Inside the Collection

Happy Lunar New Year, Year of the Snake

Photograph Chinese Charm Longevity
N7958 Charm, China. Longevity (CI) (Ping Sing Collection 32) This Chinese charm shows the twelve zodiac animals and their Chinese characters. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Lunar New Year is the most significant annual celebration for Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures. Today (10th of February 2013) is the Lunar New Year better known as Chinese New Year, and begins ‘The Year of Black Snake’. If you are born in 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1980 or 2001 then it is your year!

Have you ever wondered how Chinese New Year is worked out?

The Chinese calendar is based on an ancient Chinese philosophy and features a cyclical dating method that repeats every 60 years.

The calendar consists of 12 earthly branches (12 zodiacs) and ten heavenly stems (five positive (yang) and five negative (ying) phases. As the calendar moves through its yearly cycle, the specific Zodiac is affected by one of the 5 phases. (12 x 5= 60)

The 12 earthly branches are represented on the coin by 12 different animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each animal symbolises certain traits and characteristics for the year.
The Five Phases include metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. Water is represented by black and has the ying (female, negative) force.

This year is the 6th year of the 12 zodiacs and is represented by the snake. It’s also represented by water amongst the Five Phases. Actually, if you are born in 1953, then it’s truly your year, as it matches the 60 year full cycle of the Chinese calendar. This is very auspicious, as it only happens to people once in their lifetime. This year is called ‘The Year of Black Snake’ because the year is represented by water amongst the five phases in Chinese philosophy and water can be represented as black.

In the Chinese calendar, the other snake years are the Fire Snake (1917 and 1977), Earth Snake (1929 and 1989), Metal Snake (1941 and 2001) and Wood Snake (1965).

Photograph dress accessory, wooden snake
92/539 Dress accessory, toggle, snake, wood, maker unknown, China, c. 1700-1940. Chinese belt toggles called ‘zhuizi’ are small carved ornaments used as counterweights on the cords of small bags usually hung on belts. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

According to the ancient Chinese, some of the characteristics of a Snake person are intelligence, intuition and introspection. They are also graceful, exciting and refined. They are calm, attractive people who are contemplative, private and not outwardly emotional. The Snake person will plan to make certain things turn out exactly the way they want them to.

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