Cautiously Welcoming the Year of the Rat
The spring festival is traditionally the time for this otherwise industrious nation to put up its feet and relax. That has rarely been more necessary. With food prices rising, Olympic expectations growing and much of the country snarled up in snow and ice, China enters the year of the rat under more pressure than at any time in more than a decade.
The year of the pig, which finished yesterday, was a golden period even by the standards of China’s 25-year winning streak. In 2007, the economy grew by 11.3%, the fastest rate in 13 years; stock prices on the main Shanghai bourse hit a record high of 6,000, having risen sixfold in two years; foreign exchange reserves surged over $1.4 trillion thanks to booming exports; and PetroChina became the planet’s most valuable company – one of five Chinese firms in the world top 10.
By contrast, the year of the rat starts with a bigger weight of expectations and far less certainty about the government’s ability to meet them.
The Guardian article includes a video report in which reporters record the New Year festivities on the streets of Beijing and interview Beijingers about the year to come. In the Times, a feng shui master gives an astrological reading for the new year:
But even though power has been restored to 162 or the 170 worst-hit counties, millions are still without electricity or heating and the China Meteorological Administration warned that the warmer temperatures and melting snow could bring natural disasters, including landslides, in their wake.
And fortune-tellers say that caution will be the watchword for the Year of the Rat, for which they predict financial and political rumblings, tsunamis and epidemics. The reason, they say, is that water and earth – two of the five elements Chinese mystics believe are at the root of all things – are in conflict in 2008.