A forensic look at feng shui

As the Year of Tiger starts we look at 12 years of zodiac predictions


The Year of the Tiger will begin on February 1

Week in China has been covering zodiac predictions ahead of the Chinese New Year since our very first issue. At the time, it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and not taken too seriously. Little did we know that the zodiac forecasts made by Asia’s top feng shui masters would become an annual fixture in the magazine.

As the Year of the Tiger starts February 1, anxiety is swirling around us with the pandemic upending many of our lives once again. As much as we want to know what the future holds or how soon our lives will go back to normal, we thought it would be a good time to take a look back through the previous 12-year mini zodiac cycle (known as ji, or one Jupiter year): which of the predictions were right and what did they get wrong? And after more than a dozen years we also address the question, can we trust the feng shui forecasts at Chinese New Year?

Let’s start with the ones we got right…

In WiC480, we wrote that 2020, being the Year of the Rat, marked the return of the geng-zi year after a full sexagenary cycle. Previous geng-zi years were scarred with grave upheavals for the Chinese. Sixty years earlier Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward movement was at its height in 1960, culminating in a famine that killed millions of people. The one before in 1900 saw Beijing, capital of the ailing Qing Empire, occupied by the army of an eight-nation alliance following what was termed in the West as the ‘Boxer Rebellion’. And 1840, of course, was the start of the so-called “century of humiliation” with the First Opium War.

The most recent Year of the Rat certainly did not disappoint when it came to delivering havoc. At the beginning of 2020, the World Health Organisation declared a spate of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan had likely stemmed from a new coronavirus. The Chinese government then took the unprecedented step to quarantine Wuhan’s entire population of 11 million people. It need hardly be said the outbreak turned into a pandemic that is still causing chaos in the global economy.

The year 2020 was also a turning point for tech tycoon Jack Ma, a Dragon. We wrote that without any lucky stars shining over them, those born in the Year of the Dragon (1964, 1976, 1988 or any 12 years before or after) would have to be careful. Ma did not heed the warning. In October, he delivered a 20-minute speech lampooning financial regulators as obsessed with minimising risk and likening Chinese banks to “pawnshops” in a belittling tirade levelled at their capabilities and financial sophistication.

The rest, as they say, is history. The $35 billion IPO of Ant Group came crashing to an abrupt halt in less than a month, when regulators pulled the plug on the fintech’s stock debut in Shanghai and Hong Kong at the last minute. Bankers quietly grumbled that the IPO was unlikely to see the light of day until 2023.

Meanwhile, in 2011, feng shui masters had predicted that the Year of the Rabbit promised tension and secret conflict. As the more feminine yin, rather than masculine yang, was pervasive that year, there could be a lot of dangerous undercurrents and even terrorist attacks.

That Rabbit Year was indeed marked by natural disasters: a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Japan, triggering a deadly tsunami. More than 22,000 people were confirmed dead or missing. Two weeks before that, New Zealand also experienced a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.

When it comes to more recent predictions, last year was the Year of the Ox and most feng shui masters correctly predicted that those born in the Year of the Dragon – yup, Dragons again – would experience conflict at home and in the workplace. Last September, actress-director Zhao Wei, a Dragon, became one of the celebrities to be blacklisted in China and has not been seen publicly since. Her internet presence was scrubbed clean, and her name was deleted from many of her TV and film productions.

Meanwhile, Mandopop singer Wang Leehom, another Dragon, grabbed headlines in December when he filed for divorce from his spouse Lee Jinglei, his wife since 2013 and with whom he has three children. Not long after announcing the split, Lee published lengthy articles via her personal weibo accusing her ex-husband of emotional abuse and infidelity.

Wang denied those accusations but the damage was done: he lost all his commercial endorsements almost overnight.

Which predictions did not pan out — at least not quite?

Historically, many of those who are born in the Year of the Goat are believed to face misfortune. In fact, one common folk saying has it that out of every 10 babies born in the Year of the Goat, nine have bad luck. A lot of potential parents in China are even said to avoid having children during a Goat Year. Of course, many couples in China are just not having children at all, Goat or not. In fact, China’s birth rate hit a record low in 2021, the Year of the Ox, despite government efforts to encourage couples to have more children in the face of a looming demographic crisis.

The zodiac prediction for the stock market in 2016 didn’t work out either. As monkeys are very energetic and vibrant, stock markets are predicted to behave in similar fashion in Monkey Years. Feng shui practitioner Su Minfeng reckoned that the stock market would end the year on a high note. However, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index did go up from an intra-year low of 18,000 to a 12-month high of 24,000 by September, the HSI closed at 22,000 meaning that by the end of the December it was up only 0.4% from a year earlier.

Almost all feng shui masters got it really wrong for the Year of the Rooster in 2017. One practitioner compared the global economy to a sick patient on life support: “While the pulse of the global financial system hasn’t reached the point of a flat line, it is going up and down.” Another forecast the stock market would be off to a strong start but taper off as the year progressed.

The Year of the Rooster turned out to be a banner year for US stock markets – in large part thanks to President Trump’s big corporate tax cut. The Dow Jones was up 25%, the S&P surged by 19% while the Nasdaq index outshone them with all with a stunning 28% gain. Hong Kong stocks also went up almost 36%. So those who heeded the feng shui masters’ advice and sold their shares early will remember that year more than others (albeit for all the wrong reasons).

Can we trust zodiac predictions?

Just like forecasting a person’s future based on the 12-signs of the horoscope used in Western astrology, the Chinese zodiac is nothing close to foolproof. Even in China, the younger generation hardly consults the traditional zodiac ahead of the Lunar New Year. It has also been losing out to Western astrology in terms of popularity. A search on Baidu shows way more websites that offer astrological profiles about the likes of Geminis and Libras than those relating to the Chinese zodiac.

“In America, you have religion,” Panda Cao, a Chinese astrologer based in Washington, told the New York Times. “But in China, most people don’t have a defined belief system. They don’t have a godlike figure to help them find a solution or guide them in a certain direction. So Western astrology helps fill that gap.”

Yet as we pointed out in 2017 (the Year of Rooster), the 12 Chinese zodiac signs were also an ancient way of measuring time – an astronomical calendar that calculated Jupiter’s movement relative to the Earth (see WiC353). Whether such calculations also apply to fortune telling – with feng shui masters interpreting them for their clients – is, of course, another matter.

Feng shui practices are not encouraged or endorsed by policymakers in mainland China, but many of China’s richest tycoons seek just such advice (take the late Nina Wang, formerly Asia’s richest woman, who was a vivid believer). Perhaps it has a greater allure for people competing at the very top, even it only improves their winning odds by 0.0001%?

So, what does the future hold for the Year of the Tiger?

Even though zodiac predictions are sometimes off the mark, the forecasts can say something about the sorts of stories people want to hear. With the Year of the Tiger set to begin on Tuesday, let’s see what the feng shui masters are saying about the new year.

In China, the tiger sign is a symbol of strength and bravery and those born under that zodiac are also believed to be courageous and charismatic. This being their cycle year, Tigers are at odds with Tai Sui (the Heavenly God) so they could face a particularly uphill battle. Hong Kong feng shui master Mak Ling-ling suggests that they can improve their fortunes by getting married or having children, however.

It’s far better news for those who are born in the Year of the Horse (1966, 1978, 1990 or any 12 years before or after) and Goat (1967, 1979, 1991 or any 12 years before or after): they will likely thrive this year. Horses and Tigers are said to be very compatible. And with a group of “strong and bright” lucky stars shining upon them, says Mak, Goats will find the year ahead smooth-sailing and free of obstacles.

Overall, the Year of the Tiger is characterised as a ‘water’ year so related industries – such as gaming and logistics – will likely perform well (Macau casinos could certainly use a boost from tourism in 2022). On the other hand, sectors that relate to Fire and Metal elements could suffer. Telecoms, internet and tech firms – all ‘fire’ related – will likely be missing a spark. Crypto companies, which are related to the metal element, could face challenges in the Tiger year.

For investors, stock markets will also be quite volatile. Hong Kong feng shui master Su Minfeng believes that the Hang Seng Index will continue to be in a downward spiral and suggests a buy-and-hold strategy. “Generally speaking, I will be in the market between January 1st and March 6th,” he states.

At least Su is putting his money where his mouth is…

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