LUOYANG, Henan, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Stamps of 12 animals
in the Chinese zodiac have been issued in more than 80 countries over 59
years to become the world's longest-running stamp theme, according to a report
Since 1950, these countries have issued more than
2,000 stamps depicting the traditional Chinese Zodiac animal signs, or
"shengxiao", said Zhou Zhihua, senior member of All-China Philatelic Federation,
at the ongoing World Stamp Exhibition in Luoyang City in central China's Henan
About 2,000 years ago, the Chinese began to use 12
animals in a cycle to represent the lunar years. The zodiac sequence starts with
rat, followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster,
dog and pig.
"Japan, which shares the traditional culture with
China, issued the world's earliest shengxiao stamp in 1950. It was a tiger
design," he said. "From then on, the Republic of Korea and other Asian countries
followed Japan to issue shengxiao stamps."
In 1980, China issued its first shengxiao stamp with
a golden monkey design.
"The stamp was only 0.08 yuan (about 1 U.S. cent),
but the value has surged to about 4,000 yuan now. That's a whopping 50,000
times!" Zhou said.
Despite the Chinese origin of the shengxiao, a dozen
of the countries neighboring China have the same custom, which influences a
population of nearly two billion. People without the custom also have growing
interests in shengxiao philately. The United States issued the stamp of rooster
in 1993. France issued an ox stamp this year, he said.
Zhou said the issuance day of shengxiao stamps has
become a "festival for stamp lovers," some of whom queue for more than 10 hours
to buy just a few stamps in the morning.
"Some foreign collectors never came to China, but
they told me they know under which animal signs they were born. The shengxiao
stamps are a cultural ambassador for the Chinese people."