Year of the Tiger Shoes

It's almost the end of the solar year, so that means it's time to start thinking about the Chinese New Year. This year will be 4708 in the lunar calendar: Year of the Tiger. In China, the tiger is known as king of the beasts, but it's also featured on lots of little kids' hats and shoes, so here's a little story explaining why:

Long ago in Yangzhou, there lived a virtuous but lonely ferryman named Big Yang. Even though he was not a wealthy man, he would allow his passengers to pay in any way they could. One day, an elderly woman paid him with a beautiful painting of a woman embroidering a pair of shoes shaped like tigers. Yang was thrilled as it was worth far more than the price of the trip across the river, but he loved it so much that he decided to hang it on his own wall above his bed. To his surprise, the beautiful woman in it came to life and offered to help him with chores around the house. Over time, they fell in love, married and had a son.

Years later, a corrupt official heard about the magic painting and seized it for himself. However, he was quite disappointed when the beautiful woman would no longer come to life. Meanwhile, the poor boy missed his mother, and as he would never believe the true story, Yang told him his mother had gone on a trip far to the west. Unable to live without his mother, the boy ran off to look for her. After weeks of traveling, he found her frolicking with fairies in a distant forest. He begged her to come home, but she told him that she could only return after he entered the official’s bedroom wearing a pair of tiger shoes that she had sown for him.

The boy quickly returned home and told the official he could make his painting come to life. The official brought the boy into his bedroom, and he called out to his mother. The woman immediately emerged from the painting and embraced her son. When the two tried to leave, the official blocked their path and demanded that the woman remain as his concubine. When they tried to push past him, the greedy official attacked the boy, but his shoes came to life and devoured the greedy official. Ever since then, Chinese women have sown tigers into their children’s shoes, hats, and clothing to protect their children and keep their families together.


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