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

The Tiger () is the third of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Tiger is associated with the Earthly Branch (地支) symbol of Yin (). The Lunar New Year Day of the Year of Ren Yin (年) falls on Tuesday 1 February 2022.

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

天干 (Ten Heavenly Stems) – 甲乙丙丁戊己庚

地支 (Twelve Earthly Branches) – 卯辰巳午未申酉戌亥
十二生肖 (12-year cycle in the Chinese zodiac) is made up of


rat ox tiger rabbit dragon snake horse goat monkey rooster dog pig, as show in the diagram below:

Recent years of the Tiger are: 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022.

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:


Tigers are the biggest and most powerful members of the cat family (family Felidae). They are native to isolated areas of Asia and east Russia. A tiger is solitary in nature, marking out its territory and defending it from other tigers. In order for it to survive and thrive in its own habitat, the tiger has powerful physical features from razor-sharp teeth to muscular legs. They catch prey and put up a fight from potential poachers.

The tiger has incited a sense of both awe and admiration: its prowess, its ferocity and its beauty. The tiger is full of life and embodies the spirit and drive to achieve and make progress.

Around 3,900 tigers remain in the wild across the globe, according to World Wildlife Fund. Since the beginning of the 20th century, over 95% of the world’s tiger population is lost. India currently hosts the largest tiger population.

Almost every part of a tiger has been used in folk or traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed that the bones of tigers contains ingredients that can relieve rheumatism. The skin of tigers has high ornamental purpose.

Tiger skin rug
Synovial plaster patch for pain relief containing ingredients made from tiger bones

Tigers have been poached throughout history. Recently tigers are farmed in Asian countries to harvest valuable products. Farmed tigers are reported to be subjected to ill treatment and cruelty. 

Caixin Media is a Chinese media group based in Beijing known for investigative journalism. Caixin means “News Fortune” in Chinese. https://www.caixinglobal.com/2018-10-31/loosening-ban-on-tiger-rhino-parts-sparks-furor-101341190.html
Tiger as a Symbol of Power and Protection of a household
Chinese Popular Print (nianhua 年畫) of the Sacred Tiger Protects This Household (鎮宅神虎 )

The exorcist formula on this print is combined with a luck-bringing invocation. The inscription on the right reads: “The Ferocious Tiger, its formidable magnificence backed by mountains and forests, growls and howls like thunder to scare away demons and evil spirits.”

Tiger tallies (虎符)

Two-piece tiger tallies (虎符) were used to verify troop deployment orders (調兵憑證) from the central government. Left pieces were issued to local commanders, and right pieces were retained by the central government. Government orders were deemed to be authentic if they were accompanied by the right piece matching the recipient’s left piece. The use of tiger tallies began in Western Zhou Dynasty (西周) 1046 BC -771 BC.  Tiger symbolism stands for strength, fearlessness and military prowess.

Qin Du tiger tally (秦杜虎符)

Qin Du tiger tally (秦杜虎符),height 4.4 cm, length 9.5 cm, width 0.7 cm, Warring State (戰國) Period (418 BC–221 BC), unearthed in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province (陕西西安) in 1975, kept in Shaanxi History Museum (陝西史博物館). Inscriptions: ’兵甲之符,右在君,左在杜,凡興士被甲用兵五十人以上,必會君符,乃敢行之。燔燧事,雖毋會符,行。’, 表明50人以上的用兵需要驗虎符才可以行動,但遇到烽火燃起的緊急軍情,可以不受此限制’. It indicates that soldiers with more than 50 people need to check the tiger tallies before they can act, but in the event of an emergency military situation that is ignited by beacon fires, they can be exempted from this restriction.

Yangling Tiger Tally (陽陵虎符)

Yangling Tiger Tally (陽陵虎符), height 3.14 cm, length 8.9 cm. Qin Dynasty (秦朝, 221 BC – 206 BC), unearthed in Lincheng, Shandong Province (山東省臨城), kept in Chinese History Museum (中國歷史博物館).  The inscriptions ‘甲兵之符,右才(在)皇帝,左才(在)陽陵。’ The tally of the army, the right is in the emperor (Emperor Qin), the left is in the Yangling.

Other art works related to the tigers 

The character 虎 (tiger) written in various scripts : oracle scripts, seal scripts, clerical script, regular scripts, running scripts and cursive scripts.
Bronze artefact of Shang Dynasty (商朝), 1600 BC -1046 BC
Bronze artefact of Zhou Dynasty (周朝), 1046 BC -256 BC
Bronze artefact of Warring State (戰國), 475BC -221BC
The end of a roof tile decorated with a tiger (虎紋瓦當), Han Dynasty (漢朝), 202 BC -220 AD
Rubbing of the end of a roof tile decorated with a tiger (虎紋瓦當拓片), Han Dynasty (漢朝), 202BC -220AD (diameter 19.53 cm)
Rubbing of the end of a roof tile decorated with a tiger face (虎面紋瓦當拓片), Tang Dynasty (唐朝), 618 AD – 907 AD (diameter 13.3 cm)
Rubbing of the end of a roof tile decorated with a tiger face (虎面紋瓦當拓片), Tang Dynasty (唐朝), 618 AD – 907 AD (diameter 10.5 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 2000, the tiger head was bought back and repatriated to Beijing from Sotheby’s Hong Kong at an auction price of USD 1.98 million.

The bronze tiger head
Gao Qipei (高其佩, 1660-1734), ink and watercolour on paper
Gao Jianfu (高劍父,1879-1951) ink and watercolour on paper
Zhang Shanzi (張善孖, 1882-1940), ink and watercolour on paper. Zhang Shanzi is the elder brother of Zhang Daiqian, rearing tigers for his studies and painting.
Zhang Shanzi (張善孖, 1882-1940), ink and watercolour on paper
Chang Dai-chien or Zhang Daqian (張大千, 1899-1983), ink and watercolour on paper. The tiger was painted by Zhang Daqien; the background was painted by Zhang Shanzi (張善孖)
Liu Kuiling (劉奎齡, 1885-1967) ink and watercolour on paper
Liu Kuiling (劉奎齡, 1885-1967) ink and watercolour on paper
Gao Qifeng (高奇峰, 1888-1933) ink and watercolour on paper, inscription by Chao Shao-an (趙少昂).
Yan Bolong (顏伯龍, 1898-1954), ink and watercolour on paper
Cai Heting (蔡鶴汀, 1909-1976), ink and watercolour on paper
Chow Chian Chiu (周千秋, 1910-2006), ink and watercolour on paper
Hu Shuang’an (胡爽庵, 1916-1988), ink and watercolour on paper
Liu Jiyou (劉繼卣, 1918-1983), ink and watercolour on paper
Ip Chit Hoo (葉哲豪, 1918 – 2020), ink and watercolour on paper

The whimsical and playful style of tiger painting

Qi Baishi (齊白石, 1864-1957), ink and watercolour on paper
Qi Baishi (齊白石, 1864-1957), ink and watercolour on paper
Qi Baishi (齊白石, 1864-1957), ink and watercolour on paper
Ding Yanyong (丁衍庸, 1902- 1978), ink on paper
Huang Yongyu (黄永玉, born 1924),  Tiger king protects this household (虎鎮宅), ink and watercolour on paper
Huang Yongyu (黄永玉, born 1924), ink and watercolour on paper
Huang Yongyu (黄永玉,  born 1924), ink and watercolour on paper
A stamp of tiger
A China 4 cents stamp of 1963 with two soft toy tigers.  Mother and son – very cute and of highly artistic.

Acknowledgements :

I would like to thank Dr Sunhoo Foo for his guidance and the information of the tiger tallies. Dr Foo also provided me with interesting information about how his last name ‘Foo 符’ was related to the Tiger Tallies. His ancestry can be traced back to the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi, 黄帝 2697 BC –  2599 BC).  Please read the following article:


Bibliography :

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

Maria Rudova, Lev Menshikov, Viacheslav Sobolev, Yurin Kirilin (1988) Chinese Popular Prints, Aurora Publishers, Leningrad