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Monday, February 4, 2013
The snake cometh
What do snakes mean to you?

Chinese New Year is approaching, meaning that we will soon wave goodbye to the Year of the Dragon and welcome the Year of the Snake.

Each animal in the Chinese Zodiac is associated with different characteristics and the snake is no exception. In Chinese culture, the snake is usually considered to be a smaller form of the dragon. Therefore, in order to try to continue the auspicious atmosphere of the Year of the Dragon, some people like to refer to the upcoming year as "the Year of the Small Dragon."

In fact, the symbol of the snake is quite complicated in Chinese culture. In some legends from before the Jin Dynasty in ancient China, the snake — along with the crane — was seen as a symbol of long life. Antique bronze wares from this period demonstrate that the snake also symbolized a successful harvest and an abundant number of descendants. In addition, Fu-hsi and Nu-wa, the ancient and legendary god and goddess in Chinese mythology who created humans, are depicted as half-human, half-snake beings.

In addition to the positive symbols it represents, there are numerous Chinese expressions that portray the snake in a negative light. These expressions include "she xie xin chang" (蛇蠍心腸), which indicates that evil people have the hearts and guts of snakes and scorpions.

These negative interpretations of the snake are more closely related to the way that the snake is perceived in Western culture. Most people around the world are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible's Old Testament. In this story, the cunning serpent acts as the incarnation of evil, tempting the two innocent souls to commit sin in the Garden of Eden.

There are also a large number of negative tales related to snakes in Greek mythology. For example, there is the tale of Lernaean Hydra, a monster with nine heads who is killed by Heracles. There is also the story of Medusa, a female monster whose hair is composed of poisonous snakes. Gazing directly upon her would turn onlookers to stone. People in Western countries usually consider snakes to be evil, sly or deceptive. These negative associations have made the leap from classic tales to modern literature.

For example, in Disney's classic animated film "The Jungle Book," the snake Kaa repeatedly attempts to trick and eat the young hero Mowgli. And in the Harry Potter series, the snake is the symbol for House Slytherin, and it is also the main monster in the second book and movie.

In modern times, snakes generally cause feelings of fear. People today are more aware of the dangers that poisonous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, cobras and so on, pose. However, it is also important to note that snakes' poisons have lead to several advancements in modern medicine in recent years. It would also surprise many Westerners to learn that snakes are considered a delicacy in many Asian countries. They are also used in traditional Chinese medicines.

There is no doubt that the snake is a complex symbol, provoking feelings of awe, fear and fascination in people across the globe. So, as we usher in the Year of the Snake and celebrate with our family and friends, we should remember to pay tribute to this remarkable creature and give it the respect and admiration that it deserves.

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