The Wisdom and Belief Behind the Year of the Rabbit

Author: Timothy Tin
Translator: Mandy Kwan

2023’s Lunar New Year occurs earlier than previous years’ dates, which coincides with a hare’s spirit of swiftness and brevity.  People in ancient China viewed the hare with exceptionally rich and complex imagination.  According to folklore, there are numerous tales associated with the hare.  For example, in the twelve animals of the Zodiac, other than the six farm raised animals such as the cow, sheep, pig, horse, dog, and rooster, the hare was added to the lot.  Since horses symbolized a nation’s military prowess, they were more valuable compared to other animals so they couldn’t be offered at the altar for their gods. Thus the hare became a substitute for the horse, since it’s thought to be swift and quick like a horse would be.  No one can argue with the tastiness of roasted rabbit meat! Thus the hare became a suitable replacement for the horse, as evident in Chinese idioms such as “sacrifice for the sake of the horse” and “the hare substitutes the horse”.  Among the seven horses of the emperor, Qingshi Huangdi, the second horse was named “White Rabbit”. In the “History of Three Kingdoms”, there was a red rabbit who became a general’s “righteous horse”, because after the owner died the rabbit refused to eat and died as well. Ancient Chinese even claimed that a red rabbit is luckier than a white rabbit! There is even an idiom that compares a rabbit’s swiftness is comparable to a horse, with an almost supernatural like quality.

The rabbit’s status not only is synonymous with a famous hound in folklore, it is also a bejeweled animal that ascended to the moon! In the Mid Autumn Festival legend of Lady Chang’e, the rabbit is always beside Chang’e concocting potions.  Because Chang’e drank the elixir of immortality and ascended to the moon, the rabbit would create the same elixir at every full moon, making it a mystical and immortal animal.  Ancient poets would use rabbits to symbolize the moon.  In the art of paper cutting a symbol of “rabbit in a snake bowl” would bring good luck, and it’s often used in Chinese weddings to represent the harmony between husband and wife.  You might wonder how a cunning snake can be yoked with an innocent rabbit to represent harmony? According to the Shanxi Art Museum’s periodical published on May 23, 1986, in indigenous societies, a legend said that a tribe with a snake symbol and a tribe with a rabbit symbol became enemies and were set on destroying one another.  Luckily, leaders of both tribes compromised and reconcilated, joined forces and became one large tribe that fortified and thrived.  Thus the idiom of “snake in unity with the rabbit” and the “rabbit in snake bowl” symbol has always become popular to represent the ideal of a marriage.  The snake and rabbit can also represent good and evil. Even in the midst of evil we can uphold the purity of heart as symbolized by the rabbit, that through the power of love, one can overcome evil, turn enemies into friends, and bring everlasting joy and peace.

To sum up, we can observe the rich symbolism of rabbits in folklore and history:

1. The rabbit of the twelve zodiac symbolized the idea of sacrifice.

2. Emperor Qingchi HuangDi’s rabbit represents purity and refinement.

3. General Guan Yu’s rabbit represents courage and loyalty.

4. The rabbit in folklore represents someone who is wise and swift.

5. The rabbit of the Mid-Autumn festival represents a brightly lit moon and eternity.

6. The rabbit in marriage customs represents love and kindness.

Let’s look at how the ancient Chinese designated the rabbit among the different time periods of a day. The “mao” rabbit was assigned the hours of “mao”, specifically the morning hours from 5 am to 7 am. It coincides with the time the sun rises, which is usually the time when the rabbits come out of their burrows and look for fresh grass. A Chinese dictionary states that the character “mao” (卯)represents a heavenly door in the shape of a pair of doors, allowing life to rise and thrive.  It represents the second solar month i.e, February, which signifies the return of life and the coming of the spring season.  As we see how the wellspring, wisdom, and mystery of life all stem from this heavenly door, we see how the idea of eternity and faith directly tie to this concept of ‘mao’.

The hidden mystery inside the rabbit can be viewed through the lens of our savior Jesus Christ:  

1. The zodiac’s rabbit represents the idea of sacrifice akin to Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind.

2. Emperor Qingshi HuangDi’s rabbit represents purity and nobility, similar to Jesus’ holiness and purity.

3. General Guan Yu’s red rabbit represents courage and faithfulness akin to Jesus’ righteousness and defeat of evil.

4. The swiftness in folklore’s rabbit is similar to Jesus’ otherworldly abilities.

5. Mid-autumn’s rabbit’s immortality is akin to Jesus’ defeat of death.

6. The rabbit represented in marriage represents to love and kindness of Jesus.

7. The ‘mao’ rabbit of the early sunrise hours represents Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, opening the doors to heaven to those who believe, akin to those who accept Jesus will have eternal life.

It is evident that the rabbit’s significance in Chinese culture is akin to the fact that the sacrificial Jesus who gave up his life for our sins, died on the cross for our sins, and resurrected during the “mao” hours of dawn!

Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ who will rescue your soul so that you may enter the gates of heaven? If you are, pray the following with me: “Dear Lord Jesus Christ, I thank you for using the year of the rabbit and its cultural and historical significance to teach us the wisdom — the wisdom and mystery of your plan of salvation.  I accept your salvation and give my life to you. May my spirit enter into eternity with you.  I pray this sincerely in the name of Jesus, AMEN.”

Author: Pastor of Christian Alliance Bible Church in Los Angeles, CA

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