Rat Tales: How Cuddly Cartoons Took Over the Year of the Rat

Changing material conditions — and a Disney-assisted cartoon rebrand — have turned rodents from reviled pests into fun, marketable icons.

Mickey Mouse themed paper-cuts. From HOLA

It’s the Year of the Rat, and in honor of the occasion, the Shanghai Museum organized an entire exhibit dedicated to historical relics with rat motifs. The star of the show is undoubtedly an 18th century statue of a serene-looking yellow Jambhala wealth god cradling a small rodent in his left hand. Although rats have a long history within Buddhism, perhaps due to syncretism with millennia-old Central Asian beliefs, in mainstream Chinese culture, such positive, even adorable depictions of these critters were something of a rarity.

Nowadays, on the other hand, rats are omnipresent, and they’re cuter than ever. On a recent trip to the store to buy Lunar New Year’s gifts for my family, the shelves were stocked with mountains of smiling rodent dolls in traditional Chinese outfits and hats. But the real winner of this year’s festivities, at least in Shanghai, is Mickey Mouse. In addition to the usual souvenirs and gift shop tchotchkes — Disney has reportedly slapped his face on thousands of “Year of the Mouse”-themed products — the famous mascot was also prominently featured in Shanghai’s lantern show at Yuyuan Gardens and the celebrations at the city’s 3-year-old Disney Resort.

A paper-cut produced in 2013 tells the story behind “The Rat Daughter’s Marriage” festival. Tuchong

Compared with other zodiac animals — like the dog, pig, or rabbit — the rat seemingly poses a challenge to companies looking to cash in on the New Year’s festivities. That they’ve succeeded underscores some of the ways the past 40 years of rapid economic development have radically altered Chinese society and traditions. Continue to read the full article here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.