Year of the Snake Draws Hisses

At The Wall Street Journal, Te-Ping Chen and Fiona Law describe Hong Kong’s lukewarm welcome for the Year of the Snake:

The coming year […] suffers because it is considered a “blind year,” meaning it won’t include the first day of spring. Because the Chinese use a lunar calendar, the first day of the new year typically falls between late January and mid-February. But spring always starts in early February—this year, on Feb. 4—while the Year of the Snake doesn’t begin until Feb. 10.

That means the Year of the Dragon had two first days of spring—one at the start and one at the end—while the Year of the Snake will have none.

For all of these reasons, wedding halls and maternity wards have been packed for the past year, in particular in recent months.

“We were almost restless, with wedding banquets almost every day between November and December, as clients were rushing to complete weddings during the Year of the Dragon,” said Sam Ip, spokeswoman for Chinese restaurant group Federal Restaurants Group Ltd., which has 16 outlets in Hong Kong. “We’ve seen fewer inquiries for the coming year, as it’s a blind year.”

It’s not just blindness and general uncuddliness that have dampened the Snake’s reception, as Geremie Barmé explains at The China Story:

A certain wariness surrounds the Snake, one of the twelve zoological signs of the traditional Chinese calendar, and not only because the reptile inspires fear and repulsion. The Chinese word ‘snake’ she 蛇 is homophonous with she 折 ‘to break’ or ‘lose’. Business people in particular regard the snake with some trepidation since she ben 折本, ‘diminished capital’, hardly chimes with the usual New Year’s benedictions to make money 发财 and enjoy good fortune 吉利. Even greater is the anxiety that things may start out with a ‘tiger’s head only to end in a snake’s tail’ 虎头蛇尾. People attempt to ward off maledictions by employing sayings about ‘not losing out in the Year of the Snake’ 绝不蛇本 or ‘hoping for the Golden Snake [of wealth] to come out of its hole’ 金蛇出洞. In recent years, bureaucrats too have become increasingly alert to any ominous snakes that may she, break or foreshorten, their ‘progress along the path to official success’ 官运 resulting in a side-tracked career or even abject failure.

Recent historical precedent does little to make up for any of this, though the year’s precise astrological taxonomy might help. From Annie Huang at The Age:

As undeserved as the snake’s reputation might be, its last two years did not go so well: 2001 was the year of the September 11 attacks and 1989 was when Chinese forces crushed pro-democracy protests around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

[…] Hong Kong feng shui master Raymond Lo is trying to put a positive spin on the year. He points out that according to astrological tables, this year’s variety is the relatively mild “morning dew” type of common water snake, less venomous than recent predecessors.

“It’s more moderate, humble and patient,” Lo said of the 2013 snake. He added that he is bullish on the year’s prospects for the world as a whole, and sees good opportunities for economic growth.

Still, Lo said, people should probably take precautions against the snake’s traditionally destructive power, perhaps by wearing monkey pendants around their necks. That goes double for anyone born in a year of the snake, he said, like incoming Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Xi’s 1953 birth coincided with the final convulsions of the Korean War.

Unflustered by the approaching serpent, meanwhile, Jeremiah Jenne explained the origin of the term chunjie 春节 or Spring Festival at


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