Creating new traditions in modern Chinese societies: Aiming for birth in the Year of the Dragon

Daniel MacLean Goodkind, University of Pennsylvania


This research documents and interprets a new demographic phenomenon in which several Chinese societies have begun to use their ancient lunar zodiac calendar as a guide in timing births. Birth data indicate that the phenomenon began with a baby boom in the Year of the Dragon in 1976 among Chinese in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia outside of the People's Republic of China, and it has occurred over a broad socioeconomic spectrum. The two major questions that the thesis addresses are why such zodiacal birth preferences were not exhibited prior to 1976 and why the size of the annual fertility fluctuations has varied so widely over space and time. One explanation for the recency of the phenomenon maintains that Chinese fertility was too high and uncontrolled prior to the advent of modern contraception for these ancient zodiacal preferences to be exhibited. My findings do not indicate, however, that modern contraception was necessary in order to time these births. The Japanese, in a related phenomenon, have been avoiding births in the Year of the Fire Horse since 1726. Furthermore, an analysis of recent survey data indicates that, although modern contraception aided couples in timing Dragon Births in 1976, behavioral strategies involving marriage, abortion, and coital frequency were also utilized. I also find that modern contraception is insufficient in explaining why couples were motivated to exhibit zodiacal birth timing. After analyzing the results of survey data, items from the print media, my own field work, and a variety of cultural and secondary source materials, I conclude that the origins of zodiacal birth timing, as well as its varying intensity over space and time, must be understood as the product of historical, political, and institutional circumstances. Although this phenomenon represents a persistence of traditional symbolism, my interpretation is that it is more accurately described as a newly created tradition of behavior.

Subject Area

Demographics|Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Goodkind, Daniel MacLean, "Creating new traditions in modern Chinese societies: Aiming for birth in the Year of the Dragon" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9235143.