Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Year of the Snake

Year-of-the-Snake bun sold in bakery
Year-of-the-Snake bun sold in bakery
The Year of Snake has snaked on me.

I watched a major Chinese news network (that shall remain nameless, but very easy to guess) that the Chinese portrays the Snake positively while the West depicts it negatively. Just another cultural myth/misunderstanding for me to debunk.

It illustrates with an example of the Biblical Snake in the Garden of Eden. I can't say I agree with that characterisation. For one thing, Chinese language is filled with many negative expressions associate with the Snake.

"Fo  kou she xin" = "Buddha mouth,snake heart" = "佛口蛇心""She tou shu yan" = "Snake head, rat eyes" = "蛇头鼠眼"

Just 2 examples among many sayings that use the word "Snake" in a negative light.

It's one thing to accuse the West to perpetuate the stereotype that Chinese and Western cultures are polar opposite. It's another thing for the Chinese to do so. There's no question that there're polar opposites. I point out out some of these in this article for example.

The zodiac isn't a good example in illustrating that cultural contrasts between East and West. There's nothing inspired dread than snake (or rat). This is built into our evolutionary past, and so it's always an aspect in any culture that snake (or rat) aren't viewed with glowing sentiment.

But if you read the descriptions of the zodiac for the Snake, it sounds quite positive. In fact, if you read the description of any Chinese animal zodiac, they're all positive. It seems that the Snake zodiac, and the word "snake" in general, simply has different usage.

This makes sense. There's little point to put a damper on things at the start of the year. And these animal zodiacs aren't about facts. They're about spreading festive cheers. These are nice-to-have (kid-myself) cultural feel good vibe.

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