China ushered in the Year of the Horse with traditional firecracker salvos and family reunions on Friday as practitioners of the ancient art of feng shui warned the country is set for a bumpy year ahead.
The Year of the Horse, which begins Friday according to the traditional lunar calendar combining the animals of the years with the five elements of traditional cosmology, is associated with the element wood, which suggests instability and disruption, they said.
In particular, conflicts and disasters will be related to fire, although stock markets could bounce back during the coming year, Hong Kong feng shui master Raymond Lo told Reuters.
Liu Meixi, an expert in traditional Chinese cosmology, said many were now concerned about possible armed conflict predicted for the coming year.
"I think the Hong Kong feng shui masters are right," Liu said. "From a feng shui point of view, [the elements] indicate war, as well as every kind of disaster involving fire."
"But businesses and professions which involve fire will see great growth and breakthroughs," he added.
Fire and wood
This year's dominant elements will be fire, which brings energy, and wood, which denotes rigidity and inflexibility, Lo told Reuters on Friday.
"The upcoming Horse Year is also a 'yang wood' year, when people will stick more to their principles and stand firm," said Lo. "So it is hard to negotiate or compromise as there are more tendencies for people to fight for their ideals."
This year's "yang wood Horse" only comes round every 60 years, and previous such years have shown a record of regional conflict.
In the most recent "yang wood Horse" year, 1954, French troops were defeated by the Vietnamese at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
And 1894 marked the start of the first Sino-Japanese war.
Jason Z. Yin, a professor of strategy management and international business at Seton Hall University, said such predictions reflect a broad sense of anxiety in the greater China region.
"Westerners don't believe in feng shui, but Chinese people very much do believe in it," Yin said, suggesting that some of the predictions about rigidity were aimed at the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"[President] Xi Jinping has taken a very hard line since he came to power, and has broken through the so-called 'collective leadership,'" Yin said.
"He is reigning supreme, even more so than Deng Xiaoping did, and since he came to power the likelihood of conflict with Japan has risen."
He said any military clashes would likely involve China and Japan, as well as Tokyo's military ally, the United States.
"In the event of a conflict between China and Japan, the U.S. wouldn't remain neutral," Yin said. "Of course it will support Japan."
"All these speculations are coming out [ahead of] the Year of the Horse, because we have this anxiety."
Stock market predictions
Meanwhile, Taiwan feng shui student Ho Jui-en warned people not to assume that a rallying stock market would bring them individual fortunes.
"Some people will make money, and some people will lose it," he said. "People shouldn't start trading shares just because the market is on a rally."
"Anyone can lose money on the stock market."
The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals, each assigned to a year, that interact with the elements, known as the "heavenly stems and earthly branches" to make up a 60-year cycle of changing fortunes for the world.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.