The Year of the Rat amid celebrations and quarantines
East Asia and Asian communities around the world are preparing for lunar New Year celebrations, which begin tomorrow. A new dangerous coronavirus outbreak is however complicating things. Other factors also bode ill for the festivities. In South Korea, many people are stressed out by the New Year. Considered the bearer of good luck for thousands of years, the rat has come to be regarded as a dangerous and disease-carrying fiend.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – East Asia is preparing to celebrate the lunar New Year, which begins tomorrow, 25 January, amid quarantines and new cases of coronavirus infection.
Like in mainland China, infections have been reported in Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan with local authorities confirming the presence of the virus in their territory. The United States too has also been affected.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not yet described the situation as an international emergency, partly due to the small number of confirmed cases, but its director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that a decision could be made soon.
The health crisis is not the only issue troubling New Year celebrations.
In South Korea, a national survey, published today by all local newspapers, caused a sensation, showing that more than 59 per cent of the population fear festivity-related stress.
The idea of having to meet family, which is part of the New Year experience, frightens many South Korean workers: 34.1 per cent of respondents said they’d rather celebrate on their own.
Japan has confirmed that public New Year celebrations will be held but has tightened checks at airports and stations.
Several Japanese municipalities have urged residents with fever or illness of various types to go to the hospital or stay at home after contacting a doctor. For now, no special restrictions have been issued in the other Asian countries affected by the coronavirus.
In Asia, the rat is traditionally associated with abundance, fertility, hope and opportunity. For centuries, the rodent has been seen and described as a zealous worker, storing food for hard times and tenaciously managing to get out of difficult situations thanks to its stubbornness.
In the past 300 years, however, the animal has started to be included among those considered evil. Associated with dirty and unhealthy places, it was driven out and has disappeared from national fairy tales.
In Christian symbolism, the rat “is among the satanic animals par excellence,” says Fr Giorgio Pasini, PIME missionary in Hong Kong. “As a devourer of supplies, the rat has earned the reputation of thief and has therefore become a symbol of stealing as well as sin, living in dirty, dark places, in trash or places without light.”
In the Old Testament, “rats are considered unclean animals (Lv 11:29-35) and Christianity equals them to the devil as a devourer. In fact, this small mammal – because of its tendency to gnaw at everything, from food to paper objects, from furniture to electrical wires, clothing and so on – has always been considered the harbinger of evil events. In Christian art, the rat that gnaws at the roots of the tree of life is a recurrent theme.”