The Chinese sometimes refer to the snake as the little dragon, perhaps because of the similarities between the snake and the mythical beast.
In fact, Chinese people have a mixed and complicated view about the snake. This is reflected in many legends, myths and worshipping practices.
On one hand, the snake is regarded as evil, representing malevolence and cattiness. On the other hand, it is seen as a mysterious creature, symbolising acumen, divination, auspiciousness, honour, wisdom and strength.
The youngest snake people are those born in the year of 2013. People born under this sign are believed to have a good temper and a skill at communicating but say little. They possess gracious morality and great wisdom. They are usually financially secure and do not have to worry about money. They have tremendous sympathy for others and often take action to help their fellow human beings.
In life they are determined to accomplished their goals and hate to fail. Although they look calm on the surface, they are intense and passionate. They have a rich source of inspiration and understand themselves well. They are also said to be people of great perception.
Meanwhile, they are likely to be jealous and suspicious. They should be cautious about what they discuss with others, as it might cause them to lose friendship and opportunities. They tend to overdo things. They prefer to rely on themselves and have doubts about other people's judgement. They are courteous with polite manners, but they can be headstrong. They are fickle and often have problems in relationships or marriage.
There are many famous individuals born in the Year of the Snake. Amongst them are Elizabeth I, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Charles Darwin, Picasso, and Mao Zedong.
Idioms & phrases
There are many Chinese phrases containing the snake character (蛇). However a great number have somewhat negative and even derogatory meanings.
In western culture the snake may be seen as something that can’t be trusted as in the phrase “a snake in the grass”. In Chinese they talk about dǎ cǎo jīng shé (打草惊蛇, lit. beat grass scare snake) a metaphor which means to act rashly and alert the enemy.
While there are some connections to the dragon, the snake is seen as somewhat inferior to the mythical beast. This is reflected in the idiom lóng shé hùn zá (龙蛇混杂, lit. dragons and snakes jumble together), and describes a mixture of good and bad people.
However, the dragon cannot uphold its favourable position all the time, especially when, as an outsider, it has to face local bullies and villains. In Chinese they may say dì tóu shé (地头蛇, lit. local head snake). Thus comes the popular phrase qiáng lóng bù yā dì tóu shé (强龙不压地头蛇, lit. strong dragon not suppress local head snake). This long idiom means a dragon from outside finds it hard to control a snake in its old haunt, suggesting powerful outsiders can hardly afford to neglect local bullies.
There are many phrases which blatantly describe the snake as evil. One such phrase is fó kǒu shé xīn (佛口蛇心, lit. having the mouth of the Buddha, but the heart of a snake) which means to disguise evil intention with pretty words.
Shé xiē xīn cháng (蛇蝎心肠, lit. snake scorpion heart intestine) refers to evil as having the state of mind of snakes and scorpions. Niú guǐ shé shén ( 牛鬼蛇神, lit. ghosts with an ox’s head and gods with a snake’s body) refers to all kinds of evil people.
Shé kǒu fēng zhēn (蛇口蜂针, lit. snake mouth bee needle) could be used to describe evil words or methods while shé méi shǔ yǎn (蛇眉鼠眼, lit. snake eyebrows, rat eyes) might be uttered to describe individuals with an evil appearance.
This is perhaps reflected by the popular gambling term “snake eyes”, much used in the west. It refers to the outcome of rolling the dice in a game and getting only one pip on each die. The pair of pips resembles a pair of eyes, which is appended to the term “snake” because of the long-standing association of this word with treachery and betrayal.
“Three snakes and seven rats”, or sān shé qī shǔ (三蛇七鼠) in Chinese, refers to a great number of people or things which cause harm or damage.
Another often used idiom is huà shé tiān zú (画蛇添足, lit. draw snake, add feet) which means to improve something which is already perfect but end up spoiling it. Its English equivalent might be to gild the lily.
To end is another idiom rén xīn bù zú shé tūn xiàng (人心不足蛇吞象) which likens people who are greedy to a snake which wants to eat an elephant.