Happy Chinese New Year! 马年春节快乐!

As the year of the snake slithers out of view, today marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse in Chinese astrology.

Legend has it that one day the gods ordered that each year would be designated an animal, and the first twelve that arrived to claim this prize were chosen. Some of the featured 12; which includes the snake, the rat and the rooster; may seem unlikely choices to Westerners, but each of these animals has particular attributes in Chinese folklore.

Where the snake is reputed to bring new ideas and development, change and upheaval, the horse symbolises progress of a more steady kind.

During the year of the horse, we can expect good luck, health and prosperity – apparently the horse also indicates that the year ahead will be a good time to travel!


The horse as a symbol of strength, energy and intelligence features in many Chinese proverbs and idioms. Here are some of my favourites:

马马虎虎 mǎ mǎ hŭ hŭ = horse horse, tiger tiger
mediocre, so-so.

千里马 Qiān lǐ mǎ = a horse that covers a thousand li a day (one li = approx 500m)
a strong or able person.

死马当活马 Sǐ mǎ dāng huó mǎ yī = Try to save the dead horse as if it is still alive
Nothing is impossible.

师傅领进门, 修行在个人 Shī fu lǐng jìn mén, xiū xíng zài gè rén = Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself
You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

塞翁失馬 Sāi Wēng shī mǎ = Sāi Wēng Lost his Horse
a blessing in disguise or, conversely, don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

This one has a story to it…
Sāi Wēng 塞翁 was a ranch owner. One day he lost a horse, and his neighbour felt sorry for him, but Sāi Wēng didn’t care about the horse, because he thought it wasn’t such a bad thing to lose a horse. After a while the horse returned, along with another beautiful horse, and the neighbour congratulated him on his good luck. Sāi Wēng was however wary of this new horse, thinking that is wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

His son grew very fond of the new horse and rode it. One day the son fell off the horse and broke his leg. This injury prevented him from going off to war, as was expected of all the young men in the area. Most of them died.

This proverb is said either when bad luck turns to good, or when good luck turns to bad.

Here’s hoping that the Year of the Horse brings us all strength and prosperity! 恭喜发财! Happy New Year!