Skip to main content
Life

USPS Year of the Dragon stamp is ugly, looks like a cow, many say

It's a sheet of Lunar New Year stamps with a colorful dragon mask design and zodiac animal icons on the right edge.
The newest Lunar New Year series from the U.S. Postal Service commemorates the Year of the Dragon, which starts Feb. 10. | Source: Courtesy USPS

As the Year of the Dragon approaches, not everyone is happy about the new Chinese New Year stamp issued by the United States Postal Service.

Since 1993, the USPS has released a stamp featuring each year’s zodiac animal. However, this year’s Year of the Dragon design—showing a three-dimensional bright yellow animal face with red eyes, a red nose and sharp teeth—has sparked some backlash from San Francisco's Chinese community.

“It doesn’t look like an Asian dragon at all,” Leland Wong, a Chinatown-based artist, told The Standard. “I thought it was a monkey.”

Wong posted a news article featuring the stamp in a private Chinatown community Facebook group slamming the “monkey-like” dragon, triggering dozens of other comments criticizing the design.

A colorful dragon mask with a "Lunar New Year" stamp design, marked "Forever USA."
USPS has released its latest Lunar New Year stamp design for the Year of the Dragon. | Source: Courtesy USPS

Claudine Cheng, the president of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Foundation, who advocated for the Lunar New Year stamp decades ago, expressed discontent with this fierce-looking dragon.

“People are celebrating the Lunar New Year and like to see an image that brings happiness and good luck,” Cheng said. “When you look at this interpretation, it doesn't evoke that kind of emotion.”

Cheng acknowledged that the artist can have their own interpretation of a dragon, but “it has to be culturally sensitive.” She also said this latest Lunar New Year stamp series, which started in 2020 with the Year of the Mouse, looks very similar every year, with each zodiac lacking unique features to distinguish it from the others.

She’s organizing with the arts and culture community in San Francisco to draft a letter of concern to the postal service.

David Ho, a board member of Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative, a newly formed coalition to advocate for better Asian American culture and storytelling, said that the design looks like a cow, resembling the well-known evil fictional character Bull Demon King (牛魔王) in ancient Chinese literature.

This is a commemorative stamp with a colorful dragon illustration celebrating the Lunar New Year on a red background.
This year's stamp features a colorful, three-dimensional mask depicting a dragon. | Source: Courtesy USPS

USPS’s Response

Camille Chew, an East Coast-based artist, was commissioned to design this 12-year Lunar New Year stamp series, which runs from 2020 to 2031, according to the postal service. USPS’s art director, Antonio Alcalá, is listed as the stamp designer, too.

In a statement, the postal service said the design team always consults with experts and its Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee when working on a stamp design.

For this Year of the Dragon stamp, the team “worked with a professor of late imperial and modern Chinese art history with a focus on gender issues and globalization of material culture.” The statement didn’t name the professor.

The postal authority also emphasized there’s often “latitude for a variety of interpretations” for the stamp design, and it always welcomes public suggestions that celebrate the American experience.

But no matter how upset people are, it is what it is now.

According to the postal service's website, the agency will print 22 million copies of the stamp and circulation will start after an unveiling event in Seattle’s Chinatown later this month, which Cheng is invited to attend. Last year, postal officials unveiled the Year of the Rabbit stamp in San Francisco.

“I think we need to leave them room to consider a different approach for the second half of this series,” Cheng said. “They still have seven zodiacs to go, so I think we want to leave room for improvement.”

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com