Advertisers place meanings, push for sales, nevertheless boom benefits society
In celebration of the Year of the Dragon, a dragon lantern is lit at Yuyuan Garden in downtown Shanghai Jan. 17, 2012. / Yonhap
By Kang Ye-won
A 32-year-old Kim recalls the moment when her doctor delivered the most “joyful” news in her lifetime that she and her husband will expect a baby coming this July. And the couple nested in Gyeonggi Province became even happier when they learned that their baby will be one of the lucky “dragon babies,” babies that are born in the Year of Dragon according to the Chinese lunar year.
“I haven’t paid much attention to the Year of the Dragon before, but now whenever I hear that a dragon baby would grow auspicious, I feel grateful,” said, Kim who asked for her first name not revealed.
“Historically both in the East and the West, dragon was considered the most auspicious animal in imaginary forms,” said Kim Il-gwon, a professor in folklore at the Academy of Korean studies and an expert in historical astronomy.
In Buddhism, dragon was associated with rainfall and it’s often soaring from deep water or appearing from clouds in the sky, as depicted in ancient paintings, Kim said. The Babylonian dragons were also illustrated as god of fresh and salt water.
In Korea, 2012 has been taken to a new level as it’s often phrased as a black dragon year, which is known to come every 60 years instead of 12 as a typical Chinese astrology year cycle.
Similar to the Year of the Dragon, 2007 was the Year of the Red Fire Pig or the Golden Pig as renamed in Korean terms ― red in Chinese means lucky or golden ― and 2010 was the Year of the White Tiger.
But adding a color in front of the zodiac signs only gained traction recently since the Internet became widely available and online advertisers added value in it as part of marketing strategies to make it sound more special, he added.
The colors ― white, black, green, red and brown ― are originally matched with the five elements including metal, water, wood, fire and earth, respectively, which the Chinese added to its 12 zodiac animal signs to make it a 60-year cycle.
“Because they’re made to come every 60 years, in fact there’s nothing special about the Year of the Dragon, for example, appearing in 60 years,” Kim said.
Whether it’s named as a special Chinese astrological year that comes in every 600 years or 60 years, fertility rates boomed in Korea during those years as well as in other Asian countries that follow the Chinese lunar calendar.
In 2007 during the Year of the Golden Pig, fertility rates jumped more than 11 percent from the previous year in Korea, according to Statistics Korea. In 2010 when it was the Year of the White Tiger, they rose about 7 percent from a year earlier.
Total fertility rates measure a number of children expected to be born to women of 15 to 49. At 1.15 children per woman, Korea had the lowest fertility rates among the OECD countries in 2009. The OECD average was 1.75.
“Thanks to baby boom in 2007 and 2010, the year that population was expected to decline was extended to 2030,” said Kim Jeung-kun, a research fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI).
The number of babies born started to slow last October until now, which may have to do with the dragon baby planners, Kim said. Or it can simply be blamed on the bad economy, he added.
“Whether it’s related or not, the baby boom helps the society in the long run by adding working-age population, which then leads to economic growth,” Kim said.
In fact, the working-age group of 25 to 54 in Korea began to slip in 2010 and if the low fertility rates continue as the society ages, the GDP growth is expected to turn negative by 2029, according to a SERI research note.
The boom is expected to pump the sales of baby lines ranging from formula to diaper to apparel. Major department stores already launched up to 50 percent sales on products for infants and toddlers.
“We have high hopes that the fertility rates will turn around by the end of January or early February when the dragon babies begin to kick in,” he added.
The Year of the Dragon officially took off this Saturday, even though many people believe that it already started to tick as the Chinese Lunar New Year launched on Jan. 23. That’s because the Chinese astrology year, which opens with the start of the spring, is based on solar month, not lunar month, said Prof. Kim with the Academy of Korean studies.
More couples across the Asian regions have been reportedly seeking for fertility treatment to raise the possibility of conceiving a dragon baby.
Although the number of patients increased in recent years, it’s too early to tell if more people have been seeking for help, specifically with a hope of having a dragon baby, said Kim, a manager at the CHA fertility center in Seoul, who requested for a last name-based reference. And not everyone qualifies for the procedures.
The soon-to-be mom, Kim from Gyeonggi Province said after trying for months with no success, her husband had a one-time fertility treatment, which only left them with burdensome fees.
“When the least expected, we turned out to be having conceived naturally.”