The Year of the Rat

The “year of the rat” is everywhere around us… to my great surprise.

Or maybe I should say “the year of the mouse”, as I read in a China Daily newspaper article (sounds “friendlier”, no?).

Here are the words in mandarin:

鼠=shǔ=( n. )rat / mouse
老鼠=lǎo shǔ=( n. )rat
耗子=hào zi=( n. )rat / mouse

In any case, the “year of the rat” is everywhere around us… to my great surprise. The phenomenon is probably nothing different than any other year, but it is definitely something new and surprising for me, living the experience of my first Chinese New Year.

Of course, I have known about the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. I knew that people’s zodiac sign depends on the year they are born (based on the Chinese lunar calendar of course).

And the coming year, starting February 7th, is the “Year of the rat”. What I did not know about is how present these signs are in people’s lives.

A lot of products are designed and purchased with the illustration of the zodiac sign of the year.

Places are decorated with these illustrations, like these paper illustrations hanging in hallways and at registration desks in Xiamen airport… hundreds of them (photo above)!

Many articles are written. China Daily had a fascinating full-page article on the subject a week ago.

It explains that the rat/mouse is the first of the 12 zodiac animals in the cycle of 12 years (for the fascinating story of how the rat came first, read Mark and Tina’s blog post on the Year of Wu Zi).

The China Daily article also describes the 4000-year old emotional attachment Chinese people have to the animal.

Images of the rat first appeared on bronze ware in the Shang and Zhou dynasties (4000 years ago) and then in the Han, Sui, Tang, Ming, and finally Qing Dynasty (1346-1911).

It also mentions how ancient Chinese actually had a love-hate attitude toward the rat, depicted in history as mean, greedy, and disgusting, but also worshipped for its unusual reproductive capabilities.

Images of mice or rats in households were a symbol of fertility and prosperity – even though people also feared them, as the rodents damage houses, spread diseases, and spoil food.

Well, the rat is still the symbol of fortune and prosperity, and everyone, and even the US Treasury, is trying to cash in on the Chinese craze for “luck and prosperity”! The US Treasury has in fact issued some $1 and $2 notes with serial numbers that start with the lucky 8888 number to welcome the Year of the Rat.

Even Hong-Kong Disneyland has designed the Chinese character for fortune (fu) in the shape of a little Mickey Mouse!

Actually, Hong-Kong Disneyland is trying hard to capitalize on the Year of the “Mouse”. After all, its famous hero Mickey Mouse is… a mouse!

Hong-Kong Disneyland has not been as successful as anticipated in the past few years, and the park is hoping to connect Chinese culture to Disney for better success this year and is launching a major promotional campaign of the park and its famous mascot.

If the rat is the symbol of fortune, it is also the symbol of leadership. The rat is indeed seen as a natural leader, hard-working, ambitious and energetic. Rats this year will be the kings of the world!

So, what can we expect for the Year of the Rat? “a seemingly quiet year on the surface, but full of tensions underneath” (says Raymong Lo, a feng shui master who has predicted the fall of Gorbatchev in 1991 and the Nasdaq crisis in 2000).

And who will be the next president of the US?… John McCain whose Chinese zodiac sign is… the rat! … interesting!

Some of the anecdotes in this posting come from 3 postings of China Books Blog and one posting from Tout sur la Chine (in French) on the Year of the Rat.

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