Three, six, eight and nine are lucky numbers for Chinese. Groups of these numbers are even luckier. Six is valued because it has traditionally been associated with smoothness, stability and luck. Peoples pay thousands extra for cell phones and license plate numbers with lots of sixes, threes and nines. A Beijing man paid $215,000 for the lucky cell phone number 133-3333-3333. Phone calls to the number are not answered.

In Chinese culture, the numbers 6, 8, and 9 are believed to have auspicious meanings because their names sound similar to words that have positive meanings.Many auspicious numbers are homonyms of Chinese characters associated with good fortune, prosperity and longevity. Many inauspicious ones are homonyms of Chinese characters for death or bad luck.

Four is considered an unlucky number because the words for "death" and "four" have similar pronunciations. Many hospitals and other buildings used by Chinese don't have a forth floor, the same way some Western buildings don't have a 13th floor. Also, things like dishes and utensils, which are sold in sets of four in the United States, are sold in sets of five in China. In the Wenzhou dialect 20 (ershi) is an unlucky number because it sounds a lot like starving to death (esi).The number seven can be regarded as both lucky and unlucky. It is sometimes regarded as unlucky and associated with ghosts because the Chinese word for seven rhythms with the Chinese word for "certain death." It is often regarded as lucky because the word for "seven" (qi or chi) is the same the word for "positive energy" and "life force." In northern China, you never see the price 250 yuan. That is because to say “250": is the same as calling a person crazy.

Good Websites and Sources: Traditional Religion in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religion Facts; Video: “Ancestor Worship, Confucian Teaching, featuring Myron L. Cohen Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Feng shui Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Feng Shui Society ;Skeptic’s Dictionary on Feng Shui ; Qi Gong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Classical text sources ; Qi Gong Institute ; Qi Gong association of America / ; Skeptic’s Dictionary on Qi Gong ; Folk Beliefs and Superstitions: Chinatown Connection ; New York Times on Earthquake superstitions ; Old Book on Superstitions or Old Book PDF ; Five Elements chinatownconnection ; I Ching Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Robert Eno, Indiana University, Chinatxt Ancient Chinese History and Religion chinatxt ; Funerals and Death: Chinese Beliefs About Death ; Death and Burials in China ; Lucky Numbers Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times article ; News in Science ; Symbols Chinatown Connection ; What’s Your Sign

Books: 1) James Watson and Evelyn Rawski, eds., “Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China” (Berkeley, 1988); 2) the chapter by Maurice Freedman in “The Study of Chinese Society,” ed. G. William Skinner (Stanford, 1979); 3) Laurence Thompson, “Chinese Religion” (Belmont, 1979), Chapter 3; 4) C. K. Yang, “Religion in Chinese Society” (Berkeley, 1961); 5) Henri Doré (1914-1933), “Researches into Chinese Superstitions,” trans. M. Kennelly, 6 vols. (Shanghai), vol. 4,; 5) Addison, James Thayer. “Chinese Ancestor Worship: A Study of its Meaning and its Relations with Christianity” (London: The Church Literature Committee of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui, 1925); 6) Graham, David Crockett. “Folk Religion in Southwest China” (Washington: The Smithsonian Institution, 1961); Hsu, Francis L. K. “Under the Ancestor’s Shadow” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971).

Auspicious Days, Months and Years in China

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Ancient Chinese zodiac

The 3rd and 17th days of the month are considered unlucky. Many Chinese don't work on these days. Double Ten Day, October 10th, is really, really unlucky. Couples also try to get married on auspicious days foretold by fortunetellers. Shengcheng bazi---the year, month, day and time the bride and groom were born are important in determining whether couples are compatible. See Marriage. One fortune teller told the International Herald Tribune, “The majority of Chinese believe in horoscope readings and do not merely consult them for fun."

The year of the horse began in February 2014. It was generally considered an auspicious time and business-savvy residents hoped for vigorous growth. "For the Asian economies, especially Hong Kong and China, their luck will be the same ... it will be an economically active year," Peter So, a master of feng shui, told Reuters.

The year 1995, was not only the year of the pig, it was also a leap year in which an extra eight month was added. Chinese believe that bad things are more likely to occur on a leap eighth month than any other time. According to an old Chinese proverb: "Better a leap seventh month than a leap eighth month, for a leap eight month means death." A leap eighth month occurs once every 20 to 50 years.

During the 1995 leap month between September 25 and October 23, Chinese in the northeast China wore blue socks, people in the southwest wore red socks and people in Beijing tied red threads around their wrists to ward off the harmful effects of the unlucky month. In Gansu province, many people slept outdoors out of fear that a major earthquake was going to occur.

To waylay fears a folklore scholar in Beijing announced the "fear that a leap eighth month brings disaster is sheer superstition" and an article in a leading intellectual newspaper reported that "according to history, there is no certain link between a leap eighth month and natural disasters." The artcile was accompanied by data that showed that none of the 10 major earthquakes between 1841 and 1980 fell on the five leap eight months in that period.

Still people were worried. Around the time of the previous leap eighth month in 1976, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong died and 250,000 people were killed in the Tangshan earthquake. In 1995, many people thought Deng Xiaoping was going to die during the leap month but in the end nothing really disastrous happened.

Lucky Number Nine

Fox with nine tails

The number nine is considered to be the luckiest number because all odd numbers are considered heavenly and nine is the highest single digit odd number; and the Chinese word for nine (jui) sounds like the Chinese word for "long" as in longevity or long life. Nine also symbolizes the nine layers of heaven and is associated with yang, male energy. Multiples of nine such as 18, 27, 81 (9 x 9) and 243 (9 x9 x 9) are regarded as auspicious. The number three is also considered lucky because it divided into nine three times. Five is important because it is halfway between 1 and 9. Imperials dragons have five claws; others have three.

The ninth day of the nine months month is regarded as an especially good time to get married. Some even chose to do it at 9:09am. On September 9, 2010, 163 couples were married in a mass wedding in Taipei that was held on the ninth day of the ninth month of the 99th year since the beginning of Republic of China. In the ceremony the couples were pronounced man and wife at 9:09am. In 1994, a Hong Kong businessman paid $1.7 million for an automobile license plate with "9", a number that was particularly lucky that year because the Chinese word for "nine" sounds like the Chinese word for "dog," and 1994 was the year of the dog.

September 9, 1999 (9-9-99), or Infinity day, was regarded with some trepidation by Chinese. Although nine is regarded as lucky the ninth of September is regarded as the time when ghosts return to earth from the other world.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a good illustration of how Chinese numerology works in conjunction with the number nine. It has three stories, representing from top to bottom: the heavens, earth and humankind. The top level has nine rings, each composed of nine stones, for a total of 81 stones. The middle level has 10 through 18 rings, each with nine stones. The bottom level has 19 to 27 rings, each with nine stones, with the final and largest ring having 243 stones. The stairs and balustrades are also organized in multiples of nine.

Eight Immortals and Five Talks

Eight Taoist Immortals

The number eight is also considered auspicious and numbers like “888" and "888,888" are even more so because they have more than one eight in them. In China, there are Eight Taoist Symbols, Eight Buddhist Treasures, and Eight Immortals. Hosting the Olympics in 2008 is regarded as auspicious as well as an honor. The time of 8:08pm was selected as the starting time for the Opening Ceremonies which begin on August 8th (August is teh 8th month).

Eight is considered lucky because the Chinese word for "eight" ("ba") sounds like "fa" the Cantonese word for "prosperity," “making money” and "good fortune," and the number itself has a smooth shape and looks like the symbol of infinity (associated with immortality and longevity). The number 38 is sometimes called “triple prosperity” in Chinese because it has a “3" and an “8" in it. Dates with eights are viewed as especially auspicious for weddings because eights look like knots---representing a successful union.

The Chinese like to group things in numbers. Tourist visit the "Eight Most Beautiful Places" and the "Three Most Beautiful Mountains." During the Cultural Revolution Mao exhorted the Red Guard to destroy the "Eight Antis" and knock down the "Four Olds." After Mao, Deng encouraged the Chinese to abide by the "Five Talks" (politeness, civil behavior, morality, attention to social relation and practice of good hygiene) and practice the "Four Beauties" (beautiful language, beautiful behavior, beautiful heart and beautiful environment).

AFP reported in November 2011, Chinese couples flocked to registry offices to marry on Friday in the belief that the '11/11/11' date is the most auspicious in a century.Nov 11 has been celebrated as an unofficial 'singles' day' in China since the 1990s - as the date is composed of the number one - and it is seen as a good day to marry and leave the single life behind. But this year is viewed as particularly special because the year also ends in the number 11. More than 200 couples packed into a marriage registration office in downtown Shanghai on Friday morning, some having queued for hours before its doors opened to ensure they were among the first to marry. [Source: AFP, November 12, 2011]

Auspicious Symbols in China

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Butterfly, symbol of joy

In China, lucky symbols appear on everything from handkerchiefs to tombstones. Many auspicious symbols are homonyms of Chinese characters associated with good fortune, prosperity and longevity. Many inauspicious ones are homonyms of Chinese characters for "death" or "bad luck." Chinese buy good luck charms with a picture of Mao on one side and an image of a Bodhisattva on the other. Man himself is considered a symbol. Heaven is round, the earth is square and man is regarded as a link between the two because it has a round head and a square body.

According to the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology: There are numerous mysteries of meaning in the strange symbols, characters, personages, birds, and beasts that adorn all species of Chinese art objects. For example, a rectangular Chinese vase is feminine, representing the creative or ultimate principle. A group of seemingly miscellaneous art objects, depicted perhaps upon a brush tray, are probably the po-ku, or "hundred antiques" emblematic of culture and implying a delicate compliment to the recipient of the tray. Birds and animals occur with frequency on Chinese porcelains, and, if one observes closely, it is a somewhat select menagerie, in which certain types are emphasized by repetition. For instance, the dragon is so familiar as to be no longer remarked, and yet his significance is perhaps not fully understood by all. [Source: Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Well-known symbols of prosperity and good luck are: 1) jade (protection, health and strength, See Art); 2) eggs (tranquility, fertility and good luck in Hong Kong); 3) a bearded sage (longevity or success on exams); 4) a lady bearing fruit (prosperity); 5) a gourd with spreading tendrils (fertility); 6) plump, lively boys (happiness and many sons); 7) bamboo, plums and pine trees ("three friends of winter").

Imperial symbols included the colors yellow and purple. The Emperor wore yellow robes and lived under roofs made with yellow tiles. Only the Emperor was allowed to wear yellow. No buildings outside those in the Forbidden City were allowed to have yellow-tiled roofs. Purple represented the North Star, the center of the universe according to Chinese cosmology. The dragon symbolized the Emperor while the phoenix symbolized the Empress. The cranes and turtles associated with the Imperial court represented the desire for a long reign. The numbers nine, associated with male energy, and five, representing harmony were also linked with the Emperor.

The fungus Geroderma ludidum is said to bring life because its Chinese name is a homonym with the Chinese word for good fortune. Elixirs of immortality often included it as one of the key ingredients. Other good luck symbols derived from homonyms: 1) Lanterns (homonym with promotions); 2) bees (homonym with abundance); and 3) fish (homonym with surplus). A clock sometimes is used to denote death because the Chinese character for "clock" resembles the character for "death."

Animal and Fruit Symbols in China

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Crane, symbol of joy

The most prominent animal symbols are: 1) cranes (peace, hope, healing, longevity and good luck); 2) turtles (long life, but a tortoise refers to a cuckolded husband and a turtle egg is the Chinese equivalent of a bastard); 3) carps (good luck, they are admired for their strength and determination to swim upstream, traits that parents want their children to have): 4) lions (good fortune and prosperity, stone lion gates guard temples and even shopping malls); 5) deer (wealth and long life); 6) horse (success); 7) sheep (auspicious beginning of a brand-new year); 8) monkey (success);

Fruit symbols: 1) orange (happiness); 2) many-seeded pomegranate (fertility); 3) apple (peace); 4) pear (prosperity); 5) peaches (long life, good health and sex, both Chinese and Arabs regard the fury cleft on one side of the peach as symbol of the female genitalia). Peach trees mean dreams can come true. Beginning in the 2nd century B.C., Taoist kept peach-wood charms to ward off evil. Sometimes handmade noodles are served on birthdays for long life.

One of the best sign of all is a red bat. Red is a lucky color and a bat is considered a fortunate sign because its name in Chinese is a homonym with the Chinese word for "good luck, "plus bats sleep with their head down and their feet up, which shows how relaxed and worry free they are. Chinese and Vietnamese believe that people can achieve the relaxed, worry-free state of bats by eating red bat meat. Five flying bats symbolize the “Five Blessings”: longevity, wealth. health, virtue and a long life span.

Fish are is also important. According to legend many Chinese dragons begin life as fish. They have magical powers to leap over waterfalls. Carp especially are associated with this legend. The saying, “The carp has leaped through the dragon’s gate” is used to describe success in Chinese society. Fish are always served on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

Color Symbols in China

Colors: 1) red or orange (happiness and celebration), 2) white (purity, death and mourning); 3) yellow and gold (heaven and the emperor, a reference the mythical first Yellow Emperor, sometimes yellow is a mourning color); 4) green (harmony); 5) grey and black (death and misfortune).

a qilin

Red, gold and green are associated with good luck. Red is the most auspicious color. It is well represented at weddings and holidays and fits nicely into Communist models. Red signifies luck, happiness, health and prosperity. Brides wear something red on their wedding day and red lanterns are hung on New Year's Day and weddings. Chinese have traditionally given out "lucky money" on special occasions in red envelopes. Walls are painted red for good luck but writing in red is bad luck. Sometimes red clothing worn by women ias linked with prostitution.

Green can also be a symbol of cuckoldry. Green hats have traditionally been worn by men whose wives have cheated on them. The New York Times described how one American agricultural expert found this out the hard way when he traveled around China giving out bright green hats and found out that whenever he handed them out the men refused to put them on and the women laughed.

According to the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology: “Colors have their significance, blue being the color of the heavens, yellow of the earth and the emperor, red of the sun, and white of Jupiter or the Year Star. Each dynasty had its own particular hue, that of the Chou dynasty being described as "blue of the sky after rain where it appears between the clouds." “The apparently haphazard conjunction of objects in the decorative schemes of Chinese art is far from being a matter of chance, but adds to its decorative properties the intellectual charm of symbolic significance. [Source: Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Mythical Creatures in China

The a qilin (kylin) is a dragon-like beast with the head of dragon, hooves of an ox, tail of a lion, and antlers of a deer and was said to be able to reveal disloyal subjects. See History. The pulao is a dragon-like creature that makes a bloodcurdling shriek when attacked by a whale The xiechi (xiezhi) is a horned cat that is believed to have the power to discern right and wrong. The phoenix is an auspicious symbol associated with the Imperial family. It has traditionally been used to symbolize the Empress.

According to the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology: “A less familiar beast is the chi-lin, which resembles in part a rhinoceros, but has a head, feet, and legs like a deer, and a tufted tail. In spite of his unprepossessing appearance, he is of a benevolent disposition, and his image on a vase or other ornament is an emblem of good government and length of days. A strange bird, having the head of a pheasant, a long flexible neck, and a plumed tail, may often be seen flying in the midst of scroll-like clouds, or walking in a grove of treepeonies. This is the fengbuang, the Chinese phoenix, emblem of immortality and appearing to mortals only as a presage of the auspicious reign of a virtuous emperor. The tortoise (kuei ), which bears upon its back the seagirt abode of the Eight Immortals, is a third supernatural creature associated with strength, longevity, and (because of the markings on its back) the mystic plan of numerals that is a key to the philosophy of the unseen. [Source: Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The Chinese and many other cultures around the world believed that eclipses occur when the sun is eaten by a giant beast, monster or dragon. The Chinese word for eclipse, re she, means "sun-eat."

Chinese Dragons


The main symbol of China is the dragon. Made up of seven animals, it has the power to change size at will and bring rain to farmers need. New Year's festivities often include a line of people in a dragon costume. Dragons symbolize goodness, strength, vigor, excellence and breakthroughs. They bring good luck and control natural forces that produce good harvests. Dragons, the Chinese believe, are just below human beings in the hierarchy of living things, and dinosaurs bones have been presented as proof that they really existed.

Dragons have traditionally been associated with the Imperial family. Emperors were called “Real Dragon and Son of Heaven.” The five claw-dragon was a symbol of the imperial court; the phoenix sometimes symbolized the empress; and a dragon and phoenix together symbolize male and female. Emperors placed dragon symbols on everything from robes to thrones to flags.

The belief in dragons dates back thousands of years and no one is sure where it comes from. In ancient times, dragons were though have horses heads, bat wings, rabbit eyes and scaly, snake-like bodies. They were thought to inhabit ponds and rivers and have the ability to travel between earth and heaven on spiraling waterspouts. In times of drought people made offerings to them in hope they would break out through the mist and clouds and produce rain.

In China, dragons are more like guardian angels than creatures that kidnap damsels in distress and are slain by knights. The Asian dragon has large claws and whiskers. Snakes are sometimes called "little dragons." Fish are regarded as baby dragons that haven’t yet grown up. Some dragons are said to have the ability to change into Sea Dragon Kings, Hai Long Wang that wander the oceans and protected seafarers. Other dragons such as the Cheien Tang River monster and the seagoing, red-maned Shan were regarded as evil.

According to the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology: There are three kinds of dragons, the lung of the sky, the li of the sea, and the kiau of the marshes. The lung is the favorite kind, however, and may be known when met by his having "the head of a camel, the horns of a deer, the eyes of a rabbit, ears of a cow, neck of a snake, belly of a frog, scales of a carp, claws of a hawk, and palm of a tiger." His special office is to guard and support the mansions of the gods, and he is naturally the peculiar symbol of the emperor.[Source: Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Dragons in Chinese Art and Mythology

Perhaps the figure most used for decorative purposes in China is the Dragon. It is to be seen in temples, on silverware, and cloth of all kinds, and next to the depiction of bending bamboo is perhaps the most familiar symbol of that land. The dragon is the most important of the four symbolic animals of mythology--to the Chinese it symbolizes nobility and power and is believed to be immortal. It can live anywhere--in the air, underground, in water.; it is believed to possess such power that, when provoked, it can spit a deadly vapor which it can turn into either water or fire at will. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division,1967 ++]

Emperor Yongzheng with a dragon

While in Western mythology the dragon is an evil beast, and best illustrated by the story of St. George and the Dragon, in the East--especially in mainland Asia--it has an opposite significance. The dragon is the totem, the palladium and emblem, of China. It is the symbol of man in general, just as woman is represented by the phoenix, another of the four mythical animals of the land. When a dragon and a phoenix are shown together either in cloth designs or carvings, a marriage is represented; sometimes this is emphasized by the addition of a Chinese character meaning joy, and greater emphasis is achieved by repeating the character. ++

The dragon may be a fanciful elaboration of the several varieties of common lizards, but its symbolic use seems to be of ancient Chinese origin. According to popular belief, the dragon is a genie that presides over the creation of meteors and other cosmic activity, and belief in cosmic activity has traditionally been strong in China. In addition, he is often considered to be the god of the waters who lives in the sea and other bodies of water. According to the Chinese tradition, the dragon has the horns of a deer, the head of a camel, belly of a crocodile, scales of a fish, and buffalo-like hair. Its hearing ability is in its horns rather than the ears. The neck of a serpent, eyes of a demon, and claws of an eagle complete a figure which is rather strange to the Westerner. ++

There are a number of legends about dragons. According to one, long ago when mist surrounded the earth, dragons were created in great rivers, and sprawling lakes, storm clouds and typhoons. They swam in the seas off the coast of China and moved about so much they stirred up enough sediment to make the island of Taiwan, where they rested, slept and still reside. In another, the great hero Fu Xi and his sister Nu Wa descended from semi-human creatures with snake bodies. Over time they developed animal legs, a horse mane, a rat tail, deer hooves, dog claws and fish scales and became dragons.

According to “In Asian myths, no creature is as impressive as the dragon. For peasants, the dragon was a vivid symbol of the fourfold deity-clouds, rain, thunder and lighting. Represented by an S shape, dragons are depicted on artifacts dating back to the Dong Son-Au Lac culture, which existed in northern Vietnam in the first millennium B.C. Later came the cult of Tu Phap, or the Four Miracles. Long ago stargazers identified the Dragon constellation made up of seven stars arranged like an S. The brightest star is the Mind (Tam), also known as the Divine (Than) star. The word Than may also be read as Thin (Dragon), which denotes the third month of the lunar calendar and represents the Yang vital energy. [ ^*^]

Initially, dragons were associated with water and Yin energy. Dragons were popular among the common people, who believed that rain was created by nine dragons, which took water from the sea to pour down on the rice paddies. The dragon dance, a great favorite among people of all walks of life, was used to invoke rain.

Chinese Zodiac Dragons

Dragon on a Qing banner

Dragons (1940, 1952, 64, 76, 88, 2000) are considered eccentric, extroverted, complex, intelligent, passionate and healthy and have been described as adventurous dreamers with strong leadership qualities. Sometimes they are seen as foolish, indiscreet and demanding. They are most compatible with rats and monkeys, and least compatible with dogs. Dragons make good artists and politicians. Famous dragons include Joan of Arc and Freud.

Kent Ewing wrote in the Asia Times: The dragon is the most revered and auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac. It 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. [Source: Kent Ewing, Asia Times, January 24, 2012]

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.

The 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.

The birthrate in dragon years often leaps because it is the most auspicious in the Chinese almanac. In 2000, the previous Year of the Dragon, birth rates in Hong Kong shot up 5.6 percent, 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 in 2012.

Dragon Year 2012

Kent Ewing wrote in the Asia Times: The Year of the Dragon 2012, which began on January 23, got 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 complained. "Inappropriate," cried scores of politically correct microbloggers. [Source: Kent Ewing, Asia Times, January 24, 2012]

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? To which 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 billion wimps. Who would you rather have guarding the commonweal of your nation - a Chinese dragon or Mickey Mouse? Feng-shui masters said that better-than-expected economic news was 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 for. According to their sobering (and very un-geomantic) calculations, growth of under 8 percent 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 2012.

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. This year (2012) 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 and protection.

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.

In preparation for the onslaught of Dragon year babies, 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.

Song-era painting of Nine Dragons

Dragons and Dinosaurs

Many Chinese believe that dinosaur bones come from dragons not dinosaurs. The consumption of pulverized "dragon" bones is believed to make a man strong and bring him good luck and are used as a traditional Chinese medicine for stomach ailments. Many good bones have been pulverized into medicines. Scientists are trying to convince farmers to turn in their bones to palaeontologists not Chinese medicine traders.

Lurking Dragon Hill in Guizhou is so named because of the high number of “dragon bones” found there. Peking University paleontologist Ceb Zhuxian told National Geographic, “It was here that local people used to find these small dragons. They didn’t known they were fossils, but they liked them because the dragon is a sign of good luck.” Most of the fossils found belong to 12- to 14-inch long marine creatures called Keichousarus hui, that look like miniature Lochness monsters.

Stone Animals of the Ming Tombs

Beyond the stele pavilion is an 8,000-meter-long Sacred Way. Along both sides of the path are stone animals and stone human figures. The procession starts with four lions, four xiezhai (mythical beasts with a single horn), four elephants, four qilin and four horses. In each group one pair is standing and the other kneeling. The human figures are four military officials, four civil officials and four meritorious officials. The stone figures are heroically shaped and graphically carved. The big statues are each carved from a single piece of white marble and are wonderful ancient art objects. All these stone carvings were the works in the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) built more than five hundred and forty years ago. [Source:]

The practice of placing stone animals and human figures in front of imperial tombs can be traced back at least to the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) some two thousand years ago as each dynasty has followed the custom, though varieties and numbers of stone animals and stone figures differ by dynasty. In the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), such stone animals as qilin, pixie (exotic animal with horns), elephants and horses were placed in front of the tombs. In the Tang Dynasty (618-906), lions, horses, oxen, black birds and stone figures of civil officials and warriors were favored. In the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279), stone animals --elephants, horses, sheep, tigers, lions, black birds, and stone figures of civil officials and military officials also were lined in front of imperial tombs.

The placing of stone animals and human figures in the Thirteen Ming Tombs in Beijing almost followed the pattern of Xiaoling. In ancient time, stone animals and human figures placed before imperial tombs symbolized royal power and privilege in addition to their decorative functions. Stone lions not only were placed before imperial tombs, but also in front of yamen (a government office in feudal China). Lions are ferocious animals roaring aloud. Buddhist scripture says, "All animals will be in great panic at the approaching of a roaring lion. Stone lions are placed before imperial tombs in order to avoid evil influence."

Xiezhai were mythical, single-horned beasts which attacked bad people. In ancient time, judges liked to wear hats made in xiezhai shape, symbolizing an ability to differentiate between evil and good. Camels and elephants were important means of transport in desert areas and tropical zones and qilin symbolized auspicious events. In ancient times, the qilin, phoenix, fish and dragon were regarded as four important spirits. Horses in good temper were good at running. Thus, in ancient time, horses were very important for transportation in people's daily life. Qilin, xiezhai, horses and lions symbolized royal power and privilege.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Dragon. All Posters com Search Chinese Art; others, Kent State University

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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