It might not be easy to think of a nice wish for this zodiac year, but the reptile is an important part of Chinese culture.
As a tradition, Chinese people greet each other with propitious words - to which the zodiac animals are usually related - during Chinese lunar New Year. Some years are easy, such as the Year of the Tiger, which represents power and strength. Sheng long huo hu, or "vital dragon and vigorous tiger" in Chinese, is often used to describe people who are energetic and full of life. The Year of the Ox is connected with being productive and successful, as the animal represents hard work, or simply a bull market.
The Dog is loyalty, the Monkey is smart, and the Rooster crows. Even the year of the Pig wouldn't be a problem, as the mud-rolling creature symbolizes good fortune in traditional Chinese culture.
This year, however, the lunar calendar has tossed up a major challenge: the Year of the Snake. It is hard for people to get good impressions from the wet, scaly, sometimes deadly reptile. Chinese idioms, phrases and old sayings related to snakes are often negative.
"Having a heart as malicious as snakes and scorpions", or she xie xin chang in Chinese, is an acute accusation that someone carries ill will. And places where crime and violence are rampant are usually referred to as "infested with snakes and rats".
Liu Xin, a 29-year-old Beijing resident, is finding it difficult to write greeting cards to his friends.
"I have looked in the dictionary but found no good words about snakes," he said.
Liu had racked his brain, but only came up with "Happy Year of the Snake", which was also thrown out.
"It is just weird putting the word 'snake' and the word 'happy' in one sentence," he said. "The sight of snakes crawling on their bellies makes my flesh creep."