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Sunday, February 6, 2011
Red underwear alert for Rabbits
Zhou Jingjie, a cleaner from Inner Mongolia who was born during the bunny zodiac year in 1975. She is wary whenever the 12-year cycle swings her way.
"It is a year of bad luck,' she told The Straits Times Singapore, believing that she was thrown off a public bus two months ago - which hurt her back - because the Year of the Rabbit was approaching. "The last Rabbit Year, when I was 24, I lost my job and my father died."
She is not alone in fearing what the Chinese refer to as ben ming nian, or your zodiac year: They believe it is cursed.
The fear could be tied to the concept of life progressing in 12-year stages, such as hitting adolescence at the age of 12, entering society at 24 and maturing at 36. Chinese believe they face 'barriers' in such years, and worry things may not go according to plan.
While much of Chinese tradition has been lost through centuries of upheavals and modernisation, this superstition in the curse of the zodiac year has proven to be extraordinarily persistent.
Historians believe it has been around since the Han Dynasty in 200BC, and even managed to survive the anti-superstition and anti-tradition fervour of China's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.
The fear of misfortune falling during zodiac years means one needs to be extra careful.
On Chinese New Year's Eve, for example, old folk will remind those entering their ben ming nian to stay indoors to 'hide from the stars'. During the year, it is also advisable to avoid any major life events, including starting a new business, childbirth and marriage.
To combat the curse, wearing red is a must, especially crimson underwear.
"You have to wear red underwear," said retired civil servant Shao Shulan, 73, from north-eastern Heilongjiang province. "It would be even better if you pair it with a red belt and red socks. Once you have that, the bad luck will be blocked, and you do not have to worry any more."
But some go the extra mile for protection, acquiring special jade pendants from temples. Zhou, for instance, had been wearing a jade rabbit necklace from the famous Yonghe Lama Temple in Beijing as Chinese New Year approached.
Such strong beliefs have led to a thriving cottage industry.
Zheng Qinghua, 29, started her Red Year Shop on online shopping site Taobao two years ago, offering products specially to ward off the ben ming nian bad luck.
"In the past month since Christmas, sales hit nearly 800,000 yuan (RM360,000), double the usual revenue,' she said. "Our bestsellers are red string bracelets, which are doing so well we hardly have time to sell the red socks and underwear."
The growing myth of the zodiac year curse can be attributed to popular culture playing up the age-old superstition over the decades.
Books tell of relationships broken during the year, as well as other tragedies, while newspapers highlight the rough times faced by famous people in their zodiac years.
Taiwan's Foxconn boss Terry Gou, who was born in the Year of the Tiger, for instance, saw his mega factories in southern China hit by a spate of bizarre worker suicides last year.
The popular 1989 movie Ben Ming Nian, about the tragic death of a 24-year-old woman during her zodiac year, also played a great part in influencing a generation of young Chinese.
Zhou said: 'I never thought my zodiac year would be so problematic. But what can I do? I just have to be more careful, wear more red. If it still does not work, I guess that is life."