Guònián hǎo or pass the New Year well as they say in China. Today is the passing of the Chinese New Year, so I thought I would pay a tribute to their celebrations.
It’s the year of the Dog, so David DePasquale’s picture of Tiangou is a perfect representation for this post. The legend of the Tiangou are giant black dogs that eat the sun and moon during eclipses. To retrieve the the sun and the moon, you must beat the dogs to ward them off, and they will then spit out the heavenly bodies.
This legend has a strange tale behind it (as most Chinese ones do). Hou Yi was an archer, sometimes deemed as a God who was sent down to help mortals. In Chinese lore, at the start there were 10 suns. Hou Yi saw that the suns were scorching the land making it difficult for things to grow, so he shot down 9 of the suns, leaving 1 so that the world would still have some light and warmth. As a reward for this great deed, Wangu Niang Niang (Queen Mother of the West) gave him a pill that would make him immortal. Hou Yi’s wife, Chang Er, decided that she wanted to take the pill, thinking it would make her youthful for all time. What the pill actually did was make her float up in to the sky. Seeing this Hou Yi’s dog, licked up the remains of the pill and chased after Chang Er. As he ran into the sky he got bigger and bigger, this scared Chang Er, and she hid behind the moon. The dog swallowed the moon and Chang Er. On hearing of this Wangmu captured the dog, she was surprised that it was Hou Yi’s dog and she charged the dog with guarding the gates of heaven. The dog spat out the moon and Chang Er, and they were both placed back in the sky.
In the picture above you can see the dog eating the sun, with no one around to fend it off. It’s a rather beautiful picture, hommaging the woodblock prints of old, but created as a digital art work.
If you aren’t aware, the chinese zodiac is based on a 12 year cycle, unlike the western 12 month cycle. Each year has an animal associated to it, but these can also be split down in to months, days and hours in a complicated way of dealing with horoscopes which quite honestly is too much for me to comprehend, therefore I will just concentrate on the years and how the animals got assigned.
The Jade Emperor called a meeting with 13 animals, the meeting would also be the end of a race and the order that they arrived would be the ordering in which they were assigned to the 12 year cycle. This was to give the people a measure of time and to make it fair so that the animals didn’t argue about who should be first.
The rat and the cat were very poor swimmers, and the race called for the animals to cross a river which had strong undercurrents. Both realised that they could not swim across the river, so they decided to get the ox to help them cross. The ox kindly agreed to assist them, but the rat was greedy and half way across the river, he pushed the cat off of the ox’s back. The cat never made the finish line. As the ox got to the bank of the river, the rat ran ahead, making him the winner and the first animal in the list. The ox followed closely behind. The tiger came in third.
The dragon, who everyone thought would win because he could fly, came in fifth, explaining to the Jade Emperor, that he stopped at a village to bring them rain, and then he saw a poor rabbit in the river clinging to a log so he gave him a little help to get to shore, which is why he was delayed. The Emperor was touched by the dragons generocity.
The rabbit came in fourth, thanks to the help of the dragon. He had been doing well, using stones to jump across the river, until he slipped. Luckily there was a log passing by, which he clung on to, which is where the dragon found him.
The horse was set to come in to sixth place, but just as it galloped towards the finish line, the snake, who had been hiding on its hoof dropped off and slithered to the finish line, making the horse come in seventh.
A little while late, the rooster, the goat and the monkey all came to the Emperor. They had worked together to get there, the rooster had found a raft, and the monkey and the goat worked to get it out of the reeds. The Emperor was pleased with their teamwork, and named the goat the eighth, followed by the monkey and then the rooster.
The dog was the eleventh. Even though he was a great swimmer, he had decided to play in the water for a while.
Just as the Emperor was giving up on a twelfth animal appearing, the pig stumbled towards him. The pig had been on his way, but felt hungary so stopped for some food, then took a nap before finishing the race.
This was the twelve animals. The cat in the story seems to be a late addition, as when the Chinese zodiac had been created, although difficult to find its actual origins, it is thought that the cat had not been introduced in to China at that time, which is the explanation for no cat being in the zodiac. It should also be noted that translation of this story doesn’t quite fall naturally in to english, therefore the goat could also be seen as a ram or a sheep.
For those of you interested in the horoscope side of the story, the animals are split into four trines, which indicate the temperament and personality of people born within those years (they are then contributed to by the split of months, days and hours which it why I said earlier that it got quite complicated).
This consists of the rat, the dragon and the monkey. People born in to these years are thought to be natural leaders. They can have the ability to do great good, but are known to be unpredictable. Other qualities are that they are intelligent, magnanimous, charismatic, charming, authoritative, confident and eloquent, but they can also be jealous, manipulative, aggressive and decitiful.
This is the ox, snake and rooster. People born under these signs are thought to be hardworking, have endurance and application. They build energy slowly, and are meticulous planners. They are said to be intelligent, productive, enthusiastic, modest, loyal and philosophical, but they can also be self-righteous, egotistical, narrow minded and petty.
Tiger, horse and dog fall into this category. They are thought to pursue humanitarian causes (strangely specific), idealistic, independent and impulsive as well as honourable, loyal, dynamic and protective. Their negative points could include being rash, rebellious, argumentative and stubborn.
Rabbit, goat and pig. These guys are said to be artistic, calm and approachable, they seek the aesthetic, are well mannered, caring, self sacrificing, obliging, creative and prudent, yet resigned to their condition. Downside is that they can be naive, pedantic, insecure, selfish, indecisive and pessimistic.
If you want to know what animal you would fall into, you can find out here.
If you want to see more of David DePasquale’s work, you can find it here.
Just in case you wanted to know, I was born in the year of the goat, but I don’t think anyone has ever said I was calm or indecisive…maybe I have a little monkey in me too…
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