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Hot to trot: China and the world in the Year of the Horse

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Original published at RT

Worshippers burn incense and pray at the Wong Tai Sin Temple to welcome the Chinese New Year of the horse in Hong Kong on January 30, 2014.
(image by (AFP Photo / Philippe Lopez))

In China, what is known as the Spring Festival is the scene of the largest internal migration on earth, year after year. In 2014, no less than 3.6 billion trips will be made on public transport.

No wonder the number one portal and search engine in China, Baidu, came up with a spectacular map, refreshed every eight (lucky) hours, pinpointing the most popular departure and arrival cities and the most congested itineraries.

The Chinese zodiac, as we (but not jihad-spewing Wahhabi preachers) all know, assigns an animal -- real or mythological -- to every year. The horse -- widely considered very auspicious -- is seventh in the list, preceded by the snake and followed by the goat.

China, as we also know, is in a hurry to become the largest economic power in the world. The word "immediately," in Mandarin, is pronounced as ma shang, which means "on horseback."

Thus, all across China and the global Chinese diaspora, the most popular Year of the Horse greetings are photos of cash, a house and a car, all on horseback. That means, literally, a wish for the recipient to get hold of lots of dough, buy a house, and buy a car. Immediately, of course.

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Now imagine 1.3 billion Chinese furiously galloping towards affluence, many at the same time. With a little help from gambling in Macau.

Yet it won't be such a fairytale (and ecological disaster). A China Daily editorial admitted that "there's plenty to complain about," listing everything from "urban dwellers about haze" and "rural residents about arbitrary land acquisitions," with special emphasis on "corruption, injustice, income gaps and food safety."

A catalogue of ills plaguing still fast-developing China which won't be magically solved by an auspicious horse.

Combustibility ahead

A key source to decipher what might happen in the Year of the Horse is a feng shui (wind-water) master. All across Asia -- and a few Western enclaves -- multitudes adjust their lives based on feng shui to achieve the right balance between metal, wood, water, fire and earth, and reap maximum luck and material benefits. The problem is each master usually comes with his own interpretation.

This is a Year of the Wooden Horse. Wood is easily combustible. So that will translate into a lot of scandal and conflict.

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Feng shui masters from Hong Kong to mainland China are talking about a hot -- literally -- 2014, with temperatures melting people's brains and a propensity towards earthquakes and volcano eruptions. All that because the earth will be "irritated" by a lot of fire, and because the Wooden Horse is easily combustible. Japan and China, as well as Indonesia, are in the danger zone.

A man wears a traditional costume during an event celebrating the upcoming Year of the Horse, outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong. (AFP Photo / Philippe Lopez)
A man wears a traditional costume during an event celebrating the upcoming Year of the Horse, outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong.
(image by (AFP Photo / Philippe Lopez))

But it's in geopolitics that the Year of the Horse may portend some serious trouble. The immediate configuration is in the South China Sea, with the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands -- that is, the possibility of a hot war, however contained, between China and Japan. Even possible dates are on the radar: February, May or August 2014. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even telegraphed the chance of war during the Davos talkfest.

The US and European Union economies may somehow pull through towards a recovery, while Southeast Asia and South Asia will be turbulent. That's an extrapolation of current trends in emerging markets after the Fed started tweaking with quantitative easing.

There are no feng shui alarms regarding Russia; that would imply a smooth Olympics at Sochi and President Putin solidifying his mastery of geopolitical chess.

2014 may be very tricky for US President Barack Obama -- born in the Year of the Ox in 1961. That would come in the form of "obstacles to cutting through political red tape," according to Hong Kong feng shui master Chow Hon-ming.

This implies hell between the Obama administration and Republicans in the Beltway; not only in terms of Obamacare, minimum wage and a new immigration policy, but also what is the key geopolitical story of 2014; the possibility of a definitive nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 -- which is essentially the story of a possible détente between Washington and Tehran.

Some feng shui master must urgently examine the chart of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- who is bound to face as many internal "obstacles" as Obama.

If we look back in history, the previous Year of the Wooden Horse was 1954. Then, both the US and the USSR were testing nuclear bombs. We all know how it developed; the MAD ("mutual assured destruction") meme throughout the Cold War, up to 1989. Talk about turbulence.

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Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His regular column, "The Roving Eye," is widely read. He is an analyst for the online news channel Real News, the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and (more...)

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'The immediate configuration is in the South China... by mhenriday on Sunday, Feb 2, 2014 at 5:44:40 AM