Inside the Collection

Happy Lunar New Year – the year of the horse

Photograph of red 'Precious horse shaking the money tree' Papercut
91/1087 Papercut, red paper, ‘Precious horse shaking the money tree (Bao ma yao qian shu)’, China, 1930-1940. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Lunar New Year is the most significant annual celebration for Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures. January 31, 2014 marks the start of the Lunar New Year better known as Chinese New Year, and begins ‘The Year of the horse’.


The Chinese calendar is based on an ancient Chinese philosophy and features a cyclical dating method that repeats every 60 years. People born in the Year of the Horse are described as clever, kind, animated and energetic.

Zodiac animals have always been favoured by carvers and often depicted in daily items and art works.

Toggles are small carved ornaments used as a dress accessory for men. Traditionally Chinese and Japanese clothes didn’t have pockets and they used small bags which were suspended from a belt and those toggles were used as counterweights of the bag. This tradition, unfortunately, disappeared since the introduction of western clothes. However, Japanese carvers developed this as an art form, known as netsuke as you can see in the image below. Zodiac animals have been one of the most popular forms of toggles.

Min Kim Jung, Curator

Photograph of Netsuke, dress accessory, toggle in a shape of grazing horse
Netsuke, dress accessory, toggle in a shape of grazing horse, boxwood, Shuzan, Japan, 18th century side view. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Netsuke horse depicts a grazing horse with head bent down to one side chewing on a clump of grass. The figure stands on an oval base, the underside of which is inscribed in Japanese characters with the signature of the maker, Shuzan.

The Powerhouse Museum will celebrate Chinese New Year during the first two weekends of February 2014.
Written by Anni Turnbull, curator

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