President Bush — born in the Year of the Dog — should be glad to hear this bit of ancient Chinese wisdom: In the Year of the Snake, it's good to be a dog.
The Year of the Snake, which began today under the Chinese lunar calendar, is a time some soothsayers say brings upheaval, disasters and revolution.
But Bush, born in 1946 — the Year of the Dog, according to the 12-symbol Chinese horoscope — doesn't have to worry as much as others. The dog gets along with the snake.
However, other factors must be considered for a more accurate prediction for Bush's first year in office, some Taiwanese soothsayers said.
Examining a picture of the president, Taipei astrologer Ni Su-chuan noted the firm and curved contour of the president's upper lip.
"At 54, his luck is determined by his lips, and his fortune thrives at this point," Ni said.
"His lips have nice contours, but not wide enough," she added, explaining that Bush may be good at continuing the policies of his predecessor but not broad-minded or bold enough in ushering in a new era.
The degree of faith in astrology and fortunetelling varies among Chinese communities in Asia. In China, the communist government banned astrology for years and belief in the ancient systems has greatly faded. However, the customs continue in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where people frequently consult fortunetellers before making important decisions.
'Can't Be Too Good or Too Bad'
The start of the lunar new year is the biggest holiday for the Chinese — about one-fifth of the world's population — and most spent today feasting, showing off new clothes, praying in temples, playing mahjong and visiting friends and relatives. Thoughts also turned to what the new year will bring and many looked for lucky signs.
Taiwanese astrologer Shao Chung-ling predicted this Year of the Snake, or "little dragon," would be calm.
"You won't see major successes or failures in world events," Shao said. "The year can't be too good or too bad."
Those born under the symbol are supposed to be diplomatic, charming, deep-thinking and romantic, but they can also be stingy with money, vain and unfaithful in marriage.
Famous snakes include President Kennedy and Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung — both charismatic philanderers. The two leaders of the world's largest Chinese states, Taiwan and China, should be worried about the upcoming year, according to Chinese astrology. Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian and Chinese President Jiang Zemin are both tigers — bitter enemies of the snake.
Trouble in China
China's anticipated entry into the World Trade Organization this year could shake up the giant communist nation's economy and bring instability. The country's secretive leadership is also gearing up for a transfer of power — traditionally a time of infighting and maneuvering.
In Beijing, the Year of the Snake got off to a tense start with protests in Tiananmen Square. On the eve of the holiday, five members of the outlawed Falun Gong sect set themselves on fire, a possible sign the group is becoming more radical despite Jiang's aggressive campaign to quash it.
Trouble in China could create problems for Taiwan's Chen. Some China watchers believe that Chinese leaders could try to divert the public's attention from domestic woes by increasing hostilities with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province.
Following a Taiwanese tradition, Chen traveled to his hometown in southern Taiwan to hand out red envelopes of money, known as "hongbao." Thousands lined up for the gift, worth $6.
Taiwanese astrologer Lin Chen-yi said the intelligent but stubborn Chen is a "sparkling sun" whose success depends on whether he can share glory with others.
"The Year of the Snake is a year to plant seeds and consolidate your base," Lin said. "By next year, the Year of the Horse, the dark cloud will dissipate to unveil the sun if the right things are done."