Chinese Lunar New Year is almost here! (February 8 will be day one of the new year). It is also the start of the Year of the Monkey, which will last until January 2017.
Two weeks ahead of the big end-of-year television extravaganza that has become damn-near a sacred tradition in China, China Central Television (CCTV) has suggested a 3D cartoon monkey as its mascot for this year’s Spring Festival Gala.
It has not been met with a uniformly positive reception online. Mostly because it looks like this.
The monkey’s face has two extra ball-like appendages dangling from the monkey’s jowls and an enterprising online cartoonist painted the two balls as two “grenades” that could defeat two other mascots: Lele and Haibao, the mascots for the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics and 2010 Shanghai Expo respectively.
Other netizens have pointed out that it looks like a set of traffic lights.
CCTV claimed that the 3D monkey was an “improved” version based on a Chinese ink style drawing by renowned artist Han Meilin, who also designed the Fuwa mascots used for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Han named the monkey mascot Kangkang (康康, meaning health in Chinese). Facing criticism over the released mascot, he said he was not involved in the design of the 3D version, but only drew the front view of the monkey’s head. “I’ve not seen the 3D version before.”
Chinese people love monkeys, particularly the Monkey King Sun Wukong (孙悟空), the main character in the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West and many other adaptions and cartoon stories.
Sun Wukong is often the first hero children get to know: given birth by a giant rock, a teenage rebel who is then tamed by his sensei, the famous Buddhist monk Xuanzang (玄奘), who protected him from being hurt by evils all along their pilgrimage to meet Buddha.
In the novel, Sun Wukong can transform into 72 other things and can travel 108,000 li (54,000 kilometers) in one somersault.
Chinese people tend to think monkeys are smart, flexible and cute and believe those who born in the year of Monkey will have those good features. It is infinitely preferable to have a child born in the Year of the Monkey than the Year of the Goat/Sheep (Sheep babies are apparently destined to be dull and shy).
So 2016 is likely to be a popular year for births, especially considering that 2017 will be the Year of the Rooster, which is an unappreciated zodiac animal.
In order to attract more Chinese consumers, luxury brands have designed shoes, bags and jewels with monkey features. But none of those could be compared with the Monkey stamp.
China issues a special set of stamps every January to honor the lunar new year and the country’s first ever set of new year stamps in 1980 were themed on the Monkey and drawn by famous painter Huang Yongyu (黄永玉), who is now 92 years old.
Now the price of those first monkey stamps has risen 150,000 times to 1.2 to 1.5 million RMB since they were released 36 years ago.
This year ’s stamp was once again drawn by Huang and collectors, making this year’s new year stamp collection very popular and the price has increased from 38.4 RMB to 700 RMB since they were released.
“I’m making it hilarious, a monkey with a peach hanging on the trees,” Huang told CCTV. His designs shows two monkey babies with their mothers, echoing China’s latest national policy allowing for two children per couple.
In China, to get closer to real monkeys, Mount Huaguoshan (花果山) and Mount Emei (峨眉山) are two good choices. Mount Huaguoshan, located in Lianyungang city of Jiangsu Province, is allegedly the hometown of Sun Wukong and the place he crowned himself the Monkey King.
Mount Emei in Sichuan Province is one of China’s Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains and also known for its “invisible”, cute but very naughty monkeys that will suddenly jump over and ask tourists for nuts, or even steal from them.
As of February, those born in the Year of the Monkey will be able to travel there for free.
Cover image from 央视春晚