The Animals’ Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac

Updated on December 1, 2017
Adele Jeunette profile image

Adele has been a youth librarian for 20 years. She enjoys reading stories to kids and performing puppet shows.

The Animals' Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac
The Animals' Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac

Notes on the Play

This play for children (ages 5-10) tells the story of why the Chinese zodiac animals appear in a certain order. There are two versions of the play given below.

The first is designed to be told by a narrator with the children saying small parts and performing the actions indicated. The second does not have speaking parts for the children. It is designed to be told by a narrator with the children (ages 3-10) doing the actions.

Indicating Which Animals the Children Are Playing

I have included some cards with pictures of the animals after the script. If you would like, you can attach the cards to dowels or craft sticks that the children can hold up to identify their character. You can also cut long strips of paper and fashion them into headbands, then glue the picture to the headband.

Decorating the Space

You will want to have some way of marking the starting line, and the river. You can place black masking tape on the floor for the starting line, and blue for the river. You can also have some children position themselves on opposite ends of a piece of light blue fabric and wave them up and down to make a “river” on your set.

Customizing the Script

You can copy the text of the play and paste it into a word-processing document. Change the pronouns as needed, depending on whether you have a boy or a girl for each part.

Version 1: The Animals’ Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac (Speaking Parts)

Narrator: One day, long ago in China, the Jade Emperor decided that all the years should have a name to help the people tell the years apart.

He decided to name each year after an animal, and proclaimed that the animals would have a race across a wide river. The first twelve to cross the river would each have a year named after them.

All the animals were excited as they made their way to the starting line.

Narrator: First the rabbit:

Rabbit: (hops up to the starting line) I have strong back legs to get me going. I just need to find some way to get through the water.

Narrator: Then the horse:

Horse: (gallops up to the starting line) I’m used to running fast, and I’m a strong swimmer.

Narrator: And the rooster:

Rooster (struts) It’s me, rooster. See how my feathers shine in the sun? (preens)

Narrator: Then the dog:

Dog: (runs up smiling and panting) I’m happy to see all my friends here. This is going to be fun!

Narrator: Then the ox:

Ox: (ambles in slowly) I’ll swim this race the way I do everything: strong and steady.

Narrator: Then the tiger:

Tiger: (prowls in and growls) I’m the strongest and the fiercest, and I love to swim.

Narrator: Next the snake:

Snake: (slithers in—use hands to make a slithering motion) Sssssso nice to sssssee everyone. Let’sssss have a good race.

Narrator: Then the dragon:

Dragon: (pretending to fly in) Good luck to all the contestants. Let me know if I can help you.

Narrator: Then the sheep:

Sheep: (trots in daintily) I hope I do well. I’m not sure about how to get across the water.

Narrator: Next the monkey:

Monkey: (swings in from the trees and sneaks up behind Sheep) Boo!

Sheep: (jumps) Oh, you scared me! (Monkey laughs. Then he tags Tiger on the shoulder.)

Monkey: You can’t catch me! (Tiger roars, and the monkey runs away, laughing. Then, the monkey takes his place on the starting line.)

Narrator: Then the pig:

Pig: (strolls in licking lips) I hated to leave my meal, but I thought I should get here before the race started.

Narrator: And, finally, the rat.

Rat: (scurries in, hurriedly) I’m here, I’m here.

Pig: Why are you so late?

Rat: I’ll show you what happened.

(Rat steps to another part of the stage and meets with cat, who is lying on the floor and stretching, as if just waking from a nap.)

Rat: Hi Cat!

Cat: Well, hello Rat. What brings you here?

Rat: Have you heard about the race the Jade Emperor is going to have? We should join.

Cat: (stands up and stretches) I’ll win, of course. But (yawns) I’ll need my sleep. You come and wake me up when it’s time. (lies down again)

(Rat walks back over to Pig)

Rat: That cat has been so bossy lately. I was going to wake him up, but I changed my mind. I ran here instead.

Pig: You mean cat is still asleep?

Rat: Serves him right! He is too lazy to even pay attention to what time the race starts!

Narrator: When they had all lined up and were ready, the Jade Emperor gave the signal for everyone to start. The ox jumped in and soon was ahead because she was such a strong swimmer. She didn’t know that the clever little rat had quietly climbed on her back. (Rat moves over close to Ox.) The ox reached the shore and had just a little ways to go to the finish line.

Ox: I’m the first one out of the water. I knew that strong and steady would win the race.

Rat: (jumps ahead) But I crossed the finish line first! Sometimes the cleverest one wins the race.

Narrator: And, indeed, the Jade Emperor proclaimed Rat the first animal in the zodiac. The ox had the honor of being second. Next came Tiger.

Tiger: I’m going to run to the finish line. I’m not going to let anyone sneak past me. (Tiger runs past the line, then growls.)

Narrator: The rabbit finished fourth.

Rabbit: I started by hopping from stone to stone in the river, but then I managed to hop on to a floating log.

Narrator: The dragon finished fifth.

Dragon: On my way, I saw some villagers whose crops were drying up. So, I stopped to make it rain for them.

Narrator: The horse was the next animal out of the water.

Horse: I made it! (Snake slithers by. Horse is startled, rears up and whinnies.) Wait, what is that?

Snake: Sssssorry, jusssst ssslithering by.

Narrator: So, it was Snake who finished sixth, and Horse was seventh. Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster all found a raft at the beginning of the race, and they paddled as quickly as they could across the river. Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster pantomime these actions as the Narrator says them)

Sheep: We work well as a team. It doesn’t really matter what order we’re in. We’ll all be part of the zodiac.

Monkey: Let’s all race for the finish line, anyway. It will be fun!

Rooster: Last one there’s a rotten egg! (They run to the finish line.)

Narrator: Sheep finished in eighth place, Monkey in ninth, and Rooster in tenth. Next was the dog.

Dog: (shaking the water out of her fur) That was so much fun! I love playing in the water. I’m a little late, but I don’t mind. I’m still number 11.

Narrator: And the last one to finish? Well, you can probably guess. Pig was number twelve.

Pig: I would have been here sooner, but I stopped for a snack. I have to keep my strength up, you know.

Narrator: The Jade Emperor announced, “You have all run the race in your own way. And I am proud to name one of the years after each of you.”

Narrator: But what about the cat? Remember, he was sleeping, depending on the rat to wake him up.

Cat: (yawns and stretches) That was a good nap. (looks up) Uh oh! The sun is high in the sky. Why didn’t Rat wake me up?

Narrator: Cat frantically dashed to the starting line, only to find that the race was over. (Cat pantomimes these actions) And that is why the cat was left out of the Chinese zodiac. And, that is why--to this very day--a cat will chase a rat whenever he sees one.

Cat: I see you, you little rat. (starts chasing the rat)

Rat: That cat never forgets. (starts to run away from Cat)

Version 2: The Animals’ Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac (Players Act Out Narration)

Script (Narrator reads)

(The children walk up to the starting line as their characters are mentioned. They perform the actions mentioned in the text.)

One day, long ago in China, the Jade Emperor decided that all the years should have a name to help the people tell the years apart.

He decided to name them after animals, and proclaimed that the animals should have a race across a wide river. The first twelve to cross the river would each have a year named after them.

All the animals were excited as they made their way to the starting line.

The sincere rabbit hopped up, took her place and sat quietly.

The energetic horse galloped up and pawed the starting line, eager to get going.

The bold rooster strutted up to the river and preened his feathers.

The friendly dog wagged her tail and barked a “hello” to all the other contestants as she came to the start.

The patient ox ambled in slowly and lined up her hooves just behind the starting line.

The courageous tiger gave out a low growl and padded deliberately to take his place.

The charming snake slithered quietly in the grass until he came to the water’s edge.

The warm-hearted dragon flew in from the sky and landed next to the others.

The peace-loving sheep trotted in quietly and stood on a nice patch of grass.

The mischievous monkey swung down from the trees and winked at all the contestants as she passed them to find an open place on the riverbank.

The pig strolled into the group, still licking her lips from the meal she had just finished.

And the rat? The rat scurried in last, and hurriedly took his place at the starting line. The rat was almost late.

(Narrator, to audience) Do you want to know the reason?

Here is why:

The rat had been good friends with another animal, the cat. But lately, he had noticed that the cat was getting bossier and bossier. When they heard about the race, the rat said, “We should join. We are quick and clever.”

And the cat said, “I will win, of course. I’ll need my rest, though. You keep watch and let me know when it is time to come.”

The rat had been going to cat’s house to wake him, but then he thought, “Why should I help cat out? He doesn’t seem to want to help me. Besides, he’s lazy.”

So that rat turned around and hurried to the starting line.

When they had all lined up and were ready, the Jade Emperor gave the signal to everyone to go.

(Note: Don’t say the numbers at the beginning of each line out loud. They are just there to help the Narrator keep track of where s/he is in the script.)

  1. The ox jumped in and soon was ahead because she was such a strong swimmer. She didn’t know that the clever little rat had quietly climbed on her back. The ox reached the other shore first, and lumbered onto the river bank, but the rat quickly jumped off and scurried to the finish line just ahead of her. That is why the rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac ...
  2. ...and the ox is the second.
  3. The tiger, who was also a strong swimmer, reached the bank, and bounded past the finish line. He was third.
  4. The rabbit had started the race by hopping from stone to stone in the river, but then she managed to hop on to a floating log, and she finished fourth.
  5. Next, the dragon swept in from the sky. Since he could fly, he would have been first, but on his way, he saw some villagers who were in need because of a terrible drought, and he stopped to make it rain. Because of the delay, he came in fifth.

6&7. Then, the horse ran up from the back and galloped to the finish, but the snake had emerged at the same time and slithered between the horse's hooves to finish sixth. The horse was seventh.

8, 9 & 10.The sheep, monkey and rooster all found a raft at the beginning of the race, and they paddled as quickly as they could across the river. When they landed, they ran for the finish. Sheep finished in eighth place, monkey in ninth, and rooster in tenth.

11. The dog was so happy to be in the water that she couldn’t help playing for a little bit, splashing and frolicking. Finally, she got down to the business of swimming and crossed the finish line in eleventh place.

12. And, there was one more spot, the twelfth one. Who got it? The pig. She had been hungry and stopped for another snack before she swam across the river. But with new energy, she climbed up the bank and trotted quickly to the finish.

“You have all run the race in your own way,” said the Jade Emperor. “And I am proud to name one of the years after each of you.”

But what about the cat? Remember, he was sleeping, depending on the rat to wake him up. Finally, he woke up, and realized that the sun was high up in the sky. Knowing he was late, he frantically dashed to the starting line, only to find that the race was over.

And that is why the cat was left out of the Chinese zodiac.

And, that is why--to this very day--a cat will chase a rat whenever he sees one. (Cat chases Rat off the stage.)

(If you like, all the children can come out and take a final bow.)

Zodiac Animal Picture Cards to Print

Here are several different sets of pictures for the Chinese zodiac animals. Since there are 12 animals, I have placed 4 animals to a sheet, and there are 3 sheets in each set. Print them out onto card stock, have the children color them (if necessary), and then they can tape them to a craft stick to hold, or they can fasten them to a headband to wear throughout the play.

To make a headband, cut a strip of paper about 1 1/2 inches wide and fit it in a circle around the child's head. Fasten the circle with a stapler. If you only have 8.5 X 11 paper, you will need to staple two or three pieces end to end to make the strip big enough.

These cards are all loaded as photos (jpegs). Here is what you need to do to get them in a form you can print:

  1. Left-click on the image. This action will bring up a window with a bigger version of the image.
  2. Right-click on the image. Choose "copy" from the menu that appears.
  3. Paste the image into a word processing or publishing program. You can enlarge or reduce the image, as needed.
  4. Don't forget that the cats are all listed after the other animal sets.

Zodiac Animal Set 1 - Color Animals

This set has already been colored. All you need to do is print, cut, and go. Don't forget to print out the cat, who is further down the site.


Color Zodiac Animals Sheet 1:  Rat, Ox, Rabbit, Dragon
Color Zodiac Animals Sheet 1: Rat, Ox, Rabbit, Dragon
Color Zodiac Animals Sheet 2: Horse, Sheep, Rooster, Dog
Color Zodiac Animals Sheet 2: Horse, Sheep, Rooster, Dog
Color Zodiac Animals Sheet 3: Tiger, Monkey, Snake, Pig  (Don't forget to also print out the cat, whose image appears further down.)
Color Zodiac Animals Sheet 3: Tiger, Monkey, Snake, Pig (Don't forget to also print out the cat, whose image appears further down.)

Zodiac Animals Set 2: Heart Animals in Color

Here are the zodiac animal faces made from the shape of hearts. They are all colored in, so you only need to print, cut, and go. Remember, right-click on the image, then paste it into a word processing or a publishing program. They are all loaded as photos, and you can size them and crop them however you wish once you have pasted them into a program. Don't forget to print out the cat, who is appears at the end of the these sets.

Colored Heart Animals Sheet 1:  Rooster, Monkey, Dog, Sheep
Colored Heart Animals Sheet 1: Rooster, Monkey, Dog, Sheep
Colored Heart Animals Sheet 2:  Rabbit, Tiger, Dragon, Ox
Colored Heart Animals Sheet 2: Rabbit, Tiger, Dragon, Ox
Colored Heart Animals Sheet 3:  Boar, Horse, Snake, Rat  (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)
Colored Heart Animals Sheet 3: Boar, Horse, Snake, Rat (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)

Cats for the Cards in Color

Here are are the patterns for the cats that go with the Color Animals and the Heart Animals. You can right-click and copy the photos,then paste them in a word-processing or publishing program to print them.

Cats to accompany the two previous sets of cards.
Cats to accompany the two previous sets of cards.

Curlicue Animals

Here are some animals that the children can color themselves. They can either cut the circle out, or you can use a paper cutter to separate them into four equal squares. Remember to print out the cat, which you'll find after these next two sets of animals.

Curlicue Animals Sheet 1
Curlicue Animals Sheet 1
Curlicue Animals Sheet 2
Curlicue Animals Sheet 2
Curlicue Animals Sheet 3  (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)
Curlicue Animals Sheet 3 (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)

Animal Drawings

Here is another take on the zodiac animals. They all look a little like they are wearing t-shirts. Remember to print out the cat, which appears after the others.

Animal Drawings Sheet 1
Animal Drawings Sheet 1
Animal Drawings Sheet 2
Animal Drawings Sheet 2
Animal Drawings Sheet 4  (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears next.)
Animal Drawings Sheet 4 (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears next.)

Cats for Curlicue Animals and Animal Drawings

Here are the cats that go with the previous two sets of cards. Remember, all of these images are loaded as photos, and you can get them by right-clicking to copy, and then pasting them.

Cats to accompany the previous two sets of zodiac animals.
Cats to accompany the previous two sets of zodiac animals.

Animals With the Chinese Character

These animals come with the Chinese character for their name. Children can color them, and cut out the circles. If you like, you can also just separate the animals with a paper cutter. Remember to print out the accompanying cat, which appears further down the site.

Animals With the Chinese Character Sheet 1
Animals With the Chinese Character Sheet 1
Animals With the Chinese Character  Sheet 2
Animals With the Chinese Character Sheet 2
Animals With the Chinese Character Sheet 3  (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)
Animals With the Chinese Character Sheet 3 (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)

Zodiac Animals to Color

Here is another set of images that the children can color. Remember that they are loaded as photos. Right click to copy them, paste them into a word-processing or publishing program, size as needed, and then print.

Zodiac Animals to Color Sheet 1
Zodiac Animals to Color Sheet 1
Zodiac Animals to Color Sheet 2
Zodiac Animals to Color Sheet 2
Zodiac Animals to Color  Sheet 3  (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)
Zodiac Animals to Color Sheet 3 (Don't forget to print out the cat, who appears further down.)

Cats for Animals With the Chinese Character and for Zodiac Animals to Color

Following are the cats that accompany the previous two sets. Just right-click on the picture, copy it, and paste it into a word-processing or publishing program. Size as you wish, then print.

Cats to accompny the previous two sets: Animals With the Chinese Character and for Zodiac Animals to Color
Cats to accompny the previous two sets: Animals With the Chinese Character and for Zodiac Animals to Color

© 2017 Adele Jeunette

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