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Chinese turn to rumour, superstition to explain disasters

HONG KONG (AFP) — In a culture where natural disasters have foretold the end of dynasties, China's massive earthquake has given way to rumour and superstition. With officials saying the number of people killed in the 7.9-magnitude quake that shook Sichuan Monday is likely to be more than 50,000, Chinese are looking for a cosmic explanation for their misery. Fantastic theories for the disaster - as well as the January snowstorms, March riots in Tibet and this month's disastrous cyclone in Myanmar - have become common. Even as the government has sought to capitalise on the predilection for portents by scheduling the opening ceremony of the Olympics for 8/8/08, at 8:08pm, some Internet users have given added significance to the fact that the date for each of this year's disastrous events adds up to eight. May 12, the day of the quake, adds up to eight (5, for May, + 1 + 2) and is 88 days before the opening ceremony. "One of the things the government is trying hard to avoid is normal people believing that the heavenly powers are displeased with what is going on here on earth." The 1976 Tangshan earthquake which claimed around 240,000 lives was widely regarded as a precursor to the death of Mao Zedong. According to Chinese astrological charts, 2008, the Year of the Rat on the Chinese lunar calendar, was destined to be one of tumult and disaster. "This is a year of earth and water, it means the earth is unstable and water is very powerful." The snowstorms - which crippled huge swathes of the country from January 25, which also totals eight - were the first natural disaster of 2008 and involved water. "The earth was unstable, and then the quake comes." The day of the quake was a "double rat day," with the rat in the northern hemisphere of the lunar chart sitting in conflict with the horse in the south. The Olympic mascots, five cartoon figures representing four animals and the Olympic torch, are also being linked to disasters that some chatroom visitors believe should have been foreseen. The antelope mascot, Yingying, foretold the Tibet riots. Huanhuan, the torch mascot, foretold the trouble that plagued the torch's controversial journey around the world. Nini, the kite, was a portent of an April train disaster in Shandong province, home of Chinese kite-flying, and Jingjing, the panda, which is found mostly in Sichuan, pointed to the earthquake. Whatever is foretold by the sturgeon mascot, Beibei, can only be imagined - "The worst might be yet to come".

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