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Roosters that crow for the dawn of day play a vital role in Chinese literature. Dating far back to over 3,000 years ago, there was a poem, Ji Ming (Crowing Rooster) in Odes of Qi, a part of the Classic of Poetry (Shi jing). It describes how a concubine woke up the emperor to attend court and begins with: “Roosters are going to crow; Court will fill.” As roosters have crowed, the officials have shown up in the court. From this ancient poem, we know the crowing of roosters has long been seen as an indication of dawn.  

Roosters crowing at dawn is also vividly described in the Chinese idiom, “Ji Ming Gou Dao” (to crow like a rooster and steal like a dog). During the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC), Lord Meng Changjun of the State of Ji, liked to summon followers under his charity. 

Anyone, whether talented or not, could be a follower of Meng. At one point, his followers were said to have amounted to as many as three thousand. When Meng visited the State of Qin, he and his followers were trapped in a city by Qin. According to the rules, the city gate was not to be opened until the roosters crowed.

One of the followers, who until then had made no contributions, saved Meng from becoming stuck by imitating a rooster’s crowing. Hearing what they believed to be the sound of a rooster crowing, the soldiers guarding the city opened the gate, and thus Meng and his followers successfully escaped back to Ji.   

The rooster’s crowing also bears a positive meaning. An inspiring story is associated with the Chinese idiom, “Wen Ji Qi Wu,” (Rise up upon roosters crowing, and practice swords). 

In East Jin Dynasty (265-420) there were two good friends Zu Ti and Liu Kun, who were determined to devote themselves to their country. They mutually inspired one another to advance their sword skills. Upon hearing roosters crowing (about one hour before the dawn), they’d wake up to practice their sword fighting. Later they attained considerable achievements. Since then, their story has been told to help motivate individuals to seize what time they have in order to cultivate themselves.

The association of a crowing rooster and a virtuous man is even presented in the poem Feng Yu (Wind and Rain) in Odes of Zheng, also part of the Classic of Poetry. 

The poem is presented in three short stanzas: 

“In cold wind and rain, shrilly crows the rooster. 
As I have seen a virtuous man, should I but feel at ease?

Wind whistling and rain pattering, loudly crows the rooster. 
As I have seen a virtuous man, could my ailment but be cured?

Through wind and rain all looks blurry, while the rooster crows ceaselessly. 
As I have seen a virtuous man, how should I not rejoice?”

A rooster that crows nonstop despite wind and rain is compared to a virtuous man who remains firm even in an unstable society, and can further inspire others with his virtues. 

The positive image of a perseverant rooster is strengthened in the third stanza, “Through wind and rain all looks blurry, while the rooster crows ceaselessly.” Despite the strong wind and rain, the rooster’s persistent spirit allows it to perform its duty and welcome the morning dawn. This symbolic image has encouraged and inspired many generations.

Apart from its image of inspiration for ancient Chinese people, the rooster has also been highly praised in France. During the period of the Roman Empire, France was referred to as Gallia and its people as Gallus, which means Roosters in Latin. Hence, the Gallic Rooster is an unofficial national symbol of France. 

Over the past few centuries of French history, the rooster had been featured on French coins and the French national emblem. Today, it is adopted as a mascot of the France national football team. Just as ancient Chinese associated the rooster with a virtuous man, the French people view the rooster as a symbol of honesty and hope. 

In the year of the Rooster, let us embody the rooster’s high spirits and noble determination; let us act in society with virtue and grace. 

Translator: Amy Hsu

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Image credit: Shizhao/ Wikimedia Commons