The fourth release in Canada Post's Lunar New Year series honours the dragon an enduring symbol of China and one of the world's great mythological creatures. These new stamp issues celebrate the Year of the Dragon with a dazzling array of products including a $.46 pane of 25 stamps and OFDCs, a $.95 souvenir sheet, a souvenir sheet OFDC and an uncut press sheet incorporating 12 copies of the souvenir sheet.
The dragon is deeply entrenched in the mythologies of both the West and the East. Among the monsters and imaginary beasts in Western folklore, dragons are beasts to be feared usually depicted as huge, winged fire-breathing reptiles. Through the centuries, heroes such as Beowulf and St. George devoted themselves to slaying these terrifying cave dwellers.
The giant red dragon of the Apocalypse, found in Revelations 12, gave rise to the use of the beast as a symbol of Satan in Christian art and literature.
Dragons are seen differently in the East, where they are considered wise and generous creatures, often worshipped as gods. Numerous shrines and temples were built to honour their divine power. Dragons are revered as benevolent residents of the heavens and the seas symbolic of fortune, wisdom, supernatural knowledge and fertility.
Eastern dragons are cloud-breathing, wingless and serpentine, and come in many sizes and colours: black for the rain dragons, amber for the beast of the mountains, white for the dragon that produces precious gold, and yellow for the imperial dragon.
Counting a Chinese dragon's claws gives some clue as to the people it protects. Four-clawed dragons are associated with common citizens while the five-clawed dragon watches over emperors.
A good sign
The dragon ranks fifth in the 12-animal cycle of the lunar calendar. Ruling the day from the hours of seven to nine a.m., the dragon is, according to The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, "egotistical, eccentric, dogmatic, whimsical or terribly demanding and unreasonable, ...[but] never without a band of admirers."
As metal is the token element of the Year 2000, dragons born in this year are the most strong-willed of all. They have the virtues of honesty and integrity, but are also inflexible and critical. People born under this sign are full of energy and enthusiasm, love to be called on to tackle the impossible, and hate to wait calmly and patiently.
Sewing up a legend
Vancouver's Koo Creative Group Inc. under the creative direction of Ken Koo was responsible for this year's design, continuing its fine work featured in the previous Lunar New Year issues. Designer Ken Fung, illustrator Samuel Tseng, photographer Clinton Hussey and the artists at the Punchline Embroidery Centre have collaborated to create a unique commemorative issue that marries many classic Chinese techniques with contemporary computer-design technology.
"Our design for the Year of the Dragon stamp uses embroidery because it's one of the most prestigious art forms in China," says Ken Koo. "For thousands of years it's been used to present the unique personality, style and characteristics of the dragon."
The use of colour also recalls the strong traditions of this ancient art. "A golden yellow is one of the most commonly used colours of the Chinese New Year," says Koo, "because it represents wealth, fortune and sovereignty."
Concerned about presenting the intricate detail of embroidery, Ken Koo requested that the various visual elements clouds, sea and dragon be created and photographed separately. Computer graphics specialists blended these components to create the final stamp image. As an additional feature, the stamp is embossed to highlight the embroidery element of the design.
In heralding the new millennium, the design team decided to integrate the image of a scroll into two of the Lunar New Year products, as scrolls were often used to deliver important announcements. The open scroll on the Year of the Dragon Souvenir Sheet features the stamp on the left and a second dragon on the right, effectively doubling the good-luck qualities of the issue. The impressive 588 mm by 542 mm press sheet incorporates 12 copies of the Souvenir Sheet arranged on a scroll.
As with previous New Year stamps, the 25-stamp dragon pane is adorned with the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The four corners of the pane feature New Year's wishes that read, when translated from Chinese, "The lively dragon brings to you blessings and fortune" appropriate tidings for the first year of a new millennium.