For the record:
5:44 p.m. Feb. 6, 2024: An earlier version of this article said the dragon’s rival is the goat in Chinese astrology. It is the dog.
My dad was born in 1952, the Year of the Dragon. He’s an immigrant from Taiwan who came to the U.S. for graduate school at San Jose State University, and he worked as an engineer until his retirement.
In some ways, he’s the reason I never took Chinese horoscopes that seriously. The other members in my family have signs with character traits that seem to suit them. Sure, she’s loyal and honest like a Dog, and yes, he’s smart and charming like a Rat.
But my dad is very introverted and soft-spoken. He’s always smiling — the only time I remember him getting mad at me was when my brother and I were jumping on the bed as kids and wouldn’t go to sleep.
With my limited understanding of the zodiac animals and their characteristics, I’d think, “Is this the ferocious dragon breathing fire?”
The upcoming Lunar New Year brings the Year of the Dragon, fifth in the 12-animal Chinese zodiac cycle. Dragons were born in the years 2024, 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952 and so on — but after the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 10 this year.
Lau’s late mother, Theodora, wrote the first edition of the horoscope guide in 1979. At the time, she had been giving informal consultations in Hong Kong and realized none of the English-language horoscope books were written by authors of Chinese descent. So she wrote her own.
When Lau talks about horoscopes, she frequently mentions her mother, who saw Chinese horoscopes less as a crystal ball that foretold the future and more as an entry point in understanding people who are different from you. The idea is that if you take the time to consider where people are coming from, you can make more thoughtful decisions for yourself.
So what about the dragon?
The dragon is the only animal on the Chinese zodiac that is a mythical creature. In Chinese culture, dragons symbolize good luck, strength and power. They control the weather and water. (Also, they don’t breathe fire. They breathe clouds.)
Those who believe in the superstitions even go so far as to try to have babies in the Year of the Dragon because they believe dragons are destined for greatness and good fortune.
Characteristics of the dragon, according to Lau, include creativity, power and charisma. They’re confident, so they have an ego. They're also energetic and impulsive by nature.
What does this mean for the upcoming year?
First it’s important to understand that we’re coming off the Year of the Rabbit, who is the diplomat and the peacemaker.
“The rabbit is about making things nice,” Lau told The Times last year. “That doesn’t mean that the rabbit year doesn’t have drama underneath, but it’s kind of like, ‘Let’s be polite. Let’s maintain etiquette. Let’s move forward. Let’s have more productivity.’”
Some people like the calm. Others find rabbits frustrating. “Often you don’t know what’s going on … so you still end up feeling bad,” Lau said.
Dragons, in contrast, are very straightforward and clear. You know where you stand with a dragon, Lau said. They’re an open book. They’re swift. They’re not going to drag anything on for too long.
Each year also has an element, and this year is the wood dragon. The wood tempers the dragon and makes it more introspective, Lau said. Wood also is associated with morality and ethics, and the dragon is an animal that likes to have a sense of purpose and duty.
Lau added that people tend to respect dragons. But they can be individualistic, so sometimes those who are more community-minded will butt heads with the dragon.
It's an election year. What might the Year of the Dragon bring in that sense?
The fact that 2024’s Year of the Wood Dragon also is an election year is extra fascinating to Lau, because dragons are competitive. If they win, they want it to be a decisive win. If they lose, they’re resilient, so they will move on.
One more tidbit about Chinese horoscopes: Each animal has its animal enemies, the ones directly across from it on the zodiac wheel, along with its animal friends, a trio formed from the animals four spaces away in either direction that makes up a triangle of affinity.
This year, the goat will have a particularly hard time with the dragon, compared with the dragon’s friends, the monkey and the rat.
Lau said her mother liked to look at each country’s day of independence to analyze the country’s animals. The U.S. — born 1776 — is a monkey. Her mother would always say that America is like a monkey: We’re very creative, we like to do things our own way and we’re innovative.
Lau hopes that because the U.S., as a monkey, is compatible with the Year of the Dragon, the elections will go more smoothly and there will be a clear and decisive result.
What signs should we look out for?
Whatever type of year it'll be, we’ll know very quickly, she said. One of the superstitions tied to those who are born in the Year of the Dragon is that the weather on their day of birth — whether it is stormy or calm — impacts the type of life that person is going to lead.
Lau is going to be paying close attention to the weather on Feb. 10. Having bad weather on that day doesn't mean we'll have a bad year, she said. But the year might be a bit more unpredictable.
I ran Lau's analysis by my dad and asked if he believed any of it. He shrugged. He thinks his generation of Taiwanese American immigrants, who pursued a Western education and have now lived in the U.S. for most of their lives, are less likely to believe in Eastern mythology.
But it turns out my late grandfather — a small-business owner from Taichung, Taiwan, who sold mushroom spawn in jars and bags — was also a Dragon. He was born in 1928.
My grandfather was a believer in feng shui and fortune-telling, and he had my dad’s reading done at birth. My father found the prediction in a notebook when he was browsing his father's bookshelf as a young adult.
“If I had a iPhone back then, I would have taken a picture of it,” my dad said. “But now, I only remember one line: 不富而貴 bù fù ér guì." That means "not rich but noble."
Nobility is another characteristic of a dragon.
He laughs. “I mean, I’m an engineer, so not quite ‘noble’ like a king. But not bad.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.