Superstition or fact? What Chinese zodiac predictions really tell us

With the Year of the Dragon beginning on February 10, we have been inundated with the “predictions” of various feng shui masters about our health, money, work and love prospects in the new lunar year. But whether you believe in Chinese zodiac predictions isn’t really the point.

Some take these predictions seriously, carrying out all the steps instructed by the feng shui masters. Others may dismiss the predictions as superstition, reading them purely for amusement, if at all. Neither way is best. The former misses the real message of the predictions while the latter misses an opportunity for a happier life.

If you are confused, please hear me out. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who once said no man ever steps in the same river twice, taught that all things are in flux. So do Chinese zodiac predictions.

No zodiac sign has the upper hand in everything or forever. One year may see those born in the Year of the Monkey enjoying career advancements, the next year it may those of the Year of the Snake. It may be great for Rabbits one year, for Rats another. Equally, no zodiac sign connotes constant misfortune.

The belief in universal flux underpins another belief that runs deep in Chinese history: we all have a chance at success.

China’s feudal system collapsed more than 2,000 years ago with the abolishing of hereditary regional lords and masters, allowing commoners to become generals and state ministers. The only hereditary ruler left was the emperor – but even this could change. And nobodies could start new dynasties. The first such “nobody” founded the Han dynasty. His uprising upended a long tradition of rule by hereditary nobles.

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Emperor Gaozu of the Han dynasty reigned from 206-195 BC and was born into a peasant family. Photo: Wikipedia

Thus, from very early on, meritocracy mattered in China. The belief that fate can be changed by effort is behind the traditional emphasis on education and hard work. This is reflected in Chinese zodiac predictions, which are, after all, full of advice on what to do.

For instance, in a Post article about Chinese zodiac predictions, those born in the Year of the Snake are advised to learn new things and further their education, which fits well with the predictions of career advancement. There is the potential of a break-up due to the influence of two unlucky stars, so Snakes are encouraged to make an extra effort in communicating with partners.

All this talk about our lives being influenced by stars may lead some to conclude that this is all superstitious nonsense. But this is taking it too literally and missing the point. What Chinese zodiac predictions are really telling us is that we are all part of nature, our existence intricately connected with its movements.

Last year was the warmest on record. The weather was miserable, even deadly, in Europe, North America, China and many other places. One factor was solar fluctuation, which is particularly relevant to our understanding of Chinese zodiac predictions.

We have no control over the sun. It enables life on Earth but its strong solar flares can also cause problems, such as with satellites and our climate. The current solar cycle is expected to peak in 2025, with the sun’s energy output increasing until then. It is said that, in half a billion years, the sun may boil away the Earth’s oceans. It is both our blessing and curse.

Like the sun, the mighty tai sui, the most important star in Chinese zodiac predictions, is outside our control. Bowing to tai sui and other stars suggests a deep respect for the universe. We are not above nature and we cannot conquer all.

Also, in talking about people in terms of animals, the Chinese zodiac is a broad recognition of lives on Earth. There are those we adore, such as dogs. There are those we fear, such as snakes. There are those we eat, such as pigs. There are those we hate, such as rats. The zodiac even incorporates the element of the unknown in our knowledge, represented by the dragon: a pure product of our imagination.

When we can understand that we’re all part of a nature in constant motion, that we are neither above nor below anyone else, that there is a balance between our efforts and factors beyond our control, we’ll be that much more able to deal with all our ups and downs.

Is there a better way to achieve a happier life?

April Zhang is the founder of MSL Master and the author of the Mandarin Express textbook series and the Chinese Reading and Writing textbook series

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