Fortune-telling Alive & Well in The Middle Kingdom

By Jonathan Chandler
Exclusive to The Wild East

1901 fortuneteller Certain practices and “superstitions” were frowned upon, violently so, during the Cultural Revolution — a recent hiatus in China’s rich and ancient weave. But with the revival of Confucianism, along with the “opening-up,” a deep thirst for the old ways and the ancient knowledge has re-emerged.

Although the return of arcania began with a diffident, hesitant tread, the fashion for all things “mystic and magick” has exploded in recent years.

Fortune-telling and the rambunctious rabble of fellow cash withdrawers are back in; and how! Without discussing social issues or, Mantle- of-Heaven forbid, anything polemic, prognosticators, sages and charlatans – mining some of the richest strands of China’s ancient tapestry – are making a huge comeback in both the more and less affluent places of the Middle Kingdom.

Once part of the ritual of daily life throughout the centuries of dynastic culture, a visit to the fortuneteller was as commonplace as a visit to the temple. More often than not, it took place in the same spot.

Now practitioners -“suan ming” – are to be seen on sidewalks, in shopping malls or outside temples, using methods as various and exotic as pulse-taking, face-reading ( the ancient art of “kan xiang”), palm-reading, phrenology, eyeball examination and consultation of the Book of Changes (the world’s oldest book, I Ching –also spelled Yi Jing). Newspapers and the Internet have daily Western astrological and Chinese zodiac horoscopes. Feng shui geomancers are in demand and for astronomical (nay astrological) costs. In Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and any Hua chao outpost – (Overseas Chinese – the diaspora) – the population is practically governed at the direction of the geomancers. Indeed in Shanghai, the lootocrats jealously guard their favored “Fong Xui” man, only passing on his secret and arcane methods of contact via an intimate circle of select friends.

Among the white-collar set, this fashion for external guidance fills a spiritual hole in this religion-free society.

Yet at all levels of society, it appears there is a universal groundswell of interest in things extra-material. Temples, churches and folk religions are flourishing all over the Middle Kingdom because the rush to Mammon has left behind too many struggling in its wake.

For these people, society offers little in the way of mental succor, and thus an entire gamut of New Age entrepreneurs has emerged to supply this demand. In Shanghai, and rich play-cities like Qingdao, you can even find Tarot readings given for a pretty penny by dubious types in flowery print dresses and birkenstock sandals who claim to have visited France and studied with the Witch of Aix.

Even the highest of highs have gotten in on the act. The precise timing of the Olympics Opening Ceremony was based on an ancient calendar of auspicious moments: 8 minutes and eight seconds past the hour of eight in the evening of the 8th of August, 2008. In other words, lucky numbered, Eight in Mandarin is “ba.” Linguistically, “Ba” which is actually Guangdongese is the same as “Fa” in Mandarin which means “bring success, money,” and so on. That’s the “fa” we all use in “Gung Shi FA Cai!” – “work hard, make a lot of money,” the universal greeting at Chinese New Year to wish for success and money in the year ahead.

And lest one gets carried away with wonder regarding the dawning of the Age of Aquarius or whatever, just be clear that money is more often than not, as is usual in this vast land, the object of the exercise.

So, to any aspiring sages, oracles, shamans, clairvoyants and seers out there, pack your trinkets and black cat bones and float over to China – there’s gold in them thar superstitions!

— Jonathan Chandler is a British novelist, currently based in Qingdao. For syndication and reproduction permissions, contact him at jonathan at jagchandler dot com.

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