02/20/2007, 00.00
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Temples and gynaecologists’ waiting rooms crowded in the lucky Year of the Pig

Chinese families wait for hours to visit Taoist temples to receive good omens. In Guangdong fines for restaurateurs who serve civet cat meat. Authorities fear a baby boom.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The start of the Year of the Pig has been marked by two trends: greater religiosity as people visit temples and couples going hog wild over this lucky year for having children as would-be mothers visit their gynaecologist.

Chinese celebrated the new Lunar New Year according to well-established traditions. After the usual family get-together, they went to their local temples to ask for good fortune and prosperity and then walk about the fairs that sprung up around them.

Today, temple fairs serve up a mixed bag of performances, games, handicrafts and snacks. Some offer traditional Chinese activities with folk acrobats and sugar-coated hawthorns; others include Western-style theme parks with rides and Western food. The 2008 Beijing Olympics is a major theme this year everywhere.

In Beijing, the number of temple fairs in the capital has grown to more than 30, in a variety of locations, from temples and parks to commercial streets.

People lined up waiting to get inside the Ditan, the sacred site inside the Temple of Heaven where emperors worshipped the Earth (one of the five primordial elements along with water, fire, wind and spirit) during the Qing dynasty. In 1985 the Ditan was also the first site to resume holding temple fairs after they were halted during the Cultural Revolution.

People who want to visit the White Cloud Temple must wait for two hours to touch the head of a stone monkey, which, according to legend, can rid people of illness.

In Guangdong province some 7,000 health inspectors are checking for civet cats at 10,000 restaurants, where severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS emerged in 2002. Civet cats are a delicacy in southern China but also suspected of spreading SARS to humans, although the source of the virus has not been determined.

In January 2004, Guangdong banned the raising, selling, killing and eating of civet cats. But health departments have been receiving reports of illegal trade in the animal. In several restaurants live and frozen civet cats were confiscated and owners fined.

Because the Year of the Pig is thought to be a lucky year to have children, the authorities are concerned about a possible baby boom. For many this is the year of gold according to tradition which means babies born this year might have good fortune.

Hospitals are full of women waiting for hours for a simple ultrasound and the authorities are concerned that it will eventually put a strain on the education system and job prospects.

Beijing expects 150,000 babies to be born this lunar year, compared with 129,000 last year. Shanghai has forecast 137,000 new babies this year, compared with fewer than 100,000 from 1995 to 2005. (PB)

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