Interview: 12-animal Zodiac, three-rabbit symbol show Chinese cultural impact in Iranian history via Silk Road: historian

(Xinhua) 10:30, January 20, 2023

Kourosh Salehi, a historian and international affairs expert at the International University of Islamic Denominations, observes a coin with the rabbit symbol in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 17, 2023.(Xinhua/Gao Wencheng)

TEHRAN, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- The ancient Silk Road led to cultural exchanges between China and Iran, leaving visible marks on today's Iranian cultural tradition, one of which being the 12-animal Zodiac, an Iranian historian told Xinhua in an interview ahead of the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year, or Year of the Rabbit.

China will welcome the Year of the Rabbit on Jan. 22 according to its lunar calendar. In the Chinese calendar and zodiac, the rabbit is the fourth in the 12-year cycle of animals.

"Like in China, the upcoming new year in Iran, which will begin on March 22, is also the Year of the Rabbit," said Kourosh Salehi, a historian and international affairs expert at the International University of Islamic Denominations.

"What's interesting is that throughout the evolution process and history, the animals' concept has entered Iran's culture from China and East Asia," Salehi said.

"Iranians, in addition to naming and enumerating the years based on their ordinal numbers according to the Solar Hijri calendar, still say what animal each year represents," he said.

Salehi believed that China's cultural impact on Iran is also reflected in the three-hare (or three-rabbit) symbol found on different artifacts.

The circular motif is very well known and appears on paintings and pictures either carved on coins, trays and metal objects or painted on clay dishes and tiles. It has been found in many parts of the world, including East Asia and the Middle East. In Iran, a tray of the Middle Ages was found with such symbol.

Salehi said that the carved three-rabbit symbol found in Iran perfectly conforms to the ones seen on samples discovered in China in the ancient era, showing the Chinese cultural impact on Iranian culture during the Ilkhanate dynasty (1256-1353).

At that time, the rabbit symbol, as reflected on some metal artifacts and coins found in Iran, was believed to be brought to Iran by Chinese artists and painters, said Salehi.

Commenting on other objects found in Iran featuring more or less the same rabbit-based symbol, Salehi said that there are two very interesting coins with the symbol in his personal collection.

According to the graphological analysis of the coins and the design of frames around the rabbits, he said that it can be assumed that the artifacts date back to the Ilkhanate era. In the Iranian culture, the topic of rabbit was often mentioned in Iran's ancient, religious and mythological narratives.

Among the distinctive features of the three-rabbit symbols in all the artifacts found in Iran so far is that the rabbits are pictured at the center of a round object chasing each other in a circle, which probably implies the continuation of the circle of life, fertility and death.

From the point of view of semiotics and mythology, Salehi said the rabbit symbolizes fertility, instability, swiftness, cleverness and social life.

A coin with the rabbit symbol is pictured in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 17, 2023.(Xinhua/Gao Wencheng)

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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