The Chinese began to celebrate the Year of the Dog on Sunday, Jan. 29. It is the 11th symbolic animal of Twelve Terrestrial Branches that make up the cycle of a normal life on earth.

Anytime we live past 60 is gravy–“living on borrowed time,” as Australian foreign correspondent Richard Hughes once said.

The dog was much admired by Confucius and is valued in China for its fidelity (though it is despised for other reasons). The dog serves a dual roll: guardian and scavenger.

There are people who believe that if a strange dog comes, and remains with them, it is an omen of good for the family.

The oldest representation of dogs in China is engraved on a Zhou dynasty bronze vase (sometime between 1066 B.C and 221 B.C.). The carving in jade of miniature hunting dogs made excellent gifts.

Back when an emperor named Ling was on the throne, around 170 A.D., dogs were special at court. Emperor Ling’s favorite dog was granted the official hat of the jin xian–the highest literary rank of the day, and something like the Ph.D. degree of today. The hat was 10 inches broad and 8-plus inches tall. I wonder what he looked like if he appeared at imperial audiences in that hat.

The Pekingese is well-know today around the world. Its origin and evolution is obscure. They were common in Confucius’ time (551-479 B.C.–about time of Hebrew prophet Jeremiah).

There were little dogs called “pai,” meaning short-legged dog. There were also little dogs that could lead horses by the reins and hold torches in their mouths to light the way for their imperial masters. The famous poet Li Bai wrote poems that told of these dogs leading him home after a night of too many fraternal cups of wine.

Superstition about the Year of the Dog says that emotional affairs and travel will result in particularly good fortune this year. Then to cover all the bases, there is a strong possibility that some form of illness will cause you problems this year. To be on the safe side take care of your physical and mental health throughout 2006!

Since the dog’s fortunes fluctuate during the 12-animal years (as do all the years) it is best to concentrate on positive aspects rather than negative. This sounds like Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking. Today many writers have cashed in on Peales’ advice. Books abound about living on the sunny side of the street. Good advice.

E. Stanley Jones, Methodist missionary to India, once wrote: “Some people know how to live; they seem to work with the grain of the universe; reality works with them–they get results in harmonious, happy, effective living.”

Also of importance in the old days was clearing up all debts so the New Year could begin “owing no man anything.”

Thanks to the plastic credit-card curse that will soon be impossible for the Chinese just as it has become for today’s American consumer.

Britt Towery, a former missionary who lived in China, writes for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.

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