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Love for monkeys heats up as Chinese New Year sets in
( 2004-01-20 16:58) (Xinhua)

The monkey, a symbol of cleverness and vitality, has found favor with the Chinese more than ever before as its sheepish predecessor, the goat, prepares to cede its place on the Chinese Lunar New Year falling on Thursday.

A naughty rhesus monkey -- reveling in the extra attention it is receiving as the Year of the Monkey nears -- perches nonchalantly on the head of a girl at a scenic spot in Central China's Henan Province. And the girl seems to be enjoying the experience, too. [Xinhua]
The active and somewhat unruly primate is one of the most loved animals of all the 12 in the Chinese birth sign system. People love the monkey partly because its pronunciation in Chinese -- "hou" -- resembles that of "marquis", or "high official".

The year of the monkey seems to take so long to arrive that Chinese tend to say "wait until the monkey's year" to mean "God knows when".

The monkey's intelligence and cute nature were highlighted in "Pilgrimage to the West", an ancient Chinese masterpiece based on the historical travels to India of Buddhist Monk Xuan Zang in the seventh century in search of Buddhist scriptures.

In this novel, Xuan Zang was escorted by "Sun Wukong" -- the Monkey King, an evil-fighter with integrity and a high sense of loyalty.

The Monkey King, though a little bit mischievous, is admired bygenerations of Chinese children, who have grown up with the dream of becoming someone like Sun Wukong.

Today, the children's love for the monkey is echoed by their parents.

Maternity hospitals foresee a baby boom this year as out of a superstitious belief that people born as monkeys are more intelligent, many young couples purposely waited until the second half of 2003 to conceive "monkey babies".

The debate on whether the legendary figure Monkey King should become the mascot of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games is also heating up, though official selection of the mascot is still months away.

A large group of Monkey King supporters recently gathered at a book center in Tianjin, a northern port city some 120 kilometers from Beijing, to call on Monkey King lovers nationwide to sign their names on a massive petition to have the popular figure a mascot candidate.

Even the Tibetans, whose new year according to the Tibetan calendar is several weeks away, are ready to embrace the monkey in advance. Tibetans love monkeys for their team spirit as well as their connection with the human race.

According to the General History of Tibet, Tibetan legends on man's evolution from monkeys had been told in 800 AD, 1,000 years before Charles Darwin was born.

As Tibetans decorate their houses with pictures symbolizing the harmony between monkey, hare, elephant and bird, other Chinese are also buying new year's mascots -- monkeys in wood, plastic, jade and plush toys stuffed with cotton and sponge.

Zoologists say monkeys as mascots for the coming year are even prettier than the legendary Monkey King and are more like macaques.

"Macaques are favored by many people for their pink cheeks, round ears, high browbones and large, deep-set eyes," said Pi Yuntao, a zoo keeper in the northern municipality Tianjin, "Besides, they're very nimble and close to humans in many ways."

The IT sector, which is always leading the trends in China, has again caught young people's eyes with online short messages that convey greetings for the year of monkey.

"I'd like to turn into sweet peaches to make you happy, fat andover fed. Happy New Year my dear little monkey," reads one.

Stamps, coins and postcards featuring the "star of the year" have remained popular among avid collectors. Even large scrolls of calendars, which have lost out to dainty cards and online greetings in recent years, sold well at a recent export commodity fair in the southern metropolis Guangzhou for their delicate paintings of monkeys.

Monkey ranks the ninth in the 12-year rotation of the Chinese birth sign system that starts with rat, followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, chicken, dog, and ends with pig.

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