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18 Feb. 2007 – 6 Feb. 2008
Chinese New Year of the Piggy

7 February 2007

Chinese year officially begins on the first day of the first lunar month, but the actual commencement of a Chinese new year is the Start of Spring (立春), the day when the sun enters the 315 degree on the tropical zodiac, and the season greets the first of the twenty-four calendrical solar terms.

The frosty season, starting since the winter solstice, is divided into nine sections in Chinese calendar, each consisted of nine days, with 81 cold days in total. The Start of Spring happens to be on the first day of the sixth section.

Usually the SOS appears a few days after the Chinese New Year’s Day, like the Year of the Dog 2006; but occasionally it goes other way round, and the Year of the Pig 2007 is just such a year. So despite the Chinese New Year’s Day is yet to come on 18 February, the Piggy has already been here with us since February 4th, at 1:18 pm to be precise.

Ancient Chinese used to hold a state-sponsored prayer ritual to honour the actual commencement of the year since that was, and still is, viewed as the most important seasonal turning point. From that day on, the temperature in most part of China begins to rise, and the earth in the middle and low reaches of the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese culture and the birth place of Chinese calendar, starts to defrost; although given the vast size of China, in the up north that includes Beijing, the tangible signs of spring can not be detected until March (lunar February), while in the semitropical southern tips like Guangdong and Hainan, talking about the start of spring might seem a bit meaningless as the winter never truly descends there.

The earliest written reference to the SOS ritual, found in the Yinxu burial site, dates back 3000 years in the classic golden age of the Zhou Dynasty. It started by the emperor fasting for three days prior to the occasion, then on that very day he would lead his court officials marching eastward eight lis (four kilometres) out of the capital city to personally welcome the arrival of the spring, and to negotiate a joint effort of making the coming year a prosperous one.

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the Start of Spring became a nationwide social event, with ploughing ox receiving a VIP status and being the central theme of the whole festivity. A young man with a build as robust as a bull would be chosen to play the roll of the Spirit of Spring (芒神); wielding a willow branch that by the time of SOS had a colour of tender gold and quality of silk floss, he would parade alongside the sculpture of the VIP ox. In later days, this elaborate ritual was replaced by a less theatrical performance: hanging a painting that depicts a ploughing ox driven down the farmland by a boy cowherd. This kind of painting is still quite popular until this day and can be found in most Chinese calendar books published every year.

On February 4 this year, the attempts to observe the SOS rituals were made by some people in China. In Beijing, for instance, a group of college students wearing the flowing Han-style robe flied kites in the Purple Bamboo Park - a time-honoured way of sensing the first breath of spring. Coincidentally - or not coincidentally at all – the temperature in most part of China did soar considerably on the day, with 16 degree C recorded in Shanghai and 20C reported in Changsha.

Pig is chiefly a Yin Water agent (癸), but also contains traces of Yang Water ren (壬) and Yang Wood jia (甲). As Yin Water sigh, the Pig is succeeded by Yang Water sign Rat, and Yin Earth sign Ox that functions as the storage or tomb for Metal signs, which makes the Pig Year the turning point from the three-year Metal circle, formed by Monkey (2004), Rooster (2005) and Dog (2006), to the three-year Water circle that includes Pig (2007), Rat (2008) and Ox (2009).

Year 2006 bingshu (丙戌)is a Yang Fire Dog year (Heavenly Stem bing for Yang Fire and Earthly Branch shu for Dog). As Dog is the firehouse in the Five Agents, bingshu year virtually turned the world into a giant oven and everything is getting hotter and burning, from gunfire, bushfire to soaring temperature. It is also believed that the rapid development and wide usage of computer/internet/mobile phone do not help the matter but further reinforce the power of the Fire.

The Pig Year 2007 has the Heavenly Stem ding (丁), which is Yin Fire, and the Earthly Branch hai (亥), which is Yin Water, and that practically puts the Heaven and Earth on a direct collision course. In the first half of the year, mainly governed by the Heavenly Stem, the effect of the Fire could get even more potent. Being Yin Fire, ding may not burn your house down as open Yang Fire (such as bushfire) might do, but a slow-baking internal fire (such as fever) can generate truly poisonous atmosphere.

When Water meets Fire, usually it is the Water that puts out or subdues the Fire; and when the Fire is on the top and the Water below, it often means that the forces at lower positions will give the forces occupying higher positions a real hard time. Bearing this in mind when reflecting the world affairs, you may feel it is not too far off the mark to predict that we are going to see increased incidents of disadvantaged and/or suppressed individuals, groups or nations taking more initiatives against their oppressors; and those privileged and/or powerful individuals, groups or nations, though trying hard to hold their ground, may eventually have to recognise that they can no longer take everything for granted.

But just as the situation seemingly couldn’t get any hotter and messy, a refreshing breeze would come to cool the burning air. When the Yang Water ren in the Earthly Branch encounters the Yin Fire ding in the Heavenly stem, which is to occur in the second half of the year, a new energy with Wood trait will emerge, acting as the mediator between the Water and the Fire, with a potential to turn a destructive relationship into a nurturing liaison, transforming conflict into harmony.

Year of the Pig is generally viewed as auspicious and prosperous, and it is said that when you bump into the Pig you run into fortune (逢猪必发). The Pig Year 2007 is particularly fortunate in the eye of many Chinese, for being, rather mysteriously, a Golden Pig year - a wonderful year like this one may only have a chance to encounter once in a lifetime since it turns up every sixty years. When the Golden Pig showed up last time in 1947, as some Chinese experts like to point out, it was the year when the United States came out of the Great Depression. Some oracle men further forecast a boom in gold-related businesses, such as jewellery, finance, banking, stock market and insurance.

The Pig is also one of four zodiacs** that ride a Fortune Horse (驿马), which is a big plus for activities or businesses that require a lot of movement, and that is why some masters anticipate that anything to do with martial arts, sports, transportation and tourism shall expect a smooth run in 2007.

And of course, it will be, as many Chinese believe or hope or wish or aspire, a year of the golden piglets, and the piglet-boom will, understandably, present a golden opportunity for all baby-related business ventures.

So, welcome to the Year of Piggy! May you be as happy and prosperous as the piggy deserves to be!

* Fire Pig Year 2007 is also year 4704 in Chinese calendar, counting from the year when the Yellow Emperor, the founder of the Chinese nation, ascended the throne in 2697 B.C.

** Four zodiacs with a Fortune Horse are: Tiger, Snake, Monkey and Pig.

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