KONG - The dragon is the most revered and
auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac, but this
Year of the Dragon, which begins on January 23,
was off to a bad start before it even began.
How else to explain the critical reaction
within China to a commemorative postage stamp
issued by China Post depicting the dragon as the
fierce, fanged and clawed mythical creature it is
supposed to be.
"Too scary!" media critics
"Inappropriate," cried scores
of politically correct
Now, as the fireworks explode and the
celebrations commence, the dragon debate rages on:
Is this the menacing image a rising China wants to
present to the rest of the world?
this self-anointed feng-shui commentator
responds: Absolutely - unless this is to be the
year that China becomes known as a nation of 1.3
The dragon has long been
the preeminent symbol of imperial power in China;
indeed, the first set of stamps issued in the
country - during the Qing Dynasty, in 1878 - bore
the image of a giant dragon whose features could
hardly be considered congenial; no one then wanted
to adopt this oversize serpent as a pet, and no
one should want to Disneyify the Chinese dragon in
After all, it's the Year of the
Dragon, and it comes only once every 12 years. The
thrashing, fire-breathing ferocity of Western
dragons may inspire fear and loathing, but in
Chinese lore dragons are fierce and frightful
because - like the emperors they have represented
- they offer protection and security while also
possessing mythical powers to ward off evil
spirits and disasters.
Who would you
rather have guarding the commonweal of your nation
- a Chinese dragon or Mickey Mouse?
the world bids farewell to the Year of the Rabbit
and ushers in a new year that - despite an array
of daunting challenges - is full of propitious
promise, let's make sure we get off on the right
foot: Let dragons to be dragons, as any geomancer
worth his or her salt will tell you.
dragon is one of 12 animal signs in the Chinese
zodiac, but it outranks all others as the ultimate
emblem of the Chinese nation and race.
Paradoxically, it represents power and
unmitigating authority on the one hand but
benevolence and blessings on the other.
Dragon years should be filled with
happiness, security, abundance and prosperity.
Government figures may show that China's
economy grew at its slowest rate - 8.9% - in
two-and-a-half years in the last quarter of 2011,
but the news nevertheless boosted the world's
stock markets because it was better than most
analysts had expected. Feng-shui masters
say the boost is no doubt due the influence of the
advancing dragon chasing the rabbit to the back of
the zodiacal queue.
As the euro zone heads
toward the financial abyss and the US economy
continues to limp along, the fierce protection
offered by the dragon should provide China with a
proverbial soft landing in the coming year. At
least, that is what Chinese leaders hope and pray
According to their sobering (and very
un-geomantic) calculations, growth of under 8%
could wreak enough economic havoc to provoke
social unrest - unleashing the darker side of the
Chinese dragon's ferocity. No one wants that, and
most fortune-tellers assert that this year's
dragon possesses enough strength to pull China
through the economic trough that is expected in
But the ancient art of feng
shui goes well beyond simply taking note of
which of the 12 animals of the zodiac occupies
center stage in any given year. There are also the
five basic elements to contend with - metal, wood,
water, fire and earth. These elements rotate
through the zodiac, creating a 60-year cycle with
each year presenting a chessboard of possibilities
This year is
dominated by two elements - water and earth. Since
these elements are eternally locked in a
destructive relationship, the Year of the Dragon
will not be without conflict and natural
disasters. Expect the politics of the Middle East
and North Africa to continue to roil while the
earth shakes and the seas bulge and surge. Prepare
yourself for a wild ride, although also remember
that in the end the dragon is there for assurance
China's disputed claims
over territories in the South China Sea could
deepen conflicts with its regional neighbors -
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and
Taiwan. But, as with China's relations with the
rest of the world, the power and mystique of the
dragon should hold sway.
policy in the coming year could bring to mind Ang
Lee's popular martial-arts film of 12 years ago,
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - except
that there will be no need for the tiger to pounce
or the dragon to come out of his lair.
threat of ferocity (especially hidden ferocity)
becomes the blessing of protection. China Post,
among others, knows this lesson very well.
The total absence of the fire element this
year spells bad news for stock markets and the
world of finance. The mediating influence of earth
should prevent disaster, but count on a wet year
for the world economy. Be careful and conservative
in investments - or get soaked.
Kong, people hope the dragon will bring them good
fortune and prosperity, but they are also bracing
for an unwanted baby boom coming from the north.
For years, Hong Kong's superior health-care system
and promise of right of abode to all Chinese
citizens who are born here have served as magnets
for expectant mainland mothers, whose growing
numbers are draining resources in the city's
hospital system and leaving precious little space
for Hong Kong moms and their newborn babies.
The problem, already acute, is almost
certainly going to get worse in a dragon year, the
most auspicious in the Chinese almanac. In 2000,
the previous Year of the Dragon, birth rates in
Hong Kong shot up 5.6%, to 54,134, according to
official data, and an even bigger spike, spurred
by mainland mothers-to-be dodging China's
one-child policy, is anticipated this year.
In preparation for the onslaught, the Hong
Kong government has raised obstetric fees at
public hospitals for women from the mainland and
also capped the number of deliveries by mothers
who are not residents of Hong Kong at 3,400 in
public hospitals and 31,000 in private hospitals.
These caps, however, have prompted some
desperate mainland moms to turn up at the
emergency wards of the city's hospitals to have
their babies. This, in turn, has led immigration
officials to begin implementing checks on mainland
women at the border and to turn back any visibly
pregnant women who cannot prove that they have a
booking at a Hong Kong hospital - an awkward and
imprecise art at best.
The irony in all
this is that Hong Kong's fertility rate is among
the lowest in the world and its rapidly aging
population poses a threat to the city's future
development. In other words, Hong Kong needs more
babies, lots of them.
Clearly, then, this
is a year in which the Hong Kong government should
build more hospitals and, picking up where China
Post left off, let dragons be dragons.
Kent Ewing is a Hong Kong-based
teacher and writer. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter:
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