On Thursday, February 3rd, the Chinese Spring Festival will begin. Actually, a more familiar name would be the Chinese New Year, and this year it will be the Year of the Rabbit. Last year was the Year of the Ox and next year it will be my year, the Year of the Dragon.The Chinese years have interesting animal names, instead of boring numbers like Western years, but there are only twelve animals that have the honor of having a year named after them.
the Chinese name of the elephant – 象 xiàng – also means ‘image, imagination’, and this is how it is used in Japanese, too. I don’t know why. It is quite rare in Chinese that a character has two meanings as distant as these. The character itself is simply the image of an elephant, rotated in 90 degrees to economize on space. From the inscriptions of ancient bronzes, oracle bones and stamps this is how we can reconstruct its etymology: