This year the Chinese New Year falls on 5 February.

Traditionally, the Chinese go by the lunar calendar. The first day of the year in the lunar calendar is called the Spring Festival 春节 in China, or the Chinese New Year. It is the year’s main traditional festival and followed by several days’ holiday.

Since ancient times, a Chinese zodiac has existed assigning each year in a cycle to one of twelve animals. The first in the cycle is the rat/mouse, and the last the pig. Tradition has various reasons why the pig is last. One is that the mythical Jade Emperor invited all the animals to a party, but being lazy and fat the pig overslept and arrived last.

Since the pig is last and the rat first, the rat will begin the next cycle and thus follow the pig. Some women plan their babies to be born in the last period of the pig year in preference to the first of the rat: they reckon it’s better to be born in the year of the pig than of the rat.

In Chinese culture, the pig is the symbol of wealth. So let’s hope 2019 is a prosperous year for all of us and that economic growth is fast.

It’s also a symbol of family stability. The character for home 家 has a pig under a roof, making a pig in one’s house the very essence of the family in the ancient rural culture. And very recently another pig has become very popular, especially among young people. That’s Peppa Pig. Foreign she may be, in a context where in some ways the Chinese government is against foreign culture and ideas, but I’ve been surprised at how well my Chinese friends respond to her.

Pigs have a nice personality and enjoy prosperity. But they can be lazy and eat too much, so they might be fat and put a lot of emphasis on material things. Pigs are classified as yin, as opposed to yang. In traditional Chinese culture, Yin means dark, passive, female, belonging to the moon etc., as opposed to Yang, which symbolizes bright, active, male, belonging to the sun, etc.

One of the things about the zodiac is that fortune-tellers can take a horoscope and say who is most appropriate to marry. I claim no expertise in this area, but add that there are formulae over whether people born in the year of the pig can mix with those born in the year of various animals. Sometimes a tiger may be able to protect a pig, making somebody born in the year of the tiger a good match with one born in the year of the pig. It’s a very nice interpretation, sidestepping the possibility that the tiger might eat the pig, but has its own logic.

Chinese philosophy also gives five elements an important place. These are metal, water, wood, fire and earth.

Various characteristics are given to people born in the year of the pig. But these may vary according to which of the five elements applies. In the case of 2019, that is earth, so 5 February begins a pig-earth year. Because there are twelve animals and five elements, the pig-earth year comes once in 60 years, the last one before now being 1959.

People born in the pig-earth year have a lot of friends in all walks of life. They are prosperous and fortunate and can find happiness. Their successes will come mainly later in life. They are often not very romantic.

So the expectations are that 2019 will be a fat and prosperous year, just like a well-fed pig. Actually, I’m not very sure about it, because the signs don’t look that good to me for the world as a whole. But for individuals, why not wish for happiness, prosperity and success? That’s what I hope will come to all readers.

Happy New Pig-earth Year to all!!

AUTHOR
Colin Mackerras AO FAHA is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Business Strategy and Innovation and the Griffith Asia Institute.