The Lunar New Year of 2017 is on January 28. This year corresponds to “dingyou (丁酉)” in the traditional Chinese calendar and the rooster in the Chinese zodiac, making it the “Year of the Rooster.” In the Chinese language, the character for “chicken” is “ji (雞),” a homonym for “fortune (吉).” The first Chinese character of “rooster (公雞)” is likewise a homonym for “achievement (功),” while the chicken’s “crest (冠)” stands for “official (官)” and its “crowing (鳴)” for “fame (名).” As a result, the ancients often considered the chicken as an auspicious animal symbolizing “meritorious fame (功名)” and “promotion in rank and office (封官進爵).”
For millennia, people have raised chickens, making them an inseparable part of the economy with deep implications in life. Archaeologists, for example, have found the remains of chicken bones in ancient Chinese civilization. Evidence for the domestication of chickens dates no later than the Shang dynasty, as seen in excavations at the ruins of its last capital, Yin, located at modern Anyang, Henan province. Over thousands of years, the role of the chicken has evolved in thought and culture, at one point its egg serving as a symbol for the creation of all in Chinese genesis mythology. The chicken then became a spirit guardian capable of warding off evil and also the “Sun Bird” calling the sun to rise in the east. The form and habits of the chicken have been employed over the ages to express abstract beliefs and customs as well as other symbolic content, including ideas on how the cosmos operates. Afterwards, the rooster also became venerated as the “Bird of Virtues” for possessing the qualities of civil talent, military skill, courage, benevolence, and fidelity. Therefore, even in the worst of times, the rooster came to stand for faith and determination, being a model for good character among people. These descriptions trace a long and changing course of thought evolving from primitive religion to lofty cultural notions.
Over the centuries, artists have depicted chickens in various artworks. In conjunction with the Lunar New Year, many museums have special exhibitions on chicken-related artworks. Happy Lunar New Year and May You Have Great Fortune in the Year of the Rooster!
Based on text from the National Palace Museum, Taipei.