This year — 2012 — is the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese Zodiac. Occurring once every twelve years, Chinese consider the dragon year the most auspicious zodiac sign. Despite Taiwan’s technological and scientific advances, in some ways it remains quite old-fashioned. And the rush to produce a dragon baby is one example of the way in which tradition (or in this case superstition?) remains influential.
This is particularly the case in 2012, where one of the five elements has combined to produce an especially auspicious year — a water dragon year. And 2012 was immediately proceeded by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China, which was also considered an auspicious year in Taiwan to get married. (I am not sure why this is the case, but last year was one big wedding carnival.)
According to a recent news report in the Taipei Times, births have shot up 17 per cent in the first half of 2012. Mind you, there was a lot of scope for increase. Taiwan’s birth rate has plummeted in recent years, reaching a record low of 0.89 births per female in 2010 — the lowest birth rate in the world. So Taiwan’s 52,000 births in the first quarter of this year, of which over 96 per cent were born to legally married couples, is a blessing for Taiwan’s society and the economy.
But still, the dragon year effect will not go far enough to reverse the trend of Taiwanese marrying later and chosing to have fewer (or no) children. Of our Taiwan friends, several people in their early forties remain unmarried, some have married but have chosen not to have children while those who have had children have generally stopped at one. And this despite Taiwan espousing a traditional Chinese culture that esteems the family as the core social unit with well-meaning parents putting pressure on their children to tie nuptials and produce grandchildren.
From observing the prominent baby bumps around the streets of Taipei, it seems that the number of births will only increase in 2012. Some days I see around half a dozen clearly expectant mothers on my route to or from work. Perhaps I am more observant than most because the issue is at the forefront of my mind. While not having made a conscious attempt to join in the race for fashionable auspiciousness, it happens that (somewhat serendipitously) I am expecting my second child in three months’ time — right in the middle of a dragon year. Needless to say Mr Taiwanxifu, and mother-in-law are excited by the prospect of a dragon baby. And all of my Taiwanese friends have been effusive in their congratulations. “Wah, a DRAGON baby”, they say. “Gongxi, gongxi!”
Thankfully my child will mostly be raised in Australia, where we will not have to worry about overcrowding in schools and fierce competition for university places during the baby boom dragon years. Nor worry about competing for jobs on graduation. Still, if it were my first child (and if I were not happy with my medical professionals) I would be extremely concerned about being overlooked in the dragon baby rush.
As the baby approaches, I will blog more about my experiences — contrasting differences between giving birth in Taiwan and in Australia. I also plan to experience the one-month post-natal confinement (坐月子 — zuò yuè zi) including of course the special foods that are prepared for new mothers. And of course I will detail assistance by another Taiwan xifu — the caring doula Angela, who has helped many foreigners navigate Taiwan’s at times interventionist and non-communicative medical system.