British Columbia

'Pigsy' from 16th century Chinese fairy tale stars in Lunar New Year postage stamp

A character from the classic 16th century Chinese novel "Journey to the West" is the inspiration for Canada Post's Lunar New Year stamp this year.

'It's a nice, beautiful fairy tale story that inspires people,' says stamp designer

Every year, Canada Post rings in the Lunar New Year by issuing stamps that feature animals from the Chinese zodiac. (Canada Post)

A character from the classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West is the inspiration for Canada Post's Lunar New Year stamp this year.

Albert Ng, a design professor at York University, and his former student Seung Jai Paek, came up with the stamp design to honour the Year of the Pig.

They chose to feature Pigsy, or Zhu Bajie, partly because the character is well-known across different Asian cultures.

"I don't think Chinese New Year is exclusive to Chinese around the world," Ng said.

"It's for everyone ... And Journey to the West is well-known in China, Korea, and Japan."

The design also plays on a similar theme as the 2016 stamp for the Year of the Monkey, which Ng also created. 

At the time, he chose to feature Monkey King — another prominent character in the popular fairy tale.

Journey to the West, featuring a half-pig, half-man being called Pigsy, is considered one of China's greatest fables. (Canada Post)

One of China's greatest fables

Journey to the West, written by the Ming Dynasty novelist Wu Cheng'en, follows the pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk and his three disciples in Tang Dynasty China.

As they journey to central Asia and India to bring back sacred Buddhist texts, they encounter demons, evil animal spirits and other obstacles.

The three disciples are tasked with protecting the monk, to atone for their past sins.

Pigsy, a half-pig, half-man being who was once a marshall in heaven in command of 80,000 soldiers, is one of the disciples.

Journey to the West is considered one of China's greatest fables, and the story has been retold many times — including in a recent Netflix series called The New Legends of Monkey.

"When I was a kid, I liked to read Journey to the West — I had comic books, story books, and hundreds of pages," said Ng.

"Now, we have to deliver the story in two frames. That's quite a challenge, instead of 200 pages. So how can we do it?"

Ng and Paek chose two designs. The domestic stamp features Pigsy as a marshal in heaven, holding a nine-pronged rake. In the international stamp, he's his earth-self, dressed in red.

Paek likens Journey to the West's popularity to the Harry Potter series.

"I think it's a nice, beautiful fairytale story that inspires people," he said.

With files from The Early Edition