Ancient Chinese Calendar Facts For Kids

There is a traditional Chinese calendar that was developed over time over many dynasties.

These days, the Gregorian calendar is used for everything apart from traditional festivals like Chinese New Year.

The Gregorian calendar is the one used by the rest of the world.

Ancient Chinese Calendar

During the Han Dynasty, the traditional Chinese calendar took shape. It was called the Taichu calendar and this was followed from then on.

Chinese animal years

Everyone in the world has heard of the Chinese zodiac, or animals and their years. Each year has a different animal.

There are 12 animals and they are ways of counting years. An animal counts as one year in a 12-year cycle, and one day in a twelve-day cycle.


The story of the animal years

The legend goes that 12 animals were in a race to get to the Jade Emperor. Whoever got there first would decide the order of the calendars.

The animals had to go to great lengths to get there and use all their strengths to cross a river.

The cat and the rat could not swim but were very clever, so they went on the back of the ox. The ox was very kind, so he did not mind the cat and the rat catching a ride!

Bobcat Kittens

Right at the last hurdle, the rat pushed off the cat into the water and ran to the Jade Emperor.

He made it as the winner and that is why he is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac calendar. The Ox was second.

The tiger came third because although he was strong and powerful, the currents were a bit too strong for him. The rabbit did very well and came third.

The rabbit was excellent at jumping quickly and nimbly and it jumped from stone to stone across the river.

South America's Amazon River

Then came the dragon. The Emperor was shocked that this mighty creature didn’t win, but he had stopped on the way to bring a village rain and he very kindly helped the rabbit along.

The dragon was fifth and then known to be very kind.

The snake had sneakily hidden on the horse’s hoof. When the horse saw the snake, it was so frightened that it fell backwards and came seventh, with the sneaky little snake coming sixth.

The goat, the monkey and the rooster had worked as a team to get to the other side. They had found a raft. They were named eighth, ninth and tenth.

Five Phases and Four Seasons Calendar

Because of the rat’s antics, the poor cat drowned and, it is said that, to this day, this is why cats hunt rats.

The dog came last because it was having too much fun in the river and did not swim as quickly as it could.

The pig was known to be lazy; it came in last place (twelfth) because it stopped for a bite to eat and a snooze on the way!

Related: Ancient Chinese mythology


Which animal year are you?

Rat: 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020.

Rats are known to be smart, resourceful, adaptable and kind.

Ox: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2012.

Oxen are hardworking, reliable, strong and determined.

Tiger snarling

Tiger: 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Tigers are brave, confident and competitive.

Rabbit: 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2012

Rabbits are quiet and responsible.

Dragon: 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Dragons are confident, smart, enthusiastic and good natured.



Snake: 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Snakes are charismatic (charming), intelligent and wise.

Horse: 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Horses are active and energetic.

Goat: 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Goats are calm and kind to others.

Monkey: 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Monkeys are bright, curious and intelligent.


Rooster: 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Roosters are observant, hardworking and brave.

Dog: 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Dogs are honest and loyal.

Pig: 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031.

Pigs are generous, hardworking and care about others.

Chinese Time


  • Which animal came first in the race to the Jade Emperor?
  • Which animal never made it to the Jade Emperor and lost a place on the zodiac?
  • Where did the snake hide to beat other animals?
  • When did the Chinese calendar start?



  • The rat came first because he rode on the ox’s back and tricked them
  • The cat never made it because he drowned on the way
  • The snake hid on the horse’s hoof
  • The Chinese calendar started during the Han Dynasty

Ancient China