Year of the Rabbit or the Year of the Cat?

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The Chinese Year of the Rabbit begins this Thursday, but in Vietnam, where rabbit is considered more as a dinner entree, celebrants will be ringing in The Year of the Cat.

(Credit: Mimiliz)

Vietnam has no rabbit in its 12-sign lunar zodiac calendar. Its absence doesn’t seem to trouble those who will be marking Tet Nguyen Dan, Vietnamese New Year. They appreciate the cat connection and people who are born in cat years: 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023.

“Cat people are happy, sensitive, gentle, gifted, reserved, ambitious, nice to be with, affectionate, and charming,” Minnesota librarian Phuoc Thi-Minh Tran told The Twin Cities Daily Planet. Tran is one of many individuals who are helping to organize Tet events this week.

(A boy in front of a tree decorated for Tet; Wikimedia Commons Image)

The cat helps to offset the dog, its natural enemy, in the zodiac calendar, Nguyen Bao Sinh told Reuters. Sinh runs a pet hotel in Hanoi that charges 500,000 dong ($25) per night for each animal.

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“This expresses a balance of yin and yang in the cosmos that is more complete, that better unifies the contradictions, and so it is richer and better to have the cat,” he added.

No one is certain why or when the Vietnamese zodiac deviated from the Chinese one. The calendars and animals associated with each are very similar:

Chinese Zodiac Animals:

Rat

Ox

Tiger

Rabbit

Dragon

Snake

Horse

Goat

Monkey

Rooster

Dog

Pig

Vietnamese Zodiac Animals:

Rat

Buffalo

Tiger

Cat

Dragon

Snake

Horse

Goat

Monkey

Rooster

Dog

Pig

It’s a good thing that it’s not the Year of the Rat in China, as cats are in conflict with the rat, according to Barbara Cohen & Huu Ngoc, authors of the book Tet: the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (The Gioi Publishers, Vietnam).

Cohen and Ngoc write that “cats are smooth talkers, talented and ambitious and will succeed in studies.”

Although cats are still sometimes sold in Vietnamese restaurants, under the description “little tiger,” their use as food for humans has technically been banned. As in many other countries, domesticated cats are instead popular pets.

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In fact, while preparing the Reuters Tet story, reporters Nguyen Van Vinh and Do Khuong Duy encountered at least one individual, Hanoi resident Cao Thu Ha, who was buying a new cat for the New Year. He told them that cats are like children because they bring happiness to a family.

The Chinese Year of the Rabbit is also inspiring other families to bring home bunnies, with pet sellers already doing a brisk business ahead of the actual holiday. The bunnies in China go from anywhere between $3 to about $40, depending on the breed.

(Image: Xandert)

Animal-welfare groups in Asia, however, are now concerned that in the weeks to come, many of these presently coveted pets will be abandoned and neglected.

“Rabbits aren’t just cute and fluffy, they’re high-maintenance animals who require significant resources, equipment, attention and veterinary care,” Maggie Chen of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) told AFP.

Chen is also concerned about the way rabbits are often raised.

“There’s no better time to help rabbits than during the Year of the Rabbit, and you can do so by refusing to support the pet trade that causes so many animals to suffer,” she said. (Some pet sellers in Asia argue otherwise, as you can see in this Reuters video.)

Yet another potential consequence of the booming rabbit sales, which are even happening over the Internet, is what will happen if the excess bunnies are released, or otherwise wind up in, the wild.

Thai veterinarian Thosaporn Anuntakulnatee from the Faculty of Veterinary Science in Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University explained: “Some people don’t know how to take care of the rabbits and end up throwing them away in the wild or leaving them at a temple. Rabbits can breed quickly, and we will have a problem controlling their population, especially if they are an alien species.”

Ethical, environmental and other issues aside, eating them doesn’t provide much of a solution either in China. Rabbit meat is not often featured in Chinese cuisine.

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