Lord Rabbit Reigns for China's Lunar New Year

Lord Rabbit, a mythical bunny sent down from the moon to bring good health to Beijing, is making a triumphant comeback as the Chinese capital gears up for the Lunar New Year.

Banned during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when China's communist rulers sought to stamp out customs seen as superstitious, Lord Rabbit has re-emerged as the nation once again embraces its ancient traditions.

"Traditionally, Lord Rabbit has nothing to do with the Year of the Rabbit," Tang Yujie, a fifth-generation artisan whose family makes traditional Chinese crafts including figurines of the mythical hero, told Agence France Presse.

"But as the government has been sponsoring a resurgence in Chinese folk customs, it is natural that ordinary people are making the connection."

Tang, 50, runs Bannerman Tang's Toys and Crafts, a shop in a quiet lane near the Confucius Temple in Beijing. She is hoping to keep traditional arts and crafts alive through her work, some of which is displayed in city museums.

According to legend, Lord Rabbit -- also known as Jade Rabbit -- was sent down by the goddess of the moon, Chang'e, to help Beijing survive a deadly plague more than 500 years ago.

A Lord Rabbit figurine is believed to help ward off disease.

Big and small statues of the stern-looking bunny, mortar and pestle in hand, started cropping up in major commercial centers in the Chinese capital weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on February 3.

The holiday is the most important annual celebration in China, when the nation largely shuts down as families gather together for reunions and feasts.

More than 2.5 billion passenger trips by air, rail, bus or sea will be taken around the holiday, the government says, as China's army of migrant workers, business people and students return home for the festivities.

According to Wang Lin, a guide at Beijing's 700-year-old Dongyue Taoist Temple which was closed during the Cultural Revolution and only reopened in 2008, Lord Rabbit will be a star at this year's Lunar New Year fairs.

"Of course our temple fair will have a booth selling Lord Rabbit figurines, as well as other kinds of rabbits," Wang told AFP.

The rehabilitation of traditional culture in China also saw the erection earlier this month on Tiananmen Square of a giant statue of the ancient philosopher Confucius, whose teachings were suppressed by Mao Zedong.

Wang said official support for the renaissance showed a recognition by Chinese authorities that Marxist-Leninist and Maoist thought had not been enough to satisfy the people's spiritual needs.

"Spiritually, China still has not fully recovered from the (Cultural Revolution) campaign to 'smash the olds'," Wang said, adding that young people now come to the temple to honor their ancestors and pray for good fortune.

The temple guide did however note that the centuries-old practice of fortune-telling, an integral part of Lunar New Year activities, had not yet been given the official green light.

"You can find fortune tellers on the streets of Beijing, but not in the Dongyue Temple," Wang said.

"I doubt that fortune-telling will be allowed back in the temple anytime soon -- this is deemed far too superstitious."

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