Chinese New Year, on February 16, marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog and will end on February 4, 2019, when the Year of the Pig begins. The twelve-year cycle used in Southeast Asia and referred to as the “Chinese zodiac” associates each year with real and mythological animals.
There are many variations to the myth of which animals made it into the Zodiac and in what order. Some say the Jade Emperor, ruler of all gods, hosted a race of animals on his birthday. There could only be twelve winners and in order to win, the animals had to cross a swift river to reach the finish line.
Originally, the Cat and the Rat, who were also the worst swimmers, were best friends. Together, they planned to ride the Ox across the river together, knowing the Ox was used to crossing the water and would probably finish first. The generous Ox agreed to carry both. However, the Rat was so eager to win that he pushed the Cat into the river. The Cat never forgave the Rat for losing his opportunity to win the race and that is why cats hate water and hunt rats every time they get a chance! In addition, when the Ox and Rat arrived on shore, the Rat jumped in front thus becoming the first animal of the zodiac.
Though he was a great swimmer, the Dog arrived late. The reason he claimed the eleventh place in the race, he told the Emperor, was that he had not bathed for some time and, because the sun had heated the water, he spent a great deal of time enjoying his bath in the warm waters.
The respect for dogs is perhaps most obvious in the myths of some of China’s ethnic groups. For instance, the Southern Yao and She minorities worship a dog called Panhu. According to one of the myths, Panhu was a dog who belonged to the Emperor Ku, who slew an enemy army general. Marriage to the emperor’s daughter, whom he carried to the southern China mountains, was the dog’s reward. Panhu, often referred to as King Pan, is the reason the Yao and She minorities forbid the eating of dog meat.
Although the dog was revered in ancient Chinese society, it did have some negative associations attached. It was believed that solar and lunar eclipses were caused by a hungry flying black dog called Tiangou (Heavenly Dog), trying to devour the sun or moon. During those times, the people would beat drums, ring gongs and use firecrackers to make a lot of noise to scare him away. Luckily, Tiangou spit the sun/moon out when his arch-enemy Zhang Xian, the Chinese god of childbirth and a great archer, fired his arrows at him.
People born in the Year of the Dog are usually honest, loyal, trustworthy, kind, and friendly, qualities often associated with dogs. They are protective, generous in their love and have a strong sense of justice. They are also intuitive, a good judge of character, and are able to figure out human nature almost instantly. Like the animal itself, they are homebodies who care deeply for their families above all else. However, the year of one’s zodiac sign is traditionally the most unlucky year with trouble and danger lurking at every corner. For those that are interested, the Years of the Dog include 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, etc. There are many internet sites referencing this year’s Chinese New Year. One with a wealth of information is https://chinesenewyear2018.com/
The general belief is that dog is man’s friend who not only understands the human spirit, but also obeys its master, whether he is wealthy or not. A Chinese saying highlighting the faithfulness of the dog translated is ‘a dog would not mind if its master is poor, a son would not mind if his mother is ugly.’ Dogs symbolize good luck to the Chinese. For example, if a stray dog approaches a home, it means that good fortune is coming to the family. Again, in ancient China, people would predict good or bad luck according to the amount of times a dog barked a warning when intruders were near.
In closing, the greeting most frequently heard during this time actually is bestowing the wish that your recipient becomes wealthy in the year ahead. It is Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin), pronounced gong she fa tsai, or Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese). Gong Xi is congratulations or respectfully wishing one joy. Fa Cai is to become rich or to make money. Thus, Gong Xi Fa Cai means wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year. But it is better to say “Happy Chinese New Year” to strangers or acquaintances using xin nian (new year) kuai le (happy) in Mandarin, pronounced shin nee-an kwai le (as in the French le). For friends and family use a shorted version, which is xin nian (new year) hao (good), which is pronounced shin nee-an how.
Ronnie Casey is vice president of PETS — Providing Essentials for Tehama Shelter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about PETS, visit petstehama.org.