Lunar New Year: Chinese zodiac celebrates rabbit as Vietnamese call for cat to be included

Why thousands of Australians are furious over the Lunar New Year celebrating ‘the Year of the Rabbit’

  • Organisations slammed for lack of recognition of Vietnamese Lunar New Year
  • Fourth zodiac sign in Chinese culture is a rabbit, but not in Vietnamese culture
  • There are 258,000 Vietnam-born Australian residents and more in the diaspora 

A community leader has slammed the lack of recognition around the upcoming Vietnamese Lunar New Year claiming most of the focus in Australia has been on the Chinese version. 

With the Lunar New Year falling on Sunday, January 22, Australia’s cities and towns have been decked out with decorations honouring China‘s Year of the Rabbit – the fourth animal in the Chinese zodiac.

But for the 258,000 Vietnam-born Australian residents, the fourth animal is a cat, not a rabbit.

Critics say this distinction has barely been acknowledged by organisations such as the City of Sydney and Star Casino.

‘It means that the Vietnamese community is invisible and it actually does hurt,’ former local councillor and food writer Thang Ngo told ABC Radio

Those born in the Year of the Cat are said to be smart and confident. 

Fireworks light up the skyline over the Sydney Opera House on January 27, 2017 to celebrate the Lunar New Year and welcome the Year of the Rooster

Fireworks light up the skyline over the Sydney Opera House on January 27, 2017 to celebrate the Lunar New Year and welcome the Year of the Rooster

The City of Sydney has been accused of favouring the Chinese Lunar New Year over the Vietnamese version, which ushers in the Year of the Cat

The City of Sydney has been accused of favouring the Chinese Lunar New Year over the Vietnamese version, which ushers in the Year of the Cat

Mr Ngo used the City of Sydney as an example – detailing the promotional material centering only on a rabbit and not including any other animals. 

A City of Sydney spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia that it ‘works to incorporate as many aspects of different cultures (as possible) into our celebrations’. 

‘Lunar New Year celebrations are as diverse as the people who celebrate the occasion with many cultures marking Lunar New Year in April, for example,’ the spokesperson said.

‘Vietnamese culture will be celebrated throughout the festival.’

Around 335,000 people in Australia have Vietnamese ancestry. 

In Greater Sydney, 93,778 people were born in Vietnam and 117,000 speak Vietnamese at home in NSW.

Mr Ngo said Star Casino’s celebratory decorations also failed to mention the Year of the Cat, despite running a free bus service to bring people from the southwestern Sydney suburb of Cabramatta to the casino.

More than a third of residents living in Cabramatta have Vietnamese ancestry.

‘If our money is good enough for The Star, then I think they’ll find the money for an extra illustration,’ he said.

Daily Mail Australia has contacted The Star for comment.  

Stickers with cat image are pictured at the Spring Festival Fair in the Old Quarter on January 14, 2023 in Hanoi, Vietnam

Stickers with cat image are pictured at the Spring Festival Fair in the Old Quarter on January 14, 2023 in Hanoi, Vietnam

A giant Hello Kitty balloon is seen in Acapulco, Mexico on January 6, 2023. Fairfield City Council in southwestern Sydney will feature a Hello Kitty event as part of its Lunar New Year celebration on February 4

A giant Hello Kitty balloon is seen in Acapulco, Mexico on January 6, 2023. Fairfield City Council in southwestern Sydney will feature a Hello Kitty event as part of its Lunar New Year celebration on February 4

Kim Vo, a volunteer with the Viet Culture Quintessence Group in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown, said the Year of the Cat is always a good year.

‘The cat is very friendly to the family, but also the cat is very helpful for the family because they catch mice and rats, which are very harmful to the agricultural crop in the paddy field,’ he said.

Cats’ usefulness may be the reason it was chosen to be included in the Vietnamese zodiac over the rabbit.

But another explanation is the Chinese words for rabbit and cat sound similar.

‘People who are born in the Year of the Cat are very smart, have ambition, have good luck and are confident,’ Mr Vo said. 

An Australian souvenir hangs as performers participate in a lion and tiger dance as part of Lunar New Year celebrations at Paddy's Markets in Chinatown, Sydney, Saturday, January 29, 2022

An Australian souvenir hangs as performers participate in a lion and tiger dance as part of Lunar New Year celebrations at Paddy’s Markets in Chinatown, Sydney, Saturday, January 29, 2022

A man is pictured holding Year of the Rabbit stickers in a shop in Jakarta, Indonesia on January 10, 2023

A man is pictured holding Year of the Rabbit stickers in a shop in Jakarta, Indonesia on January 10, 2023

The City of Sydney’s annual Lunar New Year festival, which was first held in 1996, was known as the Chinese New Year Festival up until 2019.

The name was changed after years of lobbying to include other cultures, despite some opposition from the Chinese community.

Councils in Sydney’s southwest with significant Vietnamese communities have used illustrations of both a rabbit and cat to advertise their celebrations.

Bankstown’s Lunar New Year festival will include a giant inflatable cat, while Fairfield City Council has a Hello Kitty event as part of its celebration on February 4.

The Star Casino in Sydney (pictured) has been accused of not properly acknowledging the Vietnamese Year of the Cat

The Star Casino in Sydney (pictured) has been accused of not properly acknowledging the Vietnamese Year of the Cat

Mr Ngo wants other councils and organisations marking Lunar New Year to include the cat.

‘The point of inclusion is you can have more, not less and by just excluding groups, you’re effectively wanting to do less rather than more and that’s really not a good sign for harmony,’ he said.

The City of Sydney said Vietnamese culture will be celebrated throughout its 16-day festival, which runs from January 21 to February 5.

‘This will include performances at the Lunar Spectacular show, lion dancing as well as a hand painted Vietnamese Lunar Gateway situated at the end of Thomas Street in Haymarket,’ the spokesperson said.

They added that in preparing for the festival it ‘consulted extensively on its designs with several community groups, including members from Sydney’s Vietnamese community’.

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