Houston Community News >> Chinese New Year Presents Challenge to Stamp Designers

2/4/2008 (Courant.com)-- The Chinese New Year arrives Thursday, bringing another challenge to stamp designers. The lunar years in Asia are named for animals, and the one just ending was the Year of the Pig. Now designers must find more clever ways to create designs picturing attractive-looking rats.

Some people argue that "rat" is too strict an interpretation of the Asian tradition of naming years for animals, and that this can also be considered the Year of the Mouse. A miniature sheet from Taiwan, shown here, illustrates this approach by picturing two mice wearing wedding gowns under a bright red curtain. Various other symbols of the new year decorate the sheet: the Chinese character for spring, and cut-paper patterns of house shrews, known as "money" rodents in Chinese, and flowers. The Chinese word for "flower" sounds the same as the phrase "strike it rich," making this a wish for good fortune in the New Year.

New Zealand, which has a considerable Asian population, continues the theme. Its stamps focus on "pocket pets," pets so small that they can be carried in a pocket. Rabbits, guinea pigs and mice are featured in the designs, along with a rat. New Zealand Post observes, "Many children grew up with pet rats, mice and guinea pigs, so it seemed appropriate to recognize this under the theme of Pocket Pets."
Slovenia, in central Europe, has a pair of "Mice in Love" on its Valentine Day stamp this year, combining traditional celebrations from two cultures.

Nevertheless, most larger Asian countries stayed with the rat for their New Year stamps this year. China, Korea and Japan all used attractive artistic images of rats for their stamps. Japan provided an alternative to stamps picturing rats with a new series featuring calligraphy by various artists representing the character for "rat" or "mouse." Some New Year stamps and postal cards in Japan also carry numbers in the country's annual national lottery, giving those who receive New Year cards a real opportunity to strike it rich in the new year.

(Contributed by courant.com)