The Tale of the Chinese Zodiac

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The Tale of the Chinese Zodiac

An Easy-to-Use Language Arts Play for Elementary School

Grades 1-6
30 minutes
(2 or more Book/CD sets @ $30 each)

In Stock.

Includes script, teacher's guide, and audio CD. The CD has all the songs recorded twice: first with singing, so you and your students can learn the songs, and then without voices so your students can perform without us singing along.

And if you ever have any trouble or questions, you can contact us at any time for help.


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For individual teachers/classes:
Book/CD - $39.95 for 1, $30/ea for 2+
Hint: order 1 for each teacher. (details)

For 3+ teachers or whole schools:
Site License - $75.00
Comes with 3 copies of book/CD plus unlimited photocopying rights (details)
School/site name:

Musical extras:
Vocal Score - $9.95 (details)
Extra/Replacement CD - $9.95

Or order by phone, fax or PO

This fun multicultural folk tale reveals how twelve special animals got their places in the Chinese zodiac. It's long ago in ancient China and the Jade Emperor has a great idea: he'll set up a race across the river, and the first twelve animals to cross the finish line will represent the years in the Chinese zodiac. Will the Dog and the Pig ever make it across? Why is the Horse so annoyed at the Snake? How did the Rabbit arrive before the Dragon? Can the Rat really be the winner? And why is the Cat all wet?

The Tale of the Chinese Zodiac is a great complement to your curriculum resources in elementary school language arts. Students will act out the folk origins of the Chinese zodiac as they learn some light curriculum about Chinese culture and contributions. And, like all of our plays, this show can be used to improve reading, vocabulary, reading comprehension, performance and music skills, class camaraderie and teamwork, and numerous social skills (read about it!) -- all while enabling students to be part of a truly fun and creative experience they will never forget!

Key Concepts

  • The Zodiac: what it is, what animals are in it and why
  • Animal symbolism (e.g. significance of the dragon, pig, dog, snake, rat, panda, tiger, etc.)
  • The Jade Emperor and his Guardian Lions
  • Topography: Yellow River (and the Hung-He Valley), China Sea, Yellow Sea, Himalayan Mountains, Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts
  • The Seven Necessities of Life: rice, tea, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, firewood
  • Yin and yang
  • Confucius
  • The Great Wall
  • Chinese inventions and discoveries: crossbow, horse harness, paper money, wallpaper, pasta, tofu, tea, ink, compass, kite, silk, porcelain, paper, wheelbarrow, collapsible umbrella, bristle toothbrush, moveable type, ice cream, rice cooking, fishing reel, gunpowder
Author: John Heath (Book and Lyrics) and Mike Fishell (Composer)
ISBN: 978-1-886588-55-4
© 2012 Bad Wolf Press, LLC

"Our 2nd graders just did The Tale of the Chinese Zodiac. It's a wonderful play -- my new favorite! We collaborated with 6th grade, who did a wonderful historical presentation on China for the whole school. We did 4 performances and the superintendent of our district and several other district administrators and board members came too. Everyone loved it but most importantly the kids had a blast!

"This will be my 7th year of Bad Wolf plays. They're super easy to put on, the kids have a blast, and the parents and families of the students are so excited to see their children performing. It's the best part of the school year for me! Thanks for writing such great plays!"

---Nancy Hopkins, Teacher (2nd grade), Fremont Elementary, Riverside, CA

This is the first third of the script.

RATS (3)

and a CHORUS composed of all students who are not playing roles on stage at the time.

(CLASS enters and fills the back of the stage or room. The EMPEROR and TWO GUARDIAN LIONS step forward, one on each side of the EMPEROR.)

LION #1 (shouts): Make way for the Jade Emperor!

LION #2 (shouts to audience): Everybody bow!

EMPEROR: No, no. They don't need to bow. We're all friends here.

LION #2: Then...everybody throw money!

EMPEROR: Don't be silly. That's not a Chinese custom.

LION #2: I know.
(pointing to audience)
But THEY might not know that.

EMPEROR (to audience): I am the Jade Emperor. These are my Guardian Lions. They have come with me today to hear the news.

LION #2: There's news?

LION #1: About the race!

LION #2: There was a RACE?

LION #1: Didn't you get the memo?

LION #2: There was a MEMO? Wait. How could there be a memo? We haven't invented writing yet.

EMPEROR: You are right. This is very ancient China, long before the Shang Dynasty, when Chinese civilization began in the Huang-He Valley. So long ago that people ate with just one chopstick! I summoned all the animals to a race across the Yellow River. The winners will be announced today!

Song 1 - Listen to a sample now!

EMPEROR and LIONS: Let me tell you what I've done
CHORUS: Oh please tell us what you've done
EMPEROR and LIONS: Let me tell you 'bout the fun
CHORUS: The Emperor is number one!
EMPEROR and LIONS: I set up a contest
EMPEROR and LIONS: A little river race
CHORUS: Oh boy!
EMPEROR and LIONS: I had all the Chinese animals competing
for first place.

EMPEROR and LIONS: Let me tell you 'bout the prize
CHORUS: Oh please tell us 'bout the prize
EMPEROR and LIONS: It'll open up your eyes.
CHORUS: Oh I just love a good surprise.
EMPEROR and LIONS: There's no silly trophy
EMPEROR and LIONS: We have no silly plaque
CHORUS: No plaque!
EMPEROR and LIONS: The first twelve to finish get to be the
Chinese zodiac.
CHORUS: The what?
EMPEROR and LIONS: The Chinese zodiac.

(VARIOUS members of CHORUS look
around -- they act puzzled and surprised,
and they can ask "What?" and "Did you
hear that?" etc.)

Everybody's buzzin'
Who'll be the winning dozen?
Twelve years in a cycle in the Chinese zodiac
Every year will feature
A different winning creature
The names will all derive
From the order they arrive.

EMPEROR and LIONS: Now let's see who came in first
CHORUS: Yeah let's see who came in first
EMPEROR and LIONS: And we'll see who was the worst.
CHORUS: Oh boy I'd hate to be the worst.
EMPEROR and LIONS: Did the dragon win it?
CHORUS: Ooooh.
EMPEROR and LIONS: And what about the yak?
CHORUS: Go yak!
EMPEROR AND LIONS: Let's find out the final order of the
Chinese zodiac.
CHORUS: That's right!
EMPEROR, LIONS and CHORUS: Let's find out the final order
of the Chinese zodiac.

(SONG ends; EMPEROR addresses the audience)

EMPEROR: The race has just finished, and it is time to learn the results.

LION #1: So who won?

EMPEROR: Patience, my noble companion. We must wait for the official announcement.

LION #2 (excited): You mean...?


LION #2 (very excited): Oh boy!


(EMPEROR and LIONS exit. Immediately the TORTOISE,

CRANE (to audience, speaking with the energy and enthusiasm of a host): That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to The Great Race Awards Show, or as we like to call it, Wet Animals Tell All. I'm your host, the Crane, and these are my co-hosts, Tortoise and Grasshopper.

TORTOISE: Thanks, Crane. I'm known for my longevity -- I've spent years getting to know the contestants up close and personal. The Crane here is also known for his longevity, and he's the prince of feathered birds. He's also great at lifting heavy objects.
Get it? Crane? Heavy objects?
(taps microphone)
Is this thing on?

CRANE (moving on, now pointing to GRASSHOPPER): And Grasshopper is here because he's a symbol of good luck. And there's something else. What is it you do, Grasshopper?

GRASSHOPPER (speaks reflectively, holding one hand up in air. GRASSHOPPER's lines, when in quotations, are from Confucius and should be spoken as if containing the wisdom of the world.): "The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions."

CRANE: That's right! You utter folksy wisdom completely out of context. Now I remember. But this is The Great Race Awards Show, so let's get to the results.

TORTOISE: Excellent! And the winner is...

CRANE (interrupting): Wait! You can't just announce the winner. The first twelve to cross the river will become the animals in the Chinese Zodiac. And the winner gets to be the first symbol -- it's a HUGE honor!

TORTOISE: Sorry. I just get so excited. I guess we should start with number twelve.

GRASSHOPPER: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

CRANE (reflects): That's great, Grasshopper. Makes ya think.
(High level of energy again, steps in front of
GRASSHOPPER towards audience)
And while you're thinking, let's bring out the winners and some of their supporters. Here they twelfth place, the Pig, and in eleventh place, the Dog!

(CHORUS applauds. PIGS and DOGS enter.)

TORTOISE: Whoa! You guys are really good swimmers. I thought you would do a little better.

PIG FRIEND (pointing to PIG): He got off to a good start.

PIG: Yeah -- I think I was ahead for the first three seconds. Then I smelled soy sauce.

DOG: I don't know what happened to me. I figured I'd win for sure.

DOG FRIEND: Maybe it was a lack of concentration...
(spins head quickly to look at side of stage and stops in mid-
word; now really excited)
...Hey, did someone throw a stick?

DOG (excited): Stick?!


BOTH DOGS (quickly, not together, looking all around excitedly): Stick! Stick stick! Stick!

TORTOISE: I think I see the problem.

Song 2 - Listen to a sample now!

PIGS (stepping up and facing audience):
The race begins
I take one step
And that's when I run out of pep.
Postpone that zodiac
I really need a snack.

DOGS (having settled down):
The race begins
I jump right in
I'm thinking I will probably win.
But first I need to stretch
How 'bout a game of fetch?

If you asked us how we spent the day
Well we'd have to say...

We're chillin'
Yeah we're chillin'
Our minds say go but our four feet aren't willin'
We're chillin'
Something's grillin'
A small delay
But that's okay
We're chillin'.

My stomach full
With tea and rice
The river mud feels warm and nice.
Now all my strength is sapped
I really need a nap.
It's time to go
I must be quick
But I just can't resist that stick.
I ought to swim across
But maybe one more toss?

If you asked us how we spent the day
Well we'd have to say...

We're chillin'
Yeah we're chillin'
Our minds say go but our four feet aren't willin'
We're chillin'
Something's grillin'
A small delay
But that's okay
We're chillin'
Yeah we're chillin'
Yeah we're chillin'.

(THEY exit.)

CRANE: Well, there you have it -- the last two animals in the Chinese zodiac.

GRASSHOPPER: "Never give a sword to a man who can't dance."

CRANE: Hmmn. That sounds like solid advice, Grasshopper. It will certainly change my gift-giving habits.
(to audience)
Now let's keep the awards flowing. Who's up next, Tortoise?

TORTOISE: Tenth, ninth, and eighth place go to three animals who floated across the river together. And here they are, that terrific trio, that thrilling threesome, the triumphant triplets -- and my personal vote for animals least likely to end up on a raft together -- the Rooster, the Monkey, and the Goat!


CRANE: Congratulations!

MONKEY: For what?

CRANE: For making it into the Chinese zodiac.

MONKEY: We did? That's great! That's fantastic!
What's the Chinese zodiac?

GOAT (apparently appalled): What's the Chinese zodiac? You don't know what the Chinese zodiac is?

MONKEY: No. What is it?

GOAT: I have no idea. I thought we were just trying to cross the river to get to the other side.

MONKEY: That was the chicken.

ROOSTER: The Chinese zodiac is a system based on the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar. Each year in the cycle is related to an animal and its attributes. The Pig, for example, is honest, sturdy, and patient. And the Dog is loyal, fair, and compassionate.

MONKEY: So we all have to be up in the sky now? I get air-sick. Somebody should have told me.

ROOSTER: No. Unlike in some other cultures, the Chinese zodiac has nothing to do with the stars or constellations.

TORTOISE: You should all be proud of working together to get across the river. Why didn't you just go separately?

GOAT: That was easy...

MONKEY, ROOSTER, GOAT: We can't swim!

This concludes the first third of the script.

Sample Songs

Click on the song name to hear samples. Please note that internet song samples have low fidelity and rest assured that the CDs we sell sound much better! (This player requires Flash. If you have any trouble hearing the samples, just contact us for help.)

Full Song List

1. Chinese Zodiac
2. Chillin'
3. Rooster, Monkey, and Goat
4. It's a Snake
5. Thank You, Dragon
6. Bamboo
7. He Can Do It
8. It's the Rat
9. Twelve Cheers

Common Core and Other National Standards

Language Arts

History/Social Studies

Fine Arts

  • National Music Standards 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8 for K-4th
  • National Theater Standards 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 for K-4th
  • National Dance Standards 1 and 2 for K-4th


plaque longevity exceed folksy context pep
sapped concentration triumphant compassionate lunar constellation
tether slither agile rimshot harmony horde
benevolent flagging lagging salvation belch exhausted
perspective frustrated errand outrage brew draper
vow personality pterodactyl peers remote shrewd
pack (of animals)          


assume the duties get the memo it's lost on me to cast (fishing) out of context run out of pep
things turned ugly game of fetch talk some smack a piece of cake learn to let go lose your touch
everybody's buzzing keep things in perspective register a complaint

Performance Photos

Performance Photos from Bad Wolf Press