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The Year of the Monkey
Swashbuckling Tail
2016 being the Year of the Monkey, get in touch with the inner animal in you
By Zheng Yang | ChinAfrica VOL. 8 FEBRUARY 2016

 Mascots on sale for the Year of the Monkey

...1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016...

If you were born in one of the years listed above, it’s time for you to get ready to take on one of the most important years in your life. And keep in mind that you are a "monkey," in case your Chinese friends ask about your shuxiang .

The animal sign of 2016 is the monkey, according to shuxiang , a cyclical Chinese zodiac system in which 12 animals represent 12 consecutive years. It was the traditional way in ancient China to count the years and record a person’s age. If you knew a person’s approximate age and his shuxiang  animal, you could easily calculate his birth year and exact age. Although the Gregorian calendar is now widely used in China, shuxiang  is still popular and of great significance in Chinese people’s life.

If you were born in any year of the monkey, 2016 is one of your benmingnian , the year occurring every 12 years and considered a milestone in people’s life.

Like the horoscope, the shuxiang  system indicates that people born in the year of the same animal sign tend to share similar traits in their personality. The monkey people are said to be intelligent and full of curiosity. They are often inventors, entertainers and creative geniuses. With their quick wit, they are very good at solving problems.

There is a legend about the 12 shuxiang  animals. A Chinese god is said to have asked all animals to pay him a visit on New Year’s Day, promising that the first dozen arrivals would be given the title "king of the animal world." The first 12 who won the title are the ones we have in the shuxiang : the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

The monkey ranks ninth in the Chinese zodiac. An interesting explanation for the monkey’s failure in getting a front position is that he felt ashamed of his red behind during the race when the other animals teased him. So he was busy trying to cover it and fell behind.

 Golden Monkeys

The Chinese love monkeys because the animal is perceived as smart, naughty, and sometimes, powerful. They often appear in Chinese fiction. The most famous monkey character is Sun Wukong, known as the Monkey King, hero of the classic Journey to the West written in the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is the story of the Monkey King’s adventurous pilgrimage to India with his master when they undergo numerous hardships and dangers.

On the way to the west, the Monkey King is able to conquer all evils because he has magic powers - he has mastered the 72 methods of transformation and can cover 54,000 km in one somersault. His loyalty and mischievousness have made the Monkey King one of the most beloved characters in the history of Chinese literature.

The Monkey King is also the hero of every kid’s dream. The most important Chinese animation film in the 20th century - Havoc  in Heaven produced in the 1960s - is based on the story of the Monkey King. The Queen of Heaven held a banquet but didn’t invite the Monkey King. Outraged by the exclusion, the Monkey King wreaked havoc in heaven before returning to his mountain home. The Jade Emperor ordered his soldiers to catch the Monkey King, triggering a fight between the rebel and soldiers.

This plot was adapted into a classic combat drama in Peking Opera with the same name and featuring a lot of martial arts. As the Chinese consider the monkey to be agile and vigorous, there is even a series of Chinese kungfu  moves called "monkey fist" imitating monkey gestures.

The Year of the Monkey would be the perfect time to learn about a rare and precious animal that is peculiar to China - the Golden or Snub-nosed Monkey, which has golden fur, a flat nose and a tail that is longer than its body. Most of the species can be found in Sichuan, Shaanxi, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces.

The monkey is especially loved in China because its homonym "hou"  means "high official" in Chinese. In 2016, you will see a lot of images of the monkey riding a horse because the homophone of the phenomenon in Chinese means "a quick promotion." Buying yourself that stuffed toy would be both a cheerful and popular way to celebrate the Chinese New Year as well as getting a lucky charm for a quick promotion in 2016. A monkey standing on another’s shoulder is also popular as it indicates "being prosperous for generations".

Another thing to do during the Spring Festival - the Chinese New Year - is to dress in red, which is an important way to show your enjoyment. And for those born in the Year of the Monkey especially, a red belt, according to old customs, is a must-have in their benmingnian , which will help them have a smooth and steady year.

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