According to the Chinese lunar calendar, 2020 is the Year of the Rat – the first animal sign of the Chinese zodiac. Those born in the Year of the Rat are known as being quick-witted, resourceful, versatile and smart. Possessing strong intuition, they easily adapt themselves to a new environment. A rich imagination and keen sense of observation also help the Rat take advantage of opportunities, which is why it finished first in the Jade Emperor’s zodiac race, on the back of the strong Ox.

To mark Lunar New Year, we are releasing the Year of the Rat 2020 stamp issue, designed by Yan Lin.

Yan is a freelance designer with a Bachelor of Design in visual communication from the University of Technology, Sydney. Yan’s creative streak is long-standing.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved to immerse myself in creativity, art, craft, drawing and building things; those are the moments when I feel most grounded. To me, design has at all times been a source of inspiration, a way to express and channel my thought,” says Yan.

Yan was born in Fujian, China, and raised and educated in Sydney, Australia. During early childhood, Yan was living in the “idyllic” countryside of Chang Le, a district located in the central part along the southeast coastline of Fujian Province.

“We used to live in a siheyuan (四合院 sìhéyuàn) – a historical Chinese type of residence with wooden doors and traditional carving designs. The name refers to a courtyard surrounded by buildings with entrances on all four sides. It reflects the concept of many generations living under one roof,” explains Yan.

“When Lunar New Year approached, we would decorate the doors and windows with red lanterns and red couplets, many of which were written by my great-uncle. Large round tables were set up and placed in the centre of the courtyard for the big annual family reunion dinner. Since we lived near the coast, seafood was our main source of food. Having a fish dish at our dinner was essential, as it symbolises ‘surplus’ for the forthcoming year,” says Yan.

“After dinner, the whole family would gather outside the siheyuan to set off firecrackers. As a kid and for many children, we were also given small firecrackers and sparklers to light and run around the courtyard,” recalls Yan.

When considering the design brief for the Year of the Rat 2020 stamp issue, Yan was conscious to produce a design that would resonate with Australian and Chinese audiences, focusing on the ancient art genre, Peking Opera.

“For over two centuries, Peking Opera (京剧 jīng jù) has been one of the fundamental expressions of Chinese culture,” notes Yan.

“One of the activities that is enjoyed by many people during the Lunar New Year is to watch Peking Opera performances. It is a form of storytelling that features melodious singing or rhythmical speaking, reciting, acting and martial arts. The costumes are flamboyant, elegant and beautiful. The facial makeup is exaggerated, using symbols, colours and patterns to depict characters’ personalities and social identities,” explains Yan.

For the Year of the Rat 2020 stamp designs, Yan introduced three of the five main unique characters from Peking Opera: Sheng (生 shēng) the male role, Chou (丑 chǒu) the comedy role and Dan (旦 dàn) the female role.

“The Rats in the stamp designs are personified characters, dressed in extravagant costumes and headpieces, ready to perform on the stage, with the other twelve zodiac animals featured on the zodiac stamp sheetlet. Having human-like features allows the audience to easily recognise them and form an emotional connection,” says Yan.

“Each of the Rat characters is designed with distinct Year of the Rat symbolism, in terms of both colour and decoration. For instance, Sheng (生 shēng) is represented by China blue with complementary colours of jade green, Chinese vibrant red and gold. It wears a traditional hat with two wings that extend out to each side of the ears indicating his identity, and with the symbol of prosperity (禄 lù) illustrated across his hat and robe. Chou (丑 chǒu) is depicted in jade green, holding a gold ingot or sycee (元宝 yuán bǎo) to express wealth and good fortune. The symbol of ancient Chinese coins is also illustrated throughout the headpiece and the robe. Dan (旦 dàn) wears an elaborate jewelled ornamental headpiece, together with lily flower patterns designed on her fan and robe,” explains Yan.

“For the sheetlet, I’ve tried to add some whimsical elements to appeal to the current generation, while at the same time preserving the traditional elements of Lunar New Year,” says Yan.

A design element used throughout the design is Chinese jade (yù), which in Chinese culture represents goodness, preciousness and beauty.

“Jade reflects status, purity and intelligence. The colour of jade depicts loyalty, while its imperfections reflect sincerity, since green is also the lucky colour for the Year of Rat in 2020,” says Yan.

Yan was thrilled to be involved in this latest Lunar New Year stamp issue for Australia Post.

“Becoming involved in stamp design was a highlight of 2019 and provided a real sense of satisfaction. I now find myself paying extra attention to stamp designs; the beauty and diversity of stamps,” says Yan.

One of the challenges for Yan, as for other stamp designers, is how to communicate an intricate story in a very small space.

“How do you effectively deliver a clear message within such a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of space while maintaining visual appeal? Working within the small, perforated perimeters was the biggest challenge I faced in this project. Nonetheless, it was an eye-opening experience and a joyful one, and I very much appreciated the ongoing support of the philatelic team at Australia Post,” says Yan.

The Christmas Island Lunar New Year: Year of the Rat 2020 stamp issue is available from 8 January 2020, online, at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794 (+61 3 9887 0033 from overseas), while stocks last.

View the gallery and technical details for this issue.

This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.

Philatelic Team