THE Year of the Rat threatens to see a build-up of international tensions, natural and air disasters, and a more turbulent stock market, soothsayers and analysts say.
As the Year of the Pig ended last Thursday, followers of Chinese superstition will be scurrying to consult fortune-tellers, astrologers and feng shui geomancers to guide their year ahead.
Chinese fortunes are based on a belief that events are dictated by the different balances in the elements that make up the earth â€” gold, wood, water, fire and earth.
Feng shui master Raymond Lo says: â€œThis year, the earth on top is Yang earth which symbolises a mountain, and mountain gives a sense of stability and firmness,â€ he says.
Lo adds that the Chinese calendar follows a 60-year cycle, so 2008 will be similar historically to 1948, when Israel was established and the blockade of Berlin started, both events were part of the build-up to long-standing conflict.
The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and associates each of the 12 years forming a partial cycle with an animal. The rat is the first of the 12 animal signs, so marks new beginnings.
It is followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Lo says new beginnings will be reflected in changes of leadership in the United States, Russia and Taiwan.
Lee Sing-tong, a third-generation feng shui master, said China may suffer a water shortage in the next 12 months.
He predicts a better economy for China after the 2008 Olympics. â€œ2009 will be Chinaâ€™s most prosperous year in history,â€ he added.
Lee said there would be a big change in Hillary Clinton's health and career but that doesnâ€™t necessarily mean she will hold political power.
In contrast, Clintonâ€™s Democratic rival, Barack Obama, â€œhas an in-born talent for leadership and is expected to be in an extraordinary political position in the next 10 years.â€
â€œThereâ€™s a big chance that he will win November's presidential election in the United States,â€ Lee predicted.
The rodent is also seen as a â€œflower of romanceâ€ which means the year will stimulate romance, but also sex scandals.
More worryingly, it provokes a clash between water and fire which could mean heavy flooding or a tsunami, Lo adds.
â€œThe most famous water disasters in history, such as the south Asian tsunami in 2004 and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, both happened on a date with prominent appearance of the Rat,â€ Lo says.
He also said the previous Year of the Rat, 1996, witnessed more than 20 plane crashes.