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Celebrating the Year of the Rabbit

A trans man who is naked sits on a giant peach with white lilies in his hand. Two jade rings are on either side of him and the character for double happiness is painted in red against the pink background.
Monyee Chau
Monyee Chau
Tu'er Shen is the rabbit deity and protector of same-sex relationships. In Taiwan, there is a temple dedicated to him.

The Year of the Rabbit starts this weekend and a new art installation in Seattle celebrates the holiday by sharing a little-known story from Chinese mythology.

Monyee Chau is a nonbinary queer artist who is Taiwanese/Chinese American. They learned about Tu’er Shen when working on a project about Chinese astrology. The story of Tu’er Shen is about a soldier during the Qing Dynasty who falls in love with an official. That soldier is sentenced to death for his same-sex attraction. But the ruler of the afterlife deems his death unjust. This is how the soldier became known as Tu’er Shen, which means "the rabbit deity" and the protector of same-sex love.

"I think what was exciting about it was being able to hear queer mythologies, especially one from my cultural background," Chau said. "This is a really cool, queer story, one where, you's not something that I ever got to hear growing up."

Same-sex relationships are illegal in China. So it was a surprise for Chau when they learned about Tu'er Shen. They explained that back in the Qing Dynasty during Tu'er Shen's time, gay people were referred to as "rabbits."

"I guess rabbits were associated with being homosexual because they were largely ambiguous in terms of gender," Chau explained.

When Chau was asked to contribute a piece for a Lunar New Year installation at the Walk Up Gallery right outside The Grocery Studios in Beacon Hill, they immediately thought of Tu'er Shen. It aligned perfectly with the fact it is the Year of the Rabbit. The final piece depicts Tu'er Shen as a trans man with white lilies, a symbol of lesbianism. He sits on a giant peach with the character for double happiness written on the pink background. Chau's piece will be on display throughout February.

Other Lunar New Year celebrations include a week-long celebration at Seattle's Lucky Envelope Brewing in the Ballard neighborhood. Owners, Barry Chan and Raymond Kwan are Chinese American and have marked the holiday with special beer releases and giveaways since they opened in 2015. This year they teamed up with another Seattle brewery, Ladd & Lass, which is co-owned by Jessie Quan who is also Chinese. Together they created a White Rabbit Milk Stout.

While Seattle's Little Saigon already had its Tết celebrations last weekend, you can stop by many of the neighborhood's businesses for special treats and promotions for the holiday. And Chinatown's celebration won't be until February 4.

Tacoma's Lincoln District is hosting a Lunar New Year celebration on Jan. 28. Organized in partnership with the folks behind the Tacoma Sunday Market, they will have lion dancers, firecrackers, food stands, and a pop-up marketplace all slated for the day.

Grace Madigan covers arts and culture with a focus on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.