Despite decades of rule by the officially atheist Communist Party, superstition is common in China, and certain popular beliefs have surged in popularity following landmark economic reforms started in the late 1970s.
Twelve animals make up the traditional Chinese zodiac, with each year having its own peculiar and unique beliefs, some specific to certain provinces, such as being especially an auspicious time to give birth or open a new business.
The tiger sign is believed to bring with it mythical heroic powers, but the coming lunar new year is said to be an inauspicious one for marriage.
“If you marry this year, your husband may die earlier,” said Joyce Lin, 25, a university graduate. “My parents are not superstitious, so I am also not, but in our opinion it is not a good time for marriage.
In the poor eastern inland province of Anhui, some people think that having a “tiger baby” is not a good idea, lest the child be too aggressive.
Babies born in the afternoon are seen as “hungry tigers”, meaning they will have problems finding food later in life, some Anhui residents believe.
But many younger Chinese choose to follow only certain traditions.
Huo Yuan, 20, said she planned to make dumplings with her family on the lunar new year eve, which falls on February 13, and would avoid cutting her hair.
“From the eve, for one month, you cannot cut your hair. If you cut it you will die earlier,” said Yuan as she shopped with friends at a popular Beijing mall.
Zhang Yingzhou, a student in Beijing, said he would try not to buy new shoes for a month after the holiday.
“The word for shoes, ‘xie’, has the same sound as the word for something evil, so if you buy shoes it is like you are buying misfortune,” Zhang said.
For the economy though, the year of the tiger is expected to usher in an even stronger recovery than in 2010.
“The animal is full of energy and power,” said Raymond Lo, a Hong Kong-based feng shui master.
“Tiger is the birthplace of fire, it generates optimism in the stock market. We expect in the summertime, that the fire will get stronger and the stock market to be quite active,” he told Reuters.
Xiao Shuwen, 80, expected China would improve its standing on a global stage in 2010.
“Each year gets better and better. We have more trade and prosperity,” said the retired school teacher as she shopped for sweets ahead of the weekend celebrations in Beijing.
“We try and understand each country’s situation, this will be a good year for international dialogue and communication.”
In large Chinese cities, tiger paraphernalia is pervasive. Many western clothing stores in Beijing and Shanghai are displaying cut-out tiger photos in place of mannequin heads and streets are festooned with tiger emblems.
“Why? It’s the year of the tiger,” said one shop assistant in Beijing. “It is a tradition to display it like this.”