Is this newly-designed stamp for China's upcoming Year of the Dragon meant to inspire fear?
For many, most significantly Chinese citizens, that's the first reaction. And the fang-and-claw-bearing image on the stamp, which went on sale yesterday, has them wondering what message the Chinese government is attempting to send with it.
Some are saying it should be adopted as the motto of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, recently accused of bullying China's neighbors and intimidating the wider international community, according to the Telegraph.
"Will the Foreign Ministry be sending this stamp on its gifts to its old friends or to old rivals? Does the dragon stamp suggest a peaceful 2012?" asked Hong Kong TV presenter, Chen Yang.
"This shocking creature on the stamp could well be the emblem of the Foreign Ministry," posted antiques collector, Wu Yue on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Peking University student Huang Song agreed, posting, "I suggest we use this dragon stamp as the Foreign Ministry's mascot."
Wang Ran, chief executive of boutique investment bank China eCapital Corp., compared the dragon to China’s city inspectors, who are sometimes caught on camera beating up street vendors. The Wall Street Journal reports that Ran tweeted, “City inspectors are now on a stamp.”
Zhang Yihe, a renowned Chinese writer, wrote on her Sina Weibo microblog that she was "scared to death" when she first saw the red and yellow creature with scales and claws, according to the AP.
But the artist who created the ferocious dragon is defending the image, as well as the message he says it sends. "The dragon is one of the 12 animals that make up the Chinese Zodiac and is used to exorcise evil spirits and offer blessings, so we needed a tough image," said Chen Shaohua, who also designed the bid emblem for Beijing's 2008 Olympic Games.
Chen said he had received criticism, abuse, and support for the stamp, brought out ahead of the Chinese New Year, which is Jan. 23. The artist added that the dragon should be interpreted as a symbol of China's rising confidence, the AP said:
"As a large country which has major influence in the world, China is ushering in the restoration of national confidence," Chen wrote on his blog. "From sternness and divinity, to a representation of China's self-confidence, a dragon which is tough, powerful, stern and confident is an appropriate choice."
The president of the Chinese Philatelic Research Society, Zhou Zhihua, said the Chinese are used to seeing "milder animals" on their annual New Zodiac Year postage stamps.
Indeed, the new dragon stamp is quite the fearsome contrast to last year's rabbit stamp:
"Their reaction to the Dragon stamp is understandable," Zhou said.
Dragon-designer Chen added some historical perspective on his blog regarding previous dragon designs, according to the Wall Street Journal. He said the design for 1988's Year of the Dragon was a traditional Chinese paper-cut dragon because China was in a difficult time of reform then, and the design intentionally played down the dragon’s stateliness. In 2000, the last Year of the Dragon, the government was promoting a policy of keeping a low international profile, so the design depicted an elegant dragon.
A popular myth claiming the Chinese people are descendants of the legendary creature endures, the Telegraph said, and many still believe the dragon symbolizes power despite strong government discouragement of superstition.
In fact, said the Telegraph, the Chinese government prefers the docile, cuddly panda as the national insignia and uses the iconic endangered species as highly successful soft power diplomatic gifts, with the most recent pair sent to Edinburgh Zoo.
Despite the controversy, dragon stamp is already ushering in significant profit, as crowds clamor for the new design, the AP said. One stamp merchant was reportedly selling a set of 20 for 178 yuan ($28) — much higher than the 24 yuan ($4) face value.
But many disagree. On his microblogging Sina Weibo account, Wang Ran, chief executive of boutique investment bank China eCapital Corp., compared the dragon to China’s notorious city inspectors, who are sometimes caught on camera beating up street vendors. “City inspectors are now on a stamp,” he tweeted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.