Happy New Year! China welcomes Year of the Pig

Happy pig: A New Year celebration takes place in Shanghai, China.

Today, one fifth of the world’s population is celebrating the start of a new year — one that promises to bring prosperity, joy and relaxation. That is, if you believe in the Chinese zodiac…

At midnight last night, fireworks exploded across China to ward off evil; firecrackers cast away bad luck; and 1.4 billion people celebrated the beginning of the Lunar New Year. Welcome to the Year of the Pig.

The pig is the 12th and final animal in the Chinese zodiac. As such, the coming year will be seen as a time to reflect on previous years, while still enjoying a festive and relaxed atmosphere. Pigs are also a symbol of wealth and good fortune in Chinese culture. But beware — showering, sweeping or doing laundry today might just wash away that good luck.

The traditions of Chinese astrology have been around for 5,000 years. Divining fortunes from the positions of the planets was a skill passed down from ancient Sumerian and Babylonian cultures. The Chinese system was originally developed to help emperors rule peacefully. Now, it is an intricate way of understanding personalities and predicting fortunes.

Unlike Western astrology, which is based on birth months, the Chinese system is based on the year that you are born. And it is serious business in China; birth rates go up and down depending on how lucky a particular year is thought to be.

Years are then broken down into 12 months, days of birth and 12 two-hour periods each day. Each has its own sign, meaning your birth chart can be highly detailed, based on your exact time of birth.

That is, of course, only if you believe that the planets can actually influence your fate. And most scientists are clear on the matter: they can’t.

Studies show that people born within minutes of each other do not share similar traits. And that feeling you get that you really are a Virgo, or a goat, or some other sign? Studies also show that people tend to identify with any personality profile they are told applies to them, regardless of what it says.

Despite this, astrology is becoming more popular in the West, especially among young people. “It’s a tool for self-reflection, it’s not a religion or a science,” astrologer Annabel Gat told The Atlantic last year. “It’s just a way to look at the world.”

Lucky stars

How can we be sure that the planets do not influence our lives, ask believers? There is evidence that the phases of the Moon influence our behaviour. Why not the position of the planets? Can you really dismiss thousands of years of wisdom? After all, there is so much we don’t know about the universe.

And does it even matter? People tend to reach for astrology in times of stress and uncertainty, which may explain its current popularity. It is not so much about what is true, but about helping people to make sense of their lives while offering them advice and comfort. Is there really anything wrong with that?

You Decide

  1. Would you ever change your plans based on your horoscope?
  2. Is it wrong to believe in something without evidence?

Activities

  1. Find out more about the personality traits of your Chinese zodiac sign and discuss with the person next to you. Does it sound like you?
  2. Why is astrology becoming more popular with young Westerners? Discuss with the class before writing down three reasons.

Some People Say...

“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy — the mad daughter of a wise mother.”

Voltaire

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Today is the start of the Year of the Pig; more specifically, it is the Year of the Earth Pig. This is because, in addition to the 12-year cycle of different animals, there is also a cycle of five elements: metal, water, wood, fire and earth. Each adds another layer of subtlety to the animal’s personality. It also means that the full Chinese zodiac cycle lasts 60 years.
What do we not know?
Whether there is any link between astrological signs, personality or the future. While there is no scientific evidence for it, there could be other factors at play. For example, babies born in lucky dragon years do often grow into successful adults. But psychologists say this could be because their status means they get more support and attention. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Word Watch

1.4 billion people
The population of China, plus the roughly 50 million Chinese people living abroad.
Lunar
Unlike the solar calendar, which is based on the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, the Chinese year is based on the Moon. Each month starts with a new moon and lasts 29-30 days. This means that the beginning of the Chinese year does not have a fixed date.
Final
The animals are based on the Chinese myth of the “great race”. This was a race across a river which was held by the Jade Emperor in order to determine the order of the zodiac animals. The pig came in last place, because (depending on who is telling the story) it either slept late or stopped for food along the way.
Birth rates
For example, in 2000, Hong Kong saw a 5% increase in births. This was a dragon year, the luckiest of all 12 zodiac years.
Share
According to a 2003 study of 2,000 people born across several decades.
Identify
According to a 1982 study in the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society.
More popular
For example, online magazine The Cut said its horoscopes got 150% more hits in 2017 than the year before.

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