Many people in China are receiving special gifts symbolizing good luck for Chinese New Year long before the Year of the Pig falls on Feb 5.
A novelty mug in the shape of a pig, created by internationally renowned Chinese designer Jeff Dayu Shi, is one such gift capturing attention.
The Jihai canopy mug is Shi's ninth release in the Chinese Zodiac mug series. He also designed mugs for the Chinese zodiac years of the rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, monkey, goat, rooster and dog.
It is said in the ancient Chinese book, Categories for In-depth Reference, that with a pig in the house, one can expect good fortune on all counts.
For thousands of years, the pig has always represented fortune and prosperity in Chinese culture. "May there be a bumper harvest of the five grains; may the six domestic animals thrive", is a common saying used by people during Chinese New Year to wish others luck and wealth in the coming year.
The pig, being the first of the six domestic animals, naturally serves as an important symbol of prosperity and happiness. The Chinese people's affection for the pig also can be found in ancient Chinese literature, Shi said.
Marshal Canopy (aka Zhu Bajie), one of the heroes in the classic Chinese fantasy novel, Journey to the West, is a part-human, part-pig creature.
As 2019 will be the Year of the Pig (or "Jihai" as it is referred to in the sex agenary cycle), Shi has designed the special Chinese zodiac mug shaped in the form of a pig, with a large and stout belly that symbolizes "a bumper harvest of the five grains."
This wonderfully lifelike pig sits upright on the table with its four hooves facing forward and its snout as the mug lid.
In addition, the pig carries on its right-hand side Marshal Canopy's weapon of choice — a "nine-tooth iron muck-rake." The handle of the "muck-rake" is in fact a straw made from natural bamboo, and it is possible this is the first time that such a design has been used in a mug, Shi said.
On its chest the pig holds a sycee, an ingot used for currency in ancient China, which represents wealth. Users can strain the tea leaves with ease by simply moving the sycee on the outside as it is attached to the infuser inside the mug, Shi said.
When placed sideways, the mug will "stand" on its four hooves; as the front two hooves are shorter, the mug tilts slightly forward and drains the liquid.
Shi,a longtime Beijing resident, was born in 1964 to parents who moved to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland in 1949.
At 21, he left Taiwan to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and later worked as a designer for the luxury jewelry company Harry Winston.
In 1996, he won the DeBeers Diamonds International Award, equivalent to the Oscars of the jewelry world.
He was honored with the Red Dot Design Award four years in a row, from 2009 to 2012, for designs that included the Twins Round/Square Teapot Set and the bamboo chairs Jun-Zi and Qin-Jian.
The Red Dot Design Award is hailed as one of the top three design awards in the world.