Photographers' Blog

The year of the snake

Beijing, China

By Barry Huang

With the year of the dragon coming to an end, Chinese people will embrace the year of the snake. The snake, the sixth sign of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals, is also called “junior dragon” due to its Chinese dragon-like appearance. According to ancient Chinese belief, the snake is the form of the dragon before it obtained divinity and learn to fly.

Studies show that people born in the year of the snake share certain characteristics. Like the snake, they are keen and determined and know how to maneuver themselves to their own destinations. They are also sophisticated and calm and not outwardly emotional; however, many of them also have an ounce of paranoia that runs in their blood. One of the most well-known people born in the year of the snake is China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong.

Although the universal perception of the snake is mainly that of a poisonous and evil guise, it has long been worshiped in China as a divine creature. According to Chinese mythology, the well-known creators of mankind, the “Chinese Adam and Eve” — Fu Xi (also known as the first of the Three Sovereigns of ancient China) and his sister and/or wife Nüwa, were described as “half human, half snake”. In many parts of northern China, in the past having a snake living in the house meant good fortune. People regarded the house snake as a guardian god, and if a mischievous child ever beat it or scared it away, terrible things would happen to the family.

The snake is also very useful in traditional Chinese medicine. It is often advertised that it can cure everything from farsightedness to hair loss. Many people, especially in southern China, maintain the culture of eating snakes, drinking snake wine (produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol), consuming snake blood and even its gall bladder.

For example, snake soup, one of the most famous and probably most terrifying cuisines in Hong Kong, has been regarded as a delicacy for hundreds of years and many locals believe that it is blessed with spiritual powers. Correctly prepared, it’s said that a bowl of the soup strengthens the ankles, cures malaria and prevents all sorts of diseases that come from exposure to cold winds. It also tastes good.

The long trip home

Shanghai, China

By Carlos Barria

There was not much emotion left after crossing central China on a 50-hour train and bus journey. Just a soft touch on the face and a forced hug was all that Li Jiangzhon and his sister Li Jiangchun got from their parents after a long year of absence.

They are just one story among millions of Chinese migrant workers, who have to leave their loved ones behind to look for a better future for themselves and their families.

Every year millions of migrant workers travel to their hometowns during the Chinese Spring Festival, a massive movement of people that is considered the biggest migration in the world in such a short period of time. Public transportation authorities expected to accommodate about 3.41 billion travelers nationwide during the holiday, including 225 million railway passengers, according to Xinhua news agency.

The dragon’s year

By David Gray

Xin nian kuai le!! To get around China, it helps to have a basic knowledge at least of the Chinese language. No question. And these four words will help you greatly at this time of year. What does it mean? I hear those not so knowledgeable about Chinese customs ask. Well, it’s Chinese new year. And wishing someone a Happy New Year will aid you in many ways. But saying it this year is an even bigger bonus, because this year is not just any year – it’s the year of the dragon. What exactly does this mean to Chinese? Well, for one, apparently, it’s the year to have a baby. I have heard this only whispered by my Chinese colleagues over the past few months. Why? Well, apparently, a dragon year is a seriously good year to be born. The Chinese horoscope says that Chinese Dragons (you could call them Dragon babies I suppose) lead a complicated life, but have beneath their stubborn exterior, a soft heart, and are born leaders. Good attributes you would have to say, especially when you consider other animals included on the list are a pig (full disclosure, that’s my year so I am not being nasty when saying this), a rat, an ox, monkey, snake and even a sheep. So, even though its the only fictitious animal on that list, you would have to say, a dragon is pretty cool. I mean, it breathes fire…..cmon, that’s cool!!

So, back to my big tip, especially useful upon your arrival in say Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or even Chengdu, when you jump in that taxi after enduring more than an hour of being jostled by boisterous fellow travelers, lean over to the driver and yell with zealous – Xin nian kuai le – and he will return your friendly gesture with a speedy ride to your place of abode. It will make your trip all the more pleasant and hopefully one to remember, in the Year of the Dragon.