do you know which animal year you were born in? Check the table below to find out!

Chinese Zodiac Years and Compatibility

Just for fun, check if the following compatibility chart is accurate. Ask your friends about their zodiac signs, and see if you're compatible.

If You Were Born in This Year . . .Years of Birth. . . Then You Are Compatible With People Born in These Years

Rat

1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

Ox, Dragon, Monkey

Ox

1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Rat, Monkey, Rooster

Tiger

1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Dragon, Horse, Pig

Rabbit

1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Goat, Monkey, Dog, Pig

Dragon

1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Rooster, Rat, Monkey

Snake

1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Dragon, Rooster

Horse

1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Tiger, Goat, Rabbit

Goat (sometimes called Sheep or Ram)

1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Rabbit, Horse, Pig

Monkey

1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Ox, Rabbit

Rooster

1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Ox, Snake

Dog

1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Rabbit

Pig

1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

Tiger, Rabbit, Goat

More Chinese Bedtime Story Videos

Questions & Answers

Question: Why was the sheep not explained in the Chinese zodiac?

Answer: 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

Do You Have Any Comments or a Favorite Bedtime Story to Share?

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on April 18, 2020:

Thank you, Miletalos and thanks for dropping by and commenting. Keep safe and well.

Miletalos on March 25, 2020:

This is great post on Chinese Zodiac

Bfdee on March 24, 2020:

my grand son loved it

Gloria Velleley SYDNEY Australia on January 23, 2020:

My Eurasian grandsons loved the book 'Yi-min and the Elephants' a tale of Ancient China when I read it to them.

Whenever I took them to the Library, I encourage them to choose books with an Asian influence.

One year for Christmas, I purchased a Dictionary published in Cantonese and English. Helped 'Popo' and me!

Lainie on January 07, 2020:

Thanks you for this I needed this for school this helped me a lot hopefully my class will enjoy it as much as I did

Kitty on January 04, 2020:

I think it was good but i wish the cat was in it.

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on June 06, 2019:

Hi Clara, good to know that it has helped you understand the wonders of the Chinese Zodiac tale. Thank you for dropping by and commenting.

Clara Devinta on June 06, 2019:

Thank you for the tale Mazlan. I'm from Indonesia and I'm Chinese, but after read your article, I finally know the story behind the Chinese Zodiac.

24 years I have no idea about any story of the Zodiac

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on April 28, 2019:

Dan, thank you very much for the compliment.

Dan on April 28, 2019:

I like it a lot better then some

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on April 13, 2019:

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

Gracia on April 12, 2019:

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

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on February 08, 2019:

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.

Alexis on February 08, 2019:

Really nice book

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on February 05, 2019:

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.

Max on February 05, 2019:

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

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on January 14, 2019:

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.

Kian on January 12, 2019:

Hi again I love this story

Kian on January 10, 2019:

How do you remember which order it's in

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on December 30, 2018:

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.

Charm on December 30, 2018:

I think the sheep was not mentioned in the story.

George on February 22, 2018:

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

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on February 18, 2018:

Thanks Mariya

Mariya on February 18, 2018:

I love your website

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on May 12, 2015:

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.

Stephanie on May 11, 2015:

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

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on March 30, 2012:

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

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 29, 2012:

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

It was a delight to read about this.

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on March 16, 2012:

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

george on March 15, 2012:

Diz iz AWESOME!!!!!!

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on January 30, 2012:

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 from Hamilton, Alabama on January 30, 2012:

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.

Kenneth

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on January 16, 2012:

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

Angie Jardine from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... on January 15, 2012:

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.

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on January 14, 2012:

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 from England on January 14, 2012:

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!