Today is the Chinese New Year, and a good part of the world's population is ushering in the Year of the Tiger and bidding farewell to the Year of the Ox. It is a welcome that is expressed in many ways, including stamps.
The traditional lunar New Year is a celebration of renewal and rebirth, a time to wipe the slate clean. The Oriental New Year changes every year but always falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19, arriving with the new moon after the winter solstice.
The Year of the Tiger is regarded among the best of the 12 cyclical years in the lunar calendar, for the animal is generally considered the king of beasts by Asians.
Taiwan continues an unusual approach to its New Year issues, showing the minimal suggestions for a tiger's face within three circles.
China has issued an 8-fen stamp showing a Pop Art tiger, with orange, yellow and black stripes, bared teeth and a long black and orange tail.
South Korea has repeated on a pair of New Year stamps a pair of motifs that it has used on holiday pairs previously. One stamp reproduces a bas-relief of the head of an animal and the body of a human on the wall of a tomb of an ancient Korean general. This time the head on the body is that of a tiger. The other issue once again shows a crane, a traditional symbol of long life and peace.
Various other interpretations of the tiger appear on issues from Vietnam, Macao, North Korea and Hong Kong.
Japan's New Year issue is a departure from the others but faithful to the zodiac. Its custom is to picture the animal of the year by means of a traditional local toy, for 1986 a papier-ma che' tiger. The Oriental zodiac is said to have had its origin when the dying Buddha summoned all the animals to his bedside, but only 12 came to worship him.
The years are named in the order of the animals' arrival: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. Each animal is said to influence the events of its year and the character of those born in that year.