It's uncertain how many young couples today still believe in a "Tiger curse" on girls, but age-old Chinese folklore suggests that girls born in the Year of the Tiger are destined to bring bad luck to their families.
If past records hold true to form, fewer baby girls can be expected in 2010, the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar. Girls born under the sign are believed to be bad-tempered, wild and unpredictable, according to Chinese folklore.
"In the old days, people believed that Tiger girls are tough people. They are too strong, maybe strong enough to overwhelm their families' lives," Professor Xiao Fang, who specializes in Chinese folklore at Beijing Normal University, told METRO.
Xiao said no one knows when and how this belief began, but he thinks it is the result of imagination and analogy.
"Thousands of years ago, people were afraid of being eaten by tigers, which have such a fierce and strong image, as opposed to traditional Chinese thinking that girls should be sweet and soft," he explained, adding that the tiger is a symbol of male power in old traditions, so boys born under the sign are not considered cursed.
Statistics from the Beijing Statistical Information Network shows that 1998, the most recent Tiger year, had the second-lowest birthrate from 1996 to 2007.
The average birth rate was 0.66 percent annually in Beijing over those 12 years, but the birthrate in 1998 was about around 0.6 percent. The highest birthrate of the 12 years was 0.83 percent in the 2007 Year of the Pig. The baby boom of 2007 likely came because it was not just any Year of the Pig - which is always auspicious - but doubly so because it was a "Golden Pig" year.
In addition to the 12 animals that form the traditional Chinese zodiac, there are five elements - gold, wood, water, fire and earth - used in ancient Chinese cosmology. A Golden Year of the Pig comes only once every 60 years and is considered an augury of such prosperity and good luck that many couples try to have babies under its sign.
Tian Na, a Beijing woman born in 1981, is a big fan of traditional knowledge. She says the old beliefs may not be based on science, but "it's better safe than sorry".
Tian, who was married last year, decided not to have baby this year because she believes a tigress child would jeopardize her life and her husband's.
She said both she and her husband were born in the Year of the Rooster, a sign that can be easily hurt by tigers.
"Maybe the old saying is a little superstitious, but it has been there for thousands of years, so there must be a reason," she said.
Zhang Lihua, head nurse in Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, said that some young mothers do care about the time of birth and prefer a cesarean so they can choose a lucky day or time for their babies.
"More than 50 babies were born in our hospital on August 8 last year, 50 percent more than on ordinary days, because most Chinese people believe that double-eight has great fortune," she said.
"Although more modern women no longer have blind faith in it, many of them were strongly affected by the traditional thought of their parents or grandparents," Zhang said.
Yet some Chinese reject the notion completely.
Fei Tianshun, a professional geomancer in Beijing for the past 20 years, says the belief Tiger girls bring bad luck is "completely ridiculous".
Fei said he has received around 10 phone calls about Tiger girls in the past week.
"From a fengshui perspective, people born in the same hour can have varied lives," he said.
"It's impossible to say that all the girls born in the Year of the Tiger have bad luck - there are too many elements to consider."
Fei said people's lives depend on their bazi - literally "eight characters" in Chinese - an ancient technique used for predicting a person's future.
The year, month, day and the hour of their birth should all be considered, he said, adding that a slight difference in the exact time can make a huge difference in people's lives.
Yang Yue, a 26-year-old new mother who gave birth to a baby on Jan 19 this year, said that she originally planned to have a Tiger baby.
Yang said that even though her grandmother and other elderly relatives still believe that the time of birth can determine one's destiny.
"Ever since I saw a lovely tiger toy last year, I planned to have a baby as energetic as a small tiger - but it seems that my dream did not come true," she said, laughing.
Jia Hongmei, director of obstetrics at Haidian Maternal and Child Hospital, said increasing numbers of young couples don't believe in the old superstitions.
"What is the most important thing for young parents is the health of their babies," Jia said.
(China Daily 02/12/2010 page13)