中国剪纸 Paper Cut in China

The Rabbit (兔) is the fourth of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Rabbit is associated with the Earthly Branch (地支) symbol of Mao (). The Lunar New Year Day of the Year of Gui Mao (年) falls on Sunday 22 January 2023.

The Chinese lunar calendar is made up of ten Heavenly Stems (天干) and 12 Earthly Branches (地支) as follows:

天干 (Ten Heavenly Stems) :


地支 (Twelve Earthly Branches) :


十二生肖 (12-year cycle in the Chinese zodiac)


rat ox tiger rabbit dragon snake horse goat monkey rooster dog pig


Recent years of the Rabbit are: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023.

Chinese Zodiac years are based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Interested people born in January or February can check the date of the Chinese New Year to confirm their birth sign, for example at the following site:


The rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace and prosperity in Chinese culture. 


People born in a year of the Rabbit are believed to be gentle, vigilantwittyquick-minded, and ingenious. This is just a folklore and should not be taken seriously.



Sculptures, ceramics and ornaments of rabbits throughout history


Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) Jade Rabbit Unearthed from the Tomb of Fu Hao in Yin Ruins (商代 殷墟婦好墓出土玉兔)


Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) Jade Rabbit Unearthed from the Tomb of Fu Hao in Yin Ruins (商代 殷墟婦好墓出土玉兔)


Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE) Bronze rabbit zun unearthed in Shanxi (東周 山西出土銅尊)


Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE) Bronze rabbit zun unearthed in Shanxi (東周 山西出土銅兔尊)


Sui (581-618 CE) Celadon glazed quán (weight) with rabbit button on top and lotus leaves pattern on the side (隋 青釉兔紐蓮瓣紋權), height 12 cm, base diameter 12.7 cm


Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) Pottery rabbit (唐 陶兔)


Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) Blue glazed pottery rabbit (唐 藍釉陶兔)


Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) Bronze Mirror of Moon Palace (唐代月宫銅鏡)(Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong 香港中文大學文物館)


Moon Palace Story (月宫故事)

Houyi’s wife Chang’e stole the medicine of immortality and flew to the moon to become a fairy. (後羿妻嫦娥偷吃不死之藥,奔月成仙)

In the middle of the moon, the Jade Rabbit pounded the elixir.( 月中玉兔搗不老藥)

Moon Toad (月亮蟾蜍)

(Wu Gang chopped the osmanthus tree 吳剛砍桂)

Tang Dynasty Rubbings of another Bronze Mirror of Moon Palace (唐代月宫銅鏡拓本)



Tang Dynasty, c 600 CE,  Rabbit earthenware (one of the Twelve zodiac animals), height 33 cm


Liao (916-1125 CE) Three-color (yellow, green & white) small dish with engraved rabbit pattern (遼 三彩刻花兔紋小碟), top diameter 12.2 cm, base diameter 7.5 cm, height 3.1 cm


Liao Dynasty (916 – 1125 CE) A set jade rabbit belt ornaments (遼‧玉兔帶飾一組)



Yuan Dynasty Jade belt decoration (元 玉帶飾)
Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 CE) Jade rabbit belt decoration (元 玉兔帶飾)


Yuan (1271-1368) Underglazed red white porcelain vase with rabbit and flower patterns (元 釉里紅劃花兔紋玉壺春瓶), top diameter 6.3 cm, base diameter 6.8 cm, height 20.5 cm



Ming (1368-1644) Pengcheng kiln porcelain basin with black glaze outside, white glaze inside with black flower and rabbit patterns (明彭城窯白地黑花兔紋盆), top diameter 19 cm, base diameter 13.5 cm, height 6.5 cm
Side view of the above



Ming (1368-1644) Longqing imitation Xuande Chenghua (blue and white) porcelain dish with peach, orchid, bamboo and jade rabbit patterns (明 隆慶仿宣德款青花三友花卉玉兔紋盤), top diameter 14.5 cm, base diameter 8.7 cm, height 3.2 cm



Ming (1368-1644) Tianqi Imitation Chenghua (blue and white) porcelain plate with rabbit pattern and serrated rim (明 天啟仿成化款青花兔紋菱花口盤)
Side view of the above


Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Five-color porcelain plate with eagle and rabbit (明 五彩鷹攫兔固瓷盤)(Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong 香港中文大學文物館)


Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) A pair of silver rabbits gold and precious stones hair pin (明 銀兔金簪一對)



Qing (1636-1911) Kangxi Chenghua (blue and white) porcelain bowl with rabbit patterns (清 康熙青花兔紋淺碗), top diameter 13 cm, base diameter 6 cm, height 4.8 cm


The Twelve Old Summer Palace bronze heads are a collection of bronze fountainheads in the shape of the Chinese zodiac animals that was part of a water clock fountain in front of the Haiyantang (海晏堂) building of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. The statues would spout out water from their mouths to tell the time.

The original figures in a drawing before the looting with all 12 head figures

The bronze-cast heads of the stone statues were among the treasures looted during the destruction of the Old Summer Palace (圓明園) by British and French expeditionary forces (英法聯軍之役) in 1860 during the Second Opium War (1856-1860). In 2009, the rabbit head (along with the rat head) were put to auction at Christie’s Auction House at Paris with a highest bid of Euro28M.  Eventually, Francois-Henri Pinault, owner of Christie’s, acquired the heads at an undisclosed price and returned them to China in 2013.

The rabbit head


Chinese Paintings of Rabbits throughout history

Anonymous (attributed to Song Painting, 宋画 960 -1279 CE), Rabbit and Mountain Flower (山花墨兔圖頁), 37.5 × 42 cm, National Palace Museum (Taipei)


Cui Bai (崔白) (c1044-1088) Double happiness (poultry and rabbit),
雙喜(禽兔), ink and watercolour on silk, 193.7 x 103.4 cm, National Palace Museum (Taipei)



Zhang Lu (張路)(1464-1538) Hawk grabbing the rabbit (蒼鷹攫兔圖), ink and watercolour on silk, 158 × 97 cm, Nanjing Museum


Tao Cheng (陶成), Ming Dynasty, Rabbit and Toad Palace (Moon) (蟾宫月兔圖軸), 193.2 × 106.4 cm, ink and watercolour on silk, The Palace Museum (Beijing)


Shen Quan (沈銓), active around 1731, Rabbits playing in the snow (雪中游兔圓), ink and watercolour on silk, 230.5 × 131.7 cm, Sen-oku Hakuko Kan. Kyoto, Japan (日本泉屋博古館)
Details of the above painting


Shen Quan (沈銓), Bird and flower painting (花鳥圖頁), 210 × 57 cm


Chen Xing (陳星), Qing Dynasty,  Rabbit and Osmanthus (玉兔丹桂圖軸), ink and watercolour on silk, 178 × 92.5 cm


Leng Mei (冷枚), Qing Dynasty, Two rabbits under Chinese parasol /  phoenix tree (梧桐雙兔圖), ink and watercolour on silk, 176.2 x 95 cm, The Palace Museum (Beijing)



Ju Lian (居廉) (1828-1904) Dog chasing rabbit (狗逐兔圖)


Attributed to Qi Baishi (齊白石) (1864 – 1957) Two rabbits, ink and watercolour on paper


Attributed to Qi Baishi (齊白石) (1864 – 1957) Two rabbits, ink and watercolour on paper


There are a lot of fake paintings of Qi around us. Only experts can distinguish the authentic ones from the fake ones.


Attributed to Qi Baishi (齊白石) (1864 – 1957), Two rabbits, ink and watercolour on paper


Attributed to Qi Baishi (齊白石) (1864 – 1957), Two rabbits, ink and watercolour on paper


Liu Kuiling (劉奎齡) (1885-1967) Rabbits (兔圖軸), ink and watercolour on paper


A rabbit is a very popular animal on Chinese art, appearing as a small carved jade or porcelain animal as well as jewellery design, small boxes, and porcelain articles.
Rabbits are tame and lovely animals. Despite rabbits are being preyed on by predators like hawks and dogs in many Chinese paintings, the rabbit has special importance as a symbol associated with immortality and hence longevity. According to old legend, a ‘moon hare’ (yuetu 月兔) lives on the Moon together with the Goddess of the Moon, Chang’e (嫦娥), preparing an elixir of immortality from the bark of the osmanthus tree with a mortar and jade pestle.
One female rabbit can give birth to up to seven litters per year, each with up to 12 babies. Therefore,  the rabbit also symbolizes fertility and prosperity in traditional Chinese culture.
Dunhuang Maogao Cave Sui-407 Cave (敦煌莫高窟 隋-407窟)

Sui Dynasty – 581-618 CE

The ceiling of the 407 Cave of Maogao Cave, Dunhuang was decorated with relief carving of 3 rabbits in the centre.  A huge Buddha statue with his disciples is facing the front.
The ceiling of the cave
The central part of the ceiling

Three rabbits with ears forming a circle chasing each other  三兔共耳相逐藻井
The three ‘rotating’ rabbits on the ceiling of Cave 407 may depict a sense of immortality and longevity.





I would like to thank Professor P. Lam for his consistent guidance and advice throughout the years.



中国剪纸 Paper Cut in China 十二生肖 The twelve symbol animals 漢坤東方出品


Bjaaland Welch, Patricia (2008) Chinese Art- A guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery Tuttle Publishing ISBN: 978-08048-3864-1兔寒蟾冷桂花白,瓷器上栩栩如生的兔子 (beijing Ceramic Art Museum) 齊白石畫作贗品泛濫成災的現象,從流傳的 「兔」作就可見一斑