x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A Chinese bunny

The Year of the Rabbit rings in across the world, demonstrating China's pervasive and sometimes quirky influence.

At Siam Ocean World Bangkok, revellers will ring in the Lunar New Year this week with an underwater lion dance and blessings from "smiley man". In Vancouver, moon cakes and red envelopes will be eaten and opened, in that order. And in a pet market in the Chinese city of Xi'an, bunnies are in such demand that one vendor says he can't keep up.

An estimated 230 million Chinese will be on the move this week in celebration of the Year of the Rabbit, the lunar year which begins tomorrow. Displays of revelry, from the quirky to the patriotic, will honour the next phase of the Sheng Xiao, or Chinese Zodiac. Out with the rebellious Tiger, in with the gracious, soft-spoken Rabbit.

With all the bizarre approaches to celebrating China's moon phases it might be easy to overlook the perseverance of the counting device itself. The Chinese calendar is one of the world's oldest, dating to roughly 500 BC. The Hijri calendar dates to 638 AD. The Gregorian calendar wasn't adopted in parts of Europe until the late 1500s.

No matter how old the markers, of course, animals don't control a country's destiny any more than the days of the week. But that won't stop China's rabbit lovers from offering their own predictions as this year bleeds into next. As one Chinese-owned newspaper offered yesterday, the Year of the Rabbit will bring "frozen rain in the south and drought in the north", and possibly even "a property tax in Shanghai and Chongqing". So much for "smiley man", and gracious new beginnings.