A Chinese postage stamp depicting a dragon with its fangs and claws bared has drawn sharp criticism on the nation's microblogs, with many saying it puts too frightening a face on their rising country.
The commemorative stamp went on sale Thursday ahead of the new Chinese year of the dragon, which begins on January 23, in keeping with a tradition of issuing stamps featuring the zodiac animal linked to the coming lunar year.
Last year's rabbit stamp attracted little attention, but by Friday, the new dragon version had sparked a vibrant online debate.
"The Chinese dragon should be an adorable mascot. Why has it been made so fierce?" wrote one microblogger under the name "YFY Laoyu", saying he changed his mind about buying the stamp after seeing the fierce design.
Chinese historian Zhang Yihe, whose books are banned by Beijing, wrote on her microblog that she was "almost scared to death" by the stamp, while another blogger said it was "hard to know if it will bring good luck or prove ominous".
But others dismissed the criticisms. "There have been many dragons, some majestic and solemn, others lively and interesting. Come on, it's just a stamp," wrote microblogger Zhen Wu.
The dragon, one of the 12 signs in the traditional Chinese zodiac, has long been thought to bring power, wealth and luck.
The stamp's designer Chen Shaohua defended his work, explaining on his blog that he had revived an 1878 stamp design inspired by the robes worn by the emperor.
"The dragon is the god of the zodiac and the god can't be changed easily. Dragons can drive out evil spirits and avoid disasters. We need a tough image to express this," he wrote.