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Enter the Black Snake

 | February 9, 2013

Astrologers say it’ll be a year of contradictions.

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Many of us may not know it, but the Water Snake of the Chinese zodiac is already with us although it is not until this Sunday that we will celebrate Chinese New Year.

According to astrologers, the snake slithered into our lives slightly after midnight on Feb 4. Perhaps this has to do with the sneaky nature of the animal.

The snake, like every other animal in the zodiac, comes around every 12 years. With every successive appearance, it is associated with a different element through a cycle of five—wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

Since the Chinese associate water with blackness, the Water Snake is sometimes called the Black Snake. The last Black Snake year was 1953, the year our prime minister, Najib Tun Razak, was born. So you may call Najib a water snake or, if you prefer, a black snake.

In the Chinese zodiacal hierarchy, the snake is at the sixth position, which means it is associated with the feminine principle, “yin”. But the figure 2013 is associated with fire, which is “yang”, or masculine.

Since water and fire are conflicting elements, Chinese astrologers see 2013 as a year of contradictions, a year of both good and bad fortunes.

What does all this mean to Malaysians awaiting a general election? Without the benefit of a thorough consultation with an astrologer, we can only guess.

Perhaps it is more useful to look back at what Malaysia was like in the year Najib was born.

In 1953, Chinese New Year fell on Feb 14. But it was a hardly a time for celebration for Malayan Chinese. They were the favourite targets of threats from guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party and the subject of suspicion of the British authorities.

In her book Chinese Politics in Malaysia, Heng Peck Koon provides some vivid descriptions of the living conditions of the Chinese community 60 years ago.

“The forced resettlement of nearly half a million people to fenced areas with no infrastructure to support their economic and social livelihood was an extremely painful experience,” Heng writes.

“These squatters were also subjected to strict and often harsh police and military surveillance made possible by the promulgation of a series of emergency regulations.”

Malayans in those days had to endure restrictions on virtually every civil right. They were imprisoned without trial, they had to obey curfews and they sometimes went hungry because food was scarce and the authorities often controlled distribution.

It was particularly bad for the Chinese. Their homes were often raided and the authorities had no qualms about punishing an entire Chinese village for a crime committed by one person.

Are we better off today? In some ways, perhaps. But independence from British rule and the surrender of the communists have certainly not freed us from worrying about our country’s future.

But have a happy new year anyway. And pray that the happiness lasts beyond the 13th general election.

Stanley Koh is a FMT columnist.


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