WE MAY not know why the chicken crossed the road but there is a story as to why the rooster crows every morning.
According to folklore, the dragon borrowed its legs from snakes and antlers (some versions say it was the crest) from the rooster.
Hence, the rooster crows at the sky every morning for the dragon to return its antlers to it, so says Jessmond Ong, a trainer for Zi Wei Feng Shui Academy.
In an interview, Ong said this is the “Ding You” year, with “ding” representing fire and “you” representing the rooster, hence it is the Fire Rooster year.
“The Chinese view chickens in a positive light as the Chinese word for chicken is homophonous to the Chinese word for auspicious or lucky.
“The Chinese also associate the chicken and phoenix from the same family,” he said.
He added, according to Chinese mythology, the rooster embodies five virtues: politeness because of its comb, bravery because of its spurs, courage because it is a fearless fighter, benevolence because it shares its grain and reliability because it crows every morning without fail.
Hence, in ancient times, people use the rooster as a natural alarm clock.
When the rooster crows, it is time to get up and start the day, says Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) women’s division chairman Ng Geok Chee.
“With its straight neck and sharp gaze, head held high, the rooster is regarded positively by the Chinese.
“Aside from the rooster, the mother hen deserves praise too.
“A mother hen is often portrayed as nurturing and protective of her chicks, sometimes doing a better job than humans when it comes to protecting their own offspring,” she said.
She added that the chicken is the preferred livestock when it comes to offerings at prayers.
Aside from being used in prayer rituals, the rooster or chicken plays an important part in Chinese culture and traditions.
According to Ong, during ancient times, when a man went off to war, a rooster was used in place of him at a wedding ceremony because it represented a masculine element and reliability.
For a “ghost wedding” or posthumous wedding in the Chinese culture, where one or both parties have passed on, a rooster or chicken is used in place of a groom or bride.
“The year of the chicken is also called “you”, and that character also represents west and the time between 5pm and 7pm, which is the time for people to return home (from work) to rest.
“It also symbolises the transition between day and night, hence it is believed that the chicken is a medium that can cross over to the underworld,” he said.
He added that in ancient times, people would tie a pair of chickens – one rooster and one hen – and place them under the bed of newlyweds.
“The chickens are used to symbolise that the bride would know her way home as chickens always know their way home and always return to roost.
“The next morning the chickens would be untied and the chicken that runs out from under the bed first would indicate the gender of the couple’s baby: a rooster symbolises that they will have a baby boy while a hen, a girl.
“It’s all about symbolism. As the rooster crows, it also symbolises not just a new day but a new beginning for the couple, as they start their life as a new family,” he said.
Fannie Chee, owner of Loving Moments, a shop in SS2 Petaling Jaya that sells supplies for Chinese weddings including chicken figurines, said people do not use real chickens these days.
“According to tradition, the chickens brought to the newlyweds home must be reared until its natural death and cannot be slaughtered.
“Therefore, chicken figurines are used in place of real chickens in Chinese weddings these days because people won’t want to keep live chickens in their homes,” she said.
Aside from cultural rites, chicken symbols are also used in architecture.
Tan Yeow Wooi, a heritage conservationist based in Penang, said terracotta chickens are placed on roof ridges as it is used as a good luck charm to deflect bad luck.
“A rooster is considered “yang” and has an air of righteousness about it.
“The Cantonese believe that the rooster can ward off evil, hence it is used in architecture.
“When the rooster crows, it signifies that it is dawn and all ghosts and evil beings would go away.
“The rooster is also used in “jian nian” (cut-and-paste porcelain shard work) or paintings (at the front door) for the same reason,” he said.
As to the rooster’s “yang” element, Ong said because chicken has a fire element; it was traditionally steamed, not fried.
“In ancient times, this is taken into account when preparing the royal meal, which has to be balanced and nutritious, for the emperor.
“Therefore, chickens are steamed because water (used when steaming) can balance the chicken’s “heaty” (yang) element,” he said.