Around a quarter of the world’s population are celebrating ringing in the lunar new year (often simply referred to as Chinese New Year) so if you’re doing business in Asia what do you need to know about the Year of the Rabbit characteristics? And what is your “benmingnian year“?
As you are probably aware, the Chinese lunar horoscope runs on a 12 year cycle where each year is named after an animal and characteristics are attributed to the people who are born in those years (you can read more about the story of which animals are included in the Chinese zodiac in this earlier post I wrote).
Of course, the legends associated with Chinese New Year traditions are just that, but if you are working in the region then it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the cultural connotations and symbolism associated with this time of year. Otherwise you may not understand what you’re being asked. Each country in the region has their own specific traditions and foods so it’s a great talking point to ask about if you get to visit the region at this time of year.
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Year of the Rabbit
The year of the Rabbit began on 22nd January 2023 and ends on 9th Feb 2024. The rabbit is regarded as the luckiest of the zodiac animals (this belief in rabbits as being lucky is widespread across the world including also Europe, Africa and the Americas)
One of the questions that you are bound to be asked if you are travelling in Asia, especially China around the New Year period is what animal you are.
If you were born in 1951, 1963, 1975 or 1999 then your birth year is that of a rabbit.
What are the Year of the Rabbit characteristics?
According to the legend, the rabbit lived a serene life together with the goddess of the moon, Chang’e (this is also the reason that the Chinese named their first moon rover “the Jade Rabbit”) & consequently the general energy level is said to be calmer, compared to that of the tiger who came before. I’m sure anyone in China would agree that after 2022 a period of yin energy would be greatly welcomed.
Rabbit years are said to represent longevity, peace, prosperity and hope – certainly characteristics that can be needed right now!
One aspect of rabbits is that (unlike many tigers) they recognise that kindness doesn’t equate to weakness but rather that benevolence as a strategy pays off.
Those born under the rabbit symbol are often regarded as intellectual, scholarly or learned with a quick minded wit. Their gentle persistence often prevails where a more aggressive tiger might fail.
But what IS a benmingnian year (本命年)?
Actually, the phrase just needs to be benmingnian as nian is the Chinese word for year, making it superfluous here. However, your benmingnian (sometimes written as ben ming nian) is actually your zodiac or natal year – in the case of 2023 that refers to all of the rabbits out there (at least those with birthdays later than Jan – as the January birthdays were probably still born as tigers).
So hurray, you’re born under the sign of the Rabbit so that must mean you have a fantastic 12 months ahead right?
It might be logical to assume that this would be a positive period, but since when do legends and traditions actually have anything to do with logic? According to tradition this could be a period of turbulence and great change with both difficulties and bad luck. This might manifest in the form of illness, deaths in the family, financial loss or divorce – nothing that any of us wants to experience. The end of my last benmingnian was January 2020… nope, definitely not the best period ever.
The reason for this is that it’s easier to offend the God of Age, Tai Sui during this time – historically, it wasn’t allowed to have the same name as the emperor in China, so perhaps this is along the same lines. Tai Sui is also said to be an imaginary star, approximately corresponding to Jupiter with a 12 year orbital cycle of the earth, so conveniently corresponding to the number of animals in the zodiac.
For Benmingnian 2023, how can you “protect yourself”?
Many people will visit temples at the time of the Spring Festival seeking the protection of the gods for the coming year and to drive away any lingering bad luck, by offering sacrifices to the God of Age.
If you’re visiting on business trips, you might see people at the temples but it’s not something that probably will strike you. What other methods of appeasing Tai Sui might you see in daily business life – or might people ask you if you observe?
In Chinese culture the colour red symbolises prosperity, loyalty, success and happiness – you will see it all around during the festivities, and it belongs to the Chinese New Year traditions that many people try to wear red clothes (even better if they are new) at this time.
If it’s your benmingnian year though, then you might want to wear something red for longer than simply the couple of days of the main festivities. However, the key for the red clothing to “work” as protection is that it should be gifted to you by your family, spouse or a friend not bought by you yourself. Popular items include socks, scarves, underwear or wrist bands.
You may spot people with some of these items on your business trips (although hopefully not the underwear ?). When it was my last benmingnian year then I was given a good luck red thread talisman to hang on my handbag.
Wearing Jade Accessories
As with the colour red, jade is also imbued with a lot of complex symbolism in Chinese culture, especially around spirituality, authority and status, however apparently it’s also rather nifty protecting you from the negative effects of upsetting Tar Sui.
I have a couple of jade pendants gifted by friends back in 2019, my last benmingnian year.
Carrying a talisman of your ally sign
I’m no fengshui expert, but this is something you may also observe if you visit China, Taiwan or Hong Kong at this time of year. Each zodiac sign has a “powerful ally sign” & carrying an image or talisman associated with this sign. eg as a lucky charm in your wallet is supposed to give you the energy and power to get through challenges that your benmingnian may bring. For those who are rabbits, it is the dog who is the so-called powerful ally sign.
On the flip side of that each sign has a conflict sign (for the rabbit, it is the rooster)…but as with the rest, you might not want to take this as 100% cast in stone. My husband and I are the “conflict signs” for one another, but have a pretty harmonious marriage ?.
Placing a Piyao (Pixiu)
A piyao or pixiu is a mythical creature that is a kind of cross between a lion and a dog. Not only is it supposed to repel evil spirits but is also meant to bring good health, luck and wealth so pretty handy to have around!
You’ve got to take care of them properly and put them in the right place for maximum effectiveness though! For Rabbits that means they should be in the west of a room facing eastwards (more or less looking the danger in the eye!).
So if you spot that your business partner has moved the piyao she always has in her office, it could be that she has benmingnian 2023.
Get Tai Sui behind you!
This isn’t a reference to British pantomime traditions, although it would kind of fit! It’s again a fengshui concept and the idea is that you leverage the energy of Tai Sui, but turn things around to actually bring positive luck – a bit like using judo on your prospects for the next 12 months…
How do you do that? Wellllll… as the star has a 12 year orbital cycle then it is in a different place relative to the earth for each zodiac year (are you with me so far?) and once you know where that is, you know how to get Tai Sui behind you.
I’m sure you know that many people around the world, but especially in Asia, arrange their homes and offices (& sometimes whole office buildings eg the HSBC HQ in Hong Kong) according to the principles of fengshui.
This tip works on the same principles: the idea being that by facing away you can induce good luck so you should move desks and seats around accordingly. It also applies to other home furnishings, especially beds, but I’m assuming that’s not something you’re going to be noticing on most business trips…
In the year of the rabbit, Tai Sui is in the east so they should try to face west whenever possible. If you realise your business partner has moved their office furniture around, this could be the reason, especially if they suddenly also want to sit in a completely different seat at the conference table for important negotiations!
Learning about Chinese New Year Traditions is important for your cultural understanding
I’m not suddenly pivoting into casting horoscopes or becoming a fengshui specialist, but if you want to understand the motives behind some of the behaviours of your business partners in Chinese cultures around this time of year then you need to know what to look out for.
Does that mean that every ethnically Chinese person follows all of these steps or believes in these traditions and legends? Of course not, but a sizeable proportion do or at least their families do. Same as in any other culture – even if you don’t really care so much about some of your native traditions, you may go along with them for the sake of family harmony at celebrations.
Knowing that the Year of the Rabbit characteristics are gentle hopeful energy can help explain the mood in some of your meetings, and knowing the motivation of your clients supports you on the route to success.
And finally, being able to talk (at least half) knowledgeably with your business partner about aspects of their culture and how it perhaps compares to your own, will help solidify your relationship, building further trust.
Talking to my friends about their predictions for this year, all hope that the year of the rabbit characteristics will come about and that it will be a year of peace with an economic rebound.
What are your Year of the Rabbit 2023 predictions?
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