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Stamp of controversy

January 05, 2012 12:13 IST

A set of stamps depicting China's ancient national symbol Dragon as a ferocious and intimidating creature has created a controversy in China with people questioning its violent projection.

Chinese have reacted angrily to a special edition stamp to celebrate the Year of the Dragon to be celebrated later this month

"When I saw the design of the dragon stamp in a newspaper, I was almost scared to death," Zhang Yihe, a noted writer said in a micro blog post on, which is regarded as Chinese Twitter.

"The dragon on the stamp looks too ferocious," echoed another microblogger.

"It is roaring and intimidating," said another.

Foreign observers say that it is perhaps officially backed to covey a strong message about China's rise.

However, Cchen Shaohua, the designer of the new stamp, defended it saying the image of the dragon should not be too gentle because it would clash with the mental image most Chinese have of the creature.

"The dragon is the deity of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and you can't modernise the creature like a cartoon," official Xinhua news agency quoted Chen, who designed the emblem for 2008 Olympic Games, as saying.

"Among everyday people, the dragon is thought to exorcise evil spirits, avert disasters and give blessings, so we need a tough image," Chen said.

The Year of the Dragon stamp, the third dragon set issued by China Post since 1949, used a design close to China's first stamp, which was issued in 1878 during the Qing Dynasty, when emperors still ruled the country.

For thousands of years, the Chinese have named each year after an animal according to a 12-year cycle.

Dragons are traditionally considered symbols of favourable forces in China with power over water, rainfall, hurricanes and floods. Ancient Chinese emperors used the dragon as a symbol of imperial power.

Feng Shula, manager of the circulation department of China Post, defended Chen's design, saying the artist's dragon looks exactly what it should look like, based on the dragon robes worn by emperors in ancient China and the Nine-Dragon Wall in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

"From this perspective, the new dragon stamp is a perfect combination of history and modern time," Feng said.

Zhou Zhihua, president of All-China Philatelic Federation, said the discomfort some people feel with the 2012 dragon stamp is understandable, given that the image is not at all like the two previous sets of dragon stamps.

The first set of dragon stamps, issued in 1988, abandoned the awe-inspiring look of the legendary creature and used the style of Chinese traditional paper-cutting art to tone down its appearance.

The other dragon stamp, issued in 2000, combined the traditional Chinese calligraphy and the dragon pattern of the Qin (221 - 206 BC) and Han (206 BC - AD 220) dynasties to give the creature a graceful appearance.

At Madian, a stamp market in downtown Beijing, the price of a new set of dragon stamps has already shot up much higher than its face value of 24 yuan ($3.80).

"All of my subscription quota has been booked, and some collectors are even offering to pay as much as 180 yuan apiece for a set of the dragon stamps," said Li Wei, a stamp and coin seller at the market.

"I hope the thriving business is an omen for the whole of this year," he said.


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