Chinese are accustomed to using idioms to usher in good fortune for the New Year, but have to resort to the mimetic phrase "wang wang" of a dog's barking to wish for prosperity over the coming months.
The Chinese Spring Festival of the "Year of the Dog" is coming, falling on Jan. 29. Puppies' images captioned with "wang wang" can be seen on the posters, greeting cards and toys everywhere. The barking of dog is "woof-woof" in English and "wang wang" in Chinese. The character "wang" is the homonym to another Chinese character meaning wealth and prosperity.
Many idioms and proverbs can be chosen relating to most of the 12 animals. For example this year has been the "Year of the Rooster" so the phrase "golden roosters heralding the daybreak" can be used. Dogs are famed for their loyalty and honesty in Chinese culture.
According to the lunar calendar based on the cycles of the moon, the coming Lunar New Year will be the Year of "Bin Xu" or the "Year of the Dog". "Bin" is one of the ten Heavenly Stems and "Xu" is one of the 12 Earthly Branches. Chinese use Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches as two sets of signs with one being taken from each set to form 60 pairs designating years, months and days with 12 years as one cycle.
Twelve animals are chosen to represent 12 years. The dog is the 11th in the sequence that starts with the rat, followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
It is said that 12 animals are selected and sequenced according to their everyday habits and characteristics. When "Xu" of the Earthly Branches represents the time of a day, it refers to 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and it is the period when ancient Chinese prepared to go to bed and dogs took their responsibility as watchers guarding the gates to courtyards for their owners. Thus "faithful dog" was chosen to represent "Xu".
"In China's primitive ages, dogs were regarded as intelligent animals," Wu Bingan, a professor of Folklore, said. "In the mythology of Han Nationality, the dog is revered as one of the 28 constellations in the Heavenly Palace."
Among the ethnic minorities located in southwest China, dogs are even treated as their creators or ancestors. A fairy tale of Yao Nationality said, "The Nanyue King was captured by his enemy so the King's mother promised to marry the King's daughter to anyone who could save the King. It was the dog named 'Panhu', raised by the Nanyue King, that saved the King in the end. Later, 'Panhu' married the King's daughter and their descendants are the Yao Nationality."
Nowadays, dogs in China make their contribution to pushing forward China's economic development, which is the core task of China at this current stage.
The number of dogs registered as pets has exceeded 400,000 in Beijing, including those that have not been registered, the total number is thought to be over 1 million. Experts predicted that the annual sales of pet-related products in the country might exceed 6 million yuan (741,000 U.S. dollars) in 2006.
A glance at well-preened dogs walking on the streets or gardens by their owners can prove dogs are pampered by their owners as the favorite pet during this "pet craze" in better-off Chinese cities.
The dog is thought to be loyal, reliable, persistent, resourceful, unselfish and honest. "Dogs are often portrayed in modern Chinese novels and movies as heroes for their loyalty and honesty," Zhai Yunduan, a professor with the Liaoning Normal University, said.
People born in the "Year of the Dog" are also considered to have similar merits. Thus many wannabe parents prepare to have their babies in the "Year of the Dog". "My wife and I both love puppies, which are lovely, cute and loyal," Ao Tian, a fashion chain store owner, said, who will greet his baby in October 2006.
Meanwhile, in the coming "Year of the Dog", the lunar cycle begins relatively early and will last for 385 days until Feb. 17, 2007 -- a phenomenon that has occurred only 12 times in more than 2,300 years between 221 B.C. and 2100. The last 385-day lunar year was 1944.
As the year is unusually long, it will have 13 months, with an intercalary month between the seventh and eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, as well as two "lichun" on Feb. 4 of 2006 and 2007 respectively - the auspicious day marks the beginning of spring.