In a China Flush with Fortune, Many Now Want Theirs Told

By Ford, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, February 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

In a China Flush with Fortune, Many Now Want Theirs Told


Ford, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


Forget duck; Peking has been overrun by pigs.As the Chinese New Year approaches, heralding the auspicious Year of the Pig, porkers are everywhere. Fifteen-foot-high inflatable pigs beckon shoppers into electronics stores; fluffy pink pig snouts enliven winter ear- muffs; corkscrew tails and round piggy faces decorate Ikea kitchen aprons.Wherever you look, happy hogs are rearing up on their hind trotters advertising this or that, or simply waving banners emblazoned with the new Chinese credo, for which the coming year is believed to be especially favorable: "Get Rich."Advertising and commercial pressures have swept superstitious consumers into a froth of excitement that reveals how much many Chinese today hope that traditional fortunetelling tools can enrich them as they pursue former Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping's famously un-Communist exhortation, "To get rich is glorious."Fortune telling, an ancient Chinese art officially frowned upon by the country's Communist authorities, is a booming industry in modern China. People's belief in divination, life charts, geomancy, and simple lucky numbers is on the rise, say practitioners, followers, and sociologists.The mania for making money that is sweeping the country offers lucrative opportunities for charlatans of all kinds.Pigs are especially popular in the Chinese mind, summoning images of good-natured generosity and good fortune. So closely are the animals linked to human life here that the Chinese character for "home" includes the symbols for both roof and pig - all you need for a traditional Chinese household.This year, moreover, is being proclaimed the Year of the Golden Pig, a doubly propitious period thanks to a combination of animals and elements in the Chinese zodiac that matches pigs and gold only once every 60 years.It is said that 2007 is the year to have a baby; anyone born under the coming year's sign is bound to be lucky.Except that even if you believe in China's mystical soothsayers, that is not true. You will not find a reputable Chinese astrologer who reads the charts that way. 2007 is actually the Year of the Earthen Pig. (Or possibly the Fire Pig, depending on your astrologer.)But that doesn't sell baby clothes, does it?Although no studies have been carried out, there is no doubt, says Zhou Xiaozheng an outspoken skeptic and sociology professor at Beijing's Renmin University that "more and more people are becoming interested in traditional Chinese fortunetelling culture."That drives him mad."It is totally absurd, absolutely ludicrous, that buildings should not have a fourth floor," he fulminates, simply because the Mandarin word for "four" sounds like the word meaning "death."Prof. Zhou attributes the trend to helplessness. "In a dictatorship ... people do not have the power to decide things for themselves, so they let fortune tellers forecast their destiny," he argues. "They turn to superstition for emotional consolation."That explanation is not all that far removed from the way Bao Tong, a wispy-bearded Taoist sage who consults the Yi Ching, or "Book of Changes," sees things. As a fortuneteller himself, though, he regards modern science, not his knowledge, as "superstition.""I realized that people's destinies, their failure or success, are not necessarily related to the effort they put into their work, nor to their intelligence," he says, recalling why he first became interested in the founding text of Chinese philosophy, the Yi Ching. "There is a lot of unfairness in people's lives, and I wanted to understand why."In a restful room decorated in natural colors to resemble an old Chinese teahouse, Mr. Bao says his clients fall into three main categories. There are those who come to him for his knowledge of feng shui, the belief that the arrangement of rooms and furniture in a home or office that can be auspicious or inauspicious; those who want predictions about their future; and others seeking answers to specific questions they are facing in their lives. …

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