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Singapore Officials Fear Population Plunge in Chinese Zodiac's Year of the Snake

February 05, 1989|RUTH YOUNGBLOOD | United Press International

SINGAPORE — With the Year of the Snake approaching with the lunar new year, officials worried about a population plunge are emphasizing that many of history's finest were born under the sign of the slithery reptile.

"Snakes make great people," pleads Health Minister Yeo Cheow Tong to Chinese couples reluctant to start a family in a less than auspicious astrological period.

Hospitals that brimmed over with babies during the outgoing Dragon year--with its portents of wealth and prosperity--are preparing for empty beds in Snake year. Stores are stocking less maternity and infant clothing.

For 1,000 years Chinese astrology has revolved around 12 mythical or real animals, each conveying personality and character traits to those born within its 12-month cycle. Depending upon the year of birth, a newborn is either an ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat or sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig or rat.

The snake ranks among the least desirable. Snake babies are thought to produce adults equated with double-dealing, scandal and disreputable behavior.

"Many still believe the zodiac is not a bunch of mumbo jumbo," said Paul Wee, who would like to become a father but perhaps not in the Year of the Snake.

During the last Year of the Snake in 1977, births declined by 12%.

"There are great people born under every one of the zodiac signs," said Yeo, whose population planners fear that a badly needed baby boom is about to fizzle.

"The world would be a sadder and poorer place if the capable were born only once every 12 years."

He said snake babies include U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, the late Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin.

Singapore needs five years matching 1988's 50,000 births to reverse a shrinking population. If a lower birth rate resumes, officials predict that the current population of 2.6 million will start shrinking precariously in the year 2010 and nose-dive thereafter.

"We must change our thinking," said Yeo. "We should not consider the other zodiac signs as being less favorable than the dragon."

So elaborate ceremonies welcoming snake year were planned for the start of the lunar new year on Monday, Feb. 6. The Singapore River is to be transformed into a carnival with fireworks and giant lotus flowers spraying colorful water jets. There will be a display of 600 snakes, including such rarities as the white cobra, double-headed versions, gold-ringed, bamboo and water species.

Government matchmakers touting the joys of matrimony and progeny are stressing the positive aspects of the snake personality.

Susan Chan, deputy director of the Social Development Unit, said snake types often make their way to the top, ensure that they are in the right place at the right time and demonstrate an aptitude for research and academics.

"We're just going to forge ahead in our programs" encouraging singles to marry and start families, Chan said.

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