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Chinese New Year at the Art Institute

It’s Chinese New Year at the Art Institute! We’re celebrating with nearly a month of special programming and events, making this the fifth year the museum has commemorated the most significant holiday in China and much of Asia. The festivities began in 2012 when the museum’s Thorne Miniature Rooms keeper Lindsay Mican Morgan started decorating the Chinese Interior with items such as fireworks and red paper couplets.

2017 celebrates the Year of the Rooster, the 10th animal in the 12-sign Chinese zodiac. These proud birds (and their fowl friends, ducks and geese) can be found decorating many works of Chinese art in our collection. This is true of many zodiac animals that symbolize certain traits or characteristics, including horses and monkeys.

The 12 animals of the zodiac were also used to record time. Each year was assigned an animal in a repeating pattern: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. According to a popular Chinese legend, the animals couldn’t decide who would begin the 12-year cycle, so they decided to hold a contest to determine the sequence. The animal that reached the opposite side of the river first would begin the cycle and the remaining animals would receive their years according to their finish. The rat jumped on the ox’s back—unknown to the ox—and as the ox was about to climb to land, the rat jumped to shore and won the race. This is why the zodiac pattern starts with rat, the ox, and so on. Another legend claims that the Jade Emperor (or Buddha, in some cases) invited all of the animals to a great meeting. The pig grew hungry, stopped to eat, and promptly fell asleep on the way to the meeting, which is why the pig is last. 

Each animal symbolizes characteristics that people born in that year share. Those born in the Year of the Rooster are generally known to be observant, hardworking, confident, courageous, talented, and honest. 

This year the Chinese Interior is decorated again with a miniature shadow puppet theater and musical instruments to ring in the Year of the Rooster. Our Chinese New Year programming has increased dramatically over the last five years, now including drop-in family art-making activities, performances, public tours in Mandarin, self-guided tours, and culinary specialties from China. We look forward to exploring our collection with you as we make connections with each Chinese New Year. 

Years of the Rooster

1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005

Famous Roosters
Yoko Ono (1933)
Correggio (1489)
Qiu Zhijie (1969)
Cai Guo-Qiang (1957)
Wang Guangyi (1957)
Wu Hung (1945)

Learn to say “Happy New Year” in Chinese
Xinniankuaile 新年快乐
Gongxifacai 恭喜发财
Niannianyouyu 年年有余

—Julie White, Tourism Marketing Manager

Mrs. James Ward Thorne, E-30: Chinese Interior, Traditional (detail), about 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.