The world can look forward to peace and harmony at the start of the Lunar New Year, but Chinese soothsayers say the world should also expect conflict, disease outbreaks and natural disasters later in the year.
As the world waves goodbye to the Year of the Rooster and welcomes the Year of the Dog on Sunday, believers in Chinese superstition have been consulting traditional fortune tellers, feng shui geomancers and a wealth of new books that claim to be able to predict the year's fortunes.
Feng shui expert and astrologer Raymond Lo said that according to ancient Chinese belief, dog years are characterized by a rise in the strength of fire and earth.
"Fire sitting on earth is a symbol of support and harmony and this may bring a relatively more peaceful year with less international conflicts than in the past few years," Lo said.
The Chinese calendar moves in 60-year cycles, meaning the world will experience in the new year similar events that took place in 1946.
That was the year World War II, a time when world powers were concentrating on recovering from war and creating a new world order.
"Likewise, it is expected that there will be more co-operation among countries in 2006 aimed at setting up a more effective world order for the protection of global interests, such as solving environmental issues, global warming problems, religious differences, and the prevention of epidemics," Lo said.
The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and associates each of the 12 years that form a partial cycle with an animal. The dog is the 11th in the zodiac sequence that starts with the rat, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and ending with the pig.
Fortune-tellers base their predictions on the relationship between the zodiac animals and the characters of each animal year.
They also take into account the changing balance over the years in the five spiritual elements that Chinese philosophy believes form the core of the universe -- metal, wood, fire, water and earth.
Not all soothsayers agree on what the year heralds.
Another feng shui expert Lee Sing-tong says that things will turn worse later in the year.
"Things might look peaceful first of all, but a lot of problems will start in the middle of the year," warned Lee, a third-generation feng shui master.
He predicted worsening conflicts between China and Japan, a serious earthquake in the Middle East and a shortage of medicines worldwide.
"There will be a false impression that there will be an improvement in the political environment, peoples' livelihoods, public resources or social welfare at the beginning of the year," Lee said.
"But in the second half year, a situation of shortage will appear and this will result in serious problems in society or cause chaos," he said.
The US would pull its troops out of Iraq after autumn leading to instability in the Middle East, Lee said.
For individuals, the year in which you were born is believed to shape your character.
People born in years of the dog are thought to be loyal, reliable, persistent, resourceful, unselfish and honest. However, they also tend to be introverted, nosy, anxious, pessimistic, cynical and moody, soothsayers believe.
Celebrities born in years of the dog include US President George W Bush, model Naomi Campbell, singers Mariah Carey, Cher and Kate Bush, and operatic tenor Jose Carerras.
This Year of the Dog will be especially auspicious as it is a "Double Spring" year, the Chinese calendar equivalent to a leap year, a period during which it is considered lucky for young couples to marry.
Another fortune-teller, Alion Yeo, warned of increasing intestinal illnesses or other deadly diseases between April and May.
Unlike the rooster year, whose predicted sex scandals largely didn't materialize, the dog year would come as a complete contrast due to the strong fire element, Yeo said.
"Love will burn like fire; people will be more passionate about their relationships. There is no hiding it," he said.
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