Embarking upon the Jiachen Year of the Dragon 甲辰龍年

The Other China


We marked the approach of the Year of the Dragon with the singers Namewee and Hou Dejian, the artist Lao Shu and the essayist Bo Yang.

Dragon Years tend to have an air of malevolence and treachery. As we have observed in An Ambitious Dragon’s Nightmare (26 January 2024):

The Year of the Dragon offers a mixed message. It might seem to promise soaring expectations, but for over a century previous years of the dragon have been times of ill-omen. According to China’s sixty-year cyclical calendar, a jiachenYear of the Dragon 甲辰龍年, such as 2024, can be a particularly fraught time, one during which titanic aspirations come crashing to earth. The last jiachen Year of the Dragon was in 1964-1965. At the time Mao Zedong launched the Socialist Education Campaign, warned about counter-revolution backsliding and the threat of corruption in the Party. That campaign turned out to be a prelude to the Cultural Revolution and over a decade of vaunting political ambition and earthbound misery.

Even relatively less malevolent Years of the Dragon, including that of 1988-1989, were greeted at the time with widespread trepidation.

Bo Yang, a writer with transhistorical perspective, had an uncompromising view of the dragon, now touted by nationalists, imperialists and advertisers alike:

I really don’t know why the Chinese people have chosen this grim, hideous figure of the dragon to symbolise our nation! In fact, the dragon can only symbolise the hardships of our people! Whenever anyone mentions ‘Heirs of the Dragon’, my hair stands on end.


When discussing my irrealis mood with the writer Jianying Zha, she recalled some famous lines from ‘Patterned Lute’, a haunting poem by Li Shangyin (李商隐, 813-858CE). Here, in celebrating the Lunar New Year, we quote the first and last two lines of Li’s poem, transcribed by the editor and translated by A.C. Graham.

We are grateful to Lois Conner for permission to use a photograph that she made at the Yihe Yuan Summer Palace in Beijing in the depths of winter 2000. She made that image at the end of an unforgettable day during one of our many artistic adventures in the old gardens of imperial Beijing. It is the visual centrepiece of our new year’s greeting card designed by Callum Smith, the digital artist behind China Heritage. Yet again, he has brought an unerring touch and his careful eye to enhance the visual richness of this website and archive.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
9 February 2024

Last Day of the Twelfth Month of
The Guimao Year of the Rabbit




Related Material:



‘You know exactly who I am. So, who wants to be my successor?’ Painting by Huang Yonghou (黄永厚, 1928-2018), one of Huang Yongyu’s younger brothers