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

Updated on February 11, 2020
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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! | Source

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. | Source

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 . . . | Source
. . . after fooling the Ox!
. . . after fooling the Ox! | Source

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. | Source

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! | Source

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. | Source

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 . . . | Source
. . . 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! | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Goat rode on a raft . . .. . . with the Monkey . . .. . . and the Rooster!
The Goat rode on a raft . . .
The Goat rode on a raft . . . | Source
. . . with the Monkey . . .
. . . with the Monkey . . . | Source
. . . and the Rooster!
. . . and the Rooster! | Source

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. | Source
The Pig got hungry and stopped for a snack.
The Pig got hungry and stopped for a snack. | Source

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. | Source

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

  • 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

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

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    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      6 weeks ago from Malaysia

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

    • profile image

      Miletalos 

      2 months ago

      This is great post on Chinese Zodiac

    • profile image

      Bfdee 

      2 months ago

      my grand son loved it

    • profile image

      Gloria Velleley SYDNEY Australia 

      4 months ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Lainie 

      4 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Kitty 

      4 months ago

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

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      12 months ago from Malaysia

      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.

    • profile image

      Clara Devinta 

      12 months ago

      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

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      13 months ago from Malaysia

      Dan, thank you very much for the compliment.

    • profile image

      Dan 

      13 months ago

      I like it a lot better then some

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      13 months ago from Malaysia

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

    • profile image

      Gracia 

      13 months ago

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

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      15 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

      Alexis 

      15 months ago

      Really nice book

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      16 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

      Max 

      16 months ago

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

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      16 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

      Kian 

      16 months ago

      Hi again I love this story

    • profile image

      Kian 

      16 months ago

      How do you remember which order it's in

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      17 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

      Charm 

      17 months ago

      I think the sheep was not mentioned in the story.

    • profile image

      George 

      2 years ago

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

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      2 years ago from Malaysia

      Thanks Mariya

    • profile image

      Mariya 

      2 years ago

      I love your website

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      5 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 

      5 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

      Mazlan 

      8 years ago from Malaysia

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

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      8 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

      Mazlan 

      8 years ago from Malaysia

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

    • profile image

      george 

      8 years ago

      Diz iz AWESOME!!!!!!

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      8 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 

      8 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.

      Kenneth

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      8 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 

      8 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

      Mazlan 

      8 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 

      8 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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