HONG KONG — A 2,000-year-old guide advising Chinese peasants on the most propitious time to sow and harvest crops is credited with triggering a wedding boom in Hong Kong.
The traditional Chinese almanac warns that couples who marry in the new lunar year, the Year of the Dragon, which started last week, are doomed to ill fortune.
Thousands of couples rushed to beat the deadline.
The problem with the Year of the Dragon is that it is a "blind" year with no spring, the season of new beginnings. The almanac predicted that spring would arrive before the Year of the Rabbit ended, giving it a "double spring."
'Brand New Start'
"Spring breathes life into everything," said leading Hong Kong fortune teller Lam Yung. "It also means a brand new start.
"To get married in a year with double springs brings a good start for couples. While weddings in blind years are considered ominous."
While the British colony's 5.5 million Chinese are far from slaves to superstition, many appear to think that marriage a risky enough business without taking extra chances.
A government official said more than 5,000 couples were waiting for marriage licenses in the last few days of the current lunar year.
Official figures showed that nearly 45,000 couples married in the first 11 months of 1987, contrasted with 39,381 in all of 1986. More than 12,000 tied the knot in the propitious months of October and November.
"Every day since December we have had people queuing up outside our offices asking when they could get married," the official said. "We've told some couples to go to less busy offices in suburban areas if they don't want to miss the bus."
He said registering for marriage usually took two weeks but that couples were facing waits of up to six weeks for licenses.
Some Can't Wait
Some couples are not prepared to wait.
"We have no choice but to hold traditional Chinese ceremonies first before the government can issue us a marriage certificate," said Chu Ka-ming.
Chu originally booked his wedding for April. But his parents told him that if he couldn't bring it forward, he would have to wait until the Year of the Dragon was over.
The government registry would not allow him to change the date.
Another headache for grooms such as Chu is booking a restaurant for the lavish banquets without which no Chinese wedding is complete.
"We are fully booked for the next month," Gerry Tsai, a restaurant manager, said. "Business is always very good in years with double springs."
He said some wedding bookings were made six months in advance and that couples often spent up to $25,000 on banquets.
Many Chinese still consult the almanac, based on meteorological and astrological observations recorded over several thousand years.
They use it to pick auspicious days for weddings and funerals, and modern editions also incorporate advice on the best time to move or even have a haircut.
The book is based on a 60-year cycle and is often uncannily accurate on climatic changes. A Hong Kong Royal Observatory official confirmed that spring had indeed arrived early in some parts of China.
The rush to matrimony, according to fortune teller Lam Yung, is also fueled by the belief that children born in 1988 are almost guaranteed wealth.
He said the number eight meant prosperity to Hong Kong's predominantly Cantonese population. That belief is also shared by many of Malaysia's 5.5 million ethnic Chinese.