Zodiac dog, pig go missing for Chinese New Year in Malaysia

Chinese across the world will usher in the Year of the Dog next month, but Malaysian Chinese are seeing red over zodiac animals missing from a festive T-shirt.
Chinese across the world will usher in the Year of the Dog next month, but Malaysian Chinese are seeing red over zodiac animals missing from a festive T-shirt. ST PHOTO: TRINNA LEONG

KUALA LUMPUR - Chinese across the world are prepping to usher in the Year of the Dog next month, but Malaysian Chinese are seeing red over zodiac animals missing from a festive T-shirt.

A photo of the T-shirt went viral on social media last week because its image of cartoon animals perched round a platter of yu sheng - a celebratory dish - was missing the dog and the pig, animals considered unclean among the country's Muslim majority.

"It's getting overboard and rather childish. It's just a cartoon, not an actual animal," said Shephanie Kuan, 23, a college student born in the Year of the Pig.

While the other 10 animals of the zodiac like the rooster and rabbit were represented by cute drawings, the dog and the pig had to settle for Chinese characters "xu" and "hai" respectively.

The cotton T-shirt sold at Giant Hypermarket, which has over 110 stores across Malaysia, was first priced at RM15.99 (S$5.33) a piece but the price has since dropped to RM10.88.

GCH Retail, the parent company of Giant Hypermarket, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Malaysian Chinese community - about 6.6 million people in a country of 32 million - has responded with a mixture of irritation, bemusement and indifference.

 

The more irked among them called for a boycott of the T-shirt, saying it was insensitive.

Others took to mockery.

One Facebook user commented the boo-boo was likely a "manufacturing defect". Another joked that "the dog ran away, the pig got roasted".

But many are happy to let sleeping dogs lie.

"I think the shirt was made for Muslims looking to feel the Chinese New Year vibe," said Eileen Tan, 23 a computer programmer . "I have no problem with it as long as they feel happy".

True to his vocation, advertising creative head Dann Toh, 35, has a constructive response. He said: "Not offended. I just plan to buy shirts with dogs and wear them for the rest of the year to balance out the lack of representation".

Malaysia has seen similar controversies in the past.

The most recent was 2016's brouhaha over using the word "dog" to describe sausages. To preserve their halal status - which certifies their food is permissible to Muslims - Auntie Anne's 'Pretzel Dog' was renamed 'Pretzel Sausage' while fast-food chain A&W's 'Coney Dog' is now 'Beef Coney' or 'Chicken Coney'. The Islamic department said the word "dog" was confusing to Muslims.

Meanwhile, porcine images have become taboo, without any nudging by the authorities.

In 2016, a Chinese New Year movie Monkey King 2 headlined by famous Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok had its poster edited for the Malaysian market, by cutting out the famous pig-faced character Zhu Bajie.

Those keen on wearing all 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac can head to Giant's biggest competitor Tesco, which has its own Chinese New Year T-shirts, complete with dog and pig.

Additional reporting by Shannon Teoh