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Chinese New Year and the Almanac 3

The almanacs also contain a long list of Confucian quotes for every occasion, in order to help people live their lives correctly, in accordance with tradition. Other sections of the almanac, however, seem even more peculiar to the western observer. For instance, a Taiwanese almanac from the 1980s offered a list of ancient advice under the heading ‘How to choose the sex of your child’. One such piece of wisdom says that the way a couple makes love will influence the sex of the child: if they want a boy, the man should spend a long time on the foreplay and restrain himself; if they want a girl, the man should enter a climax as soon as possible. Another way relates to diet: husband and wife must eat the same food for seven days prior to intercourse. If they want a son, they must eat no meat during this period; instead they must eat plenty of beancurd, carrots, cucumber, lettuce and other vegetables, while avoiding sour foods. If they want a girl, they must eat plenty of meat, sour foods and pickles. A third way relates to numerology, encapsulated in a Chinese verse:

Seven sevens are forty-nine

Ask: Which is the pregnant month?

Take away the mother’s age

Add nineteen

The calculation is this: you take the number forty-nine, add the number of the month in which the woman gets pregnant, subtract the woman’s age and add nineteen. If the total is an odd number, it will be a boy; if it is even, it will be a girl.

Most almanacs also contain illustrated sections on physiognomy and palm-reading, aimed to judge people’s character by their appearance, as done by the professional diviners. Similarly, sections on moles in the face may be used to judge a person’s success in life. Other sections are devoted to numerology and the meaning of specific numbers, which are considered good or bad, mainly depending on the homophones in their pronunciation (there are countless of these in the Chinese language, though specific ones vary with dialects).

Yet several parts of the almanac, as conventionally printed in Hong Kong and Taiwan, contain many sections that are inaccurate transmissions or are entirely incomprehensible, even to those skilled in the classical tradition. Presumably this is due to the fact that, over the centuries, the book has been reprinted by people with little scholarly knowledge and in an environment where little such knowledge existed, while retaining an unswerving reverence for the ancient written word.

The almanac itself, containing the precise information for each day of the year, is a large section in the back of the book. It is written by someone skilled in astrology, very often also famous feng shui masters. It is divided into the traditional double-hours, thus indicating not only auspicious and inauspicious days but also double hours fit for specific activities. It may indicate times for prayer, rituals, ceremonies, trips, purchasing items, meeting friends, moving the house, holding funeral services or honoring the dead. Similarly, it may warn against haircutting, repairing the kitchen or digging the earth at certain times. Much information relates to agriculture, obviously reflecting the origin of Chinese civilization and the almanac itself.

Self-evident from the above, the Chinese almanac contains a long list of advice, divinatory techniques and interpretations that are very similar to what the feng shui master engages in. Laid out in a popular form and ready to use, ordinary people use it a lot and keep it for reference, yet when it comes to crucial matters such as serious illness, accidents, moving home, burying the dead or finding dates for marriage, they call on expert assistance. The Know All Book has nevertheless great significance as an exposition of the common cultural platform, and thereby provides a powerful backing to the work of feng shui specialists as well as of the other traditional diviners.



Chinese New Year in The Temple