Year of the Rat, Symbolic of Wealth and Prosperity

Manila Bulletin, January 31, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Year of the Rat, Symbolic of Wealth and Prosperity

The first day of the new lunar year falls on February 7, 2008 in the Western calendar.

On this special day, Chinese around the globe will celebrate by setting off firecrackers and holding sumptuous family feasts. It is the Year of the Rat, a time symbolic of wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture.

Twelve animals that feature prominently in Chinese culture have been adopted to represent the different lunar years, making reference to each year easier. The legendary origin of the system can be traced back through the centuries, when Buddha summoned all the animals of the world to gather around him.

The 12 animals that gathered first include, in order of their arrival, the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Today these animals form the Chinese zodiac, constituting the cyclical order of the lunar years.


Chinese people believe that each animal infuses its characteristics into the year that bears its name. Based on this, the Year of the Rat will be a year of happiness, hope and good fortune, three traits Rat is symbolic of in Chinese culture.

As the Rat is positioned first on the list of the 12 animals, people will get things done expediently and achieve personal goals.

But there is another reason for optimism this year. The lunar calendar is based on a duodecimal system under which the hours, days, months and years are counted off according to the "Ten Heavenly Stems" and "Twelve Earthly Branches." This year marks a return to the start of the 12-year lunar cycle.

The first designation in the Twelve Earthly Branches system is called "tzu". Therefore, the Year of the Rat is also called the tzu year, which is seen as a prosperous time. This is because the word tzu means "son" in the Chinese language, and because the rodent is known as an animal that produces a large number of offspring.

Moreover, an ancient Chinese belief has it that wealth comes to a family when a species of rodent, called the "chien mouse," appears in a family's house. In the Chinese language, the written character "chien" also means "money." According to Chinese folklore, people born in the year of a certain animal are thought to possess the special traits of that animal. For this reason, people born during the Year of the Rat are seen as clever, lively and optimistic. They are said to have a strong ability to adapt to new surroundings and to find happiness in any situation.

In Chinese literature, the Rat is sometimes symbolic of greed or cowardice. The following excerpt from the song "Wei Feng," which appears in the Book of Odes, describes the people's discontent with living under an oppressive government that levies harsh taxes: "Big rat, please don't eat my millet grain/Please don't eat my wheat/Please don't eat my rice seedlings/I have been feeding you for three years."


Although ancient Chinese authors often gnashed their teeth at the rat, this rodent has actually contributed in a positive way to the development of Chinese writing as an art form. Wang Hischih, who is regarded as the greatest calligrapher in Chinese history, used brushes made of rat whiskers to create his masterworks.

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