If you’ve been watching BBC News, then you will know that the year of the monkey came to an end at midnight on Friday, to be superseded by the year of the rooster. Except that this is ‘fake news’ (or an ‘alternative fact’ if you prefer). As happened two years ago with the year of the sheep (or year of the goat—the Chinese language does not distinguish), which was frequently announced at the time as ‘the year of the ram’, the commentators have fallen into the trap of seeing the animals of the Chinese zodiac in gendered terms, which is incorrect.
You may be wondering about the title of this post. Chinese astrologers will tell you that following the generally lighthearted mischief that characterizes years of the monkey, the world is heading into darker times. Although most people will be aware that there are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, not so many will know that the astrological cycle actually takes sixty years to complete, because overlapping the cycle of the animals is a cycle of the five elements. And this year is a fire year. There will be turbulence. There will be turmoil. And there will be trouble.
I’m not basing this assessment on astrology, which is complete hogwash, but on the new geopolitical climate following accession to the throne of Donald J. Trump. And nothing is more pressing in that sphere than the possible use of nuclear weapons. It is not a coincidence that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced its Doomsday Clock by two minutes last Thursday, and it is now at the latest it has been set since the end of the Cold War (three minutes to midnight). Trump has already stated that he will cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran signed by his predecessor, which can only destabilize even further the most volatile region of the world by encouraging Iran to return to its nuclear program (and Israel to attempt to stop it). And Stuxnet probably won’t work next time.
Even worse, he has already tweeted, in response to news that North Korea is close to having a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to cities on the west coast of the USA, that “It won’t happen!” Which means that he is, in effect, playing chicken with a man who is even more deranged than he is. And the only workable strategy in a game of chicken is to know, in advance, at what point you will always pull out. I don’t think that Trump understands this principle, which is a serious worry given that the only certain way to stop the fat man is a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
Anyway, whatever the future, the new Chinese year always comes in with a bang in my village:
There are several different types of lion dance, and we were treated to one I’d never seen before today. In this first photograph, the lion is in the process of leaping onto the first platform, a feat that requires considerable leg strength from both performers. My friend Tom Li, who was the front end of a lion in his youth, used to tell me that I’d have made a good rear end, but this looks too much like hard work to me.
In the next photograph, the lion has just landed on the double bench between the two platforms:
Performing on the double bench requires some intricate footwork. This is our local lion dance troupe, and I notice that they have a new bass drum this year:
At the end of its performance, the lion is fed lettuce (Cantonese: sang choi); sang choi sounds like a phrase meaning ‘grow prosperity’, which is why the spectators try to catch pieces of the lettuce when the lion spits it out again:
A second lion now appeared on the scene, and it looked as if it was challenging the first lion. I didn’t understand the movements in this performance, but here are four photos that give some idea of what was going on:
Kung hei fat choi.