|Within the Han culture, the dominant culture in China, the markings on the tiger's forehead are seen as the mark of a king. It is in the shape of the character 王 (wáng) which means king. The tiger has terrific powers to ward off evil and has been used in tomb paintings since the earliest times to protect the dead. The tiger protects the living, too. Young children and babies wear cloth shoes made to look like a tiger. Toys, such as those shown below, are given for good luck and protection against harm. Notice that each has the 王 character embroidered on its forehead. The tiger is one of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiak. The Zodiak includes the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar. The Zodiak is part of the Chinese calendar system. Each animal is the name of a year in a series of twelve. It is the equivalent of naming months, but in this case, it is years that have names. In addition, there are five sets of twelve years. Each of those sets is named after an element: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. That makes a cycle of sixty years.
The Zodiak is simply a method of counting time, but Chinese astrology adds in beliefs about the characteristics of each of the sixty years. People born in each year are said to have the same characters and path through life. The picture below was taken in Pingyao, Shanxi Province, in an ordinary market, during the Year of the Rat. Even when it's not his year, the tiger remains a strong traditional symbol in China often given to children for protection.
Last update: November 2009
© Marilyn Shea, 2009