Chinese Rooster Year Outlook, Part 1

Terrible Events, Endings and New Beginnings

February 4, 2005

1. The Chinese Calendar System

The Chinese calendar system is the oldest continuous timekeeping system in existence. It is a combined solar/lunar calendar, meaning that days are measured by the sun,but months are measured by the moon. The approximately 29.5 days between new moons constitutes one Chinese calendar month. Since the lunar cycle does not correspond neatly with the earth’s annual cycle around the sun, the beginning of the Chinese New Year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February on the Gregorian calendar. This year, the new moon on February 9, 2005 will herald the first day of the 4702nd Chinese year.

Under the Chinese system, each year is designated by one of twelve animals -- Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, or Boar. The upcoming year will be the Year of the Rooster. A complete cycle of 12 calendar years constitutes a Great Year. Five great years, (60 calendar years) represents one Cycle, and 60 Cycles (3,600 years) makes an Epoch.

While China of the last 56 years under communist rule has been one of the more backward places on the planet, it must be remembered that when it comes to invention and innovation, the Chinese are historically no slouches. They were the first to invent a number of “modern” wonders while Europe was backward, mired in the Dark Ages. Their society was the most advanced of its age. Some Chinese inventions include gunpowder (originally for fireworks), the compass, paper, movable type printing, the abacus, acupuncture, blast furnaces, wheelbarrows and water clocks, to name just a few. Marco Polo brought the idea for Spaghetti back to Venice, from his travels in China in the 12th Century. (Raviolio are simply the Italian version of potstickers) It is even said that the Chinese had a machine that could predict earthquakes!

So what happened? How did a nation that was so far ahead fall so far behind? That is a fascinating story with a very relevant message for America, but it will have to wait for another time, because I’m afraid I’ve digressed.

Cycles of many kinds are found throughout nature, and there are cycles within cycles within larger cycles. History is in fact a fractal, with periods and events ceaselessly repeating over and over, again and again. Specific places, names and faces – these may change, but the underlying stories of the social cycles remain, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing with the tide of time.

As a New Year dawns, it is therefore useful to take stock of our past, to see if we can discern any patterns and discover any wisdom from the events that have come before us. There are many ways of doing this, but in keeping with the Chinese theme, I will look back at past Rooster years to see what kinds of lessons, if any, they may hold. I have chosen this project because these years seem to hold a number of significant events that are relevant to our lives today. Beginning in the depths of the Great Depression, with 1933, subsequent Rooster years include 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981 and most recently 1993. This is an impressive set of years full of impressive events.

The Chinese have traditionally considered anyone who lived 60 years to be very wise, since they have lived through and seen one complete Cycle. But since the cycle of human events is determined by human actions, and since human life spans have elongated drastically in the last century, it is plausible that traditional long-wave cycle lengths may be increasing. It is for this reason, and because the Great Depression was one of the most fascinating periods of the last century, that I begin 72 years ago with the Rooster year of 1933.

2. Past Roosters

1933 - Terrible Events

The world was in the depths of the Great Depression, and the specter of war and financial ruin haunted the world. Shanghai was occupied by Japanese troops. Adolf Hitler, a man who had never held political office in his life was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933. A month later he staged a fire at the Reichstag, pinned the blame on his political enemies, then bullied the sitting government to pass the Enabling Act, making him dictator of Germany. The machinery of evil went into overdrive as the Gestapo was established, non-Nazi political parties outlawed, book burnings began, and the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau was completed, marking the start of the Holocaust. Today it seems inconceivable, but it was only 72 years ago.

In the US, Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded Herbert Hoover as President, giving his famous “Nothing to fear but fear itself”speech. The following day he declared an emergency “bank holiday,” closing all US banks, and suspending all financial transactions for a week. Apparently there was more than just fear to fear, as he went on to outlaw the private possession of gold by US Citizens, officially taking the US off the gold standard. Gold coins were no longer legal tender and people were forced to turn in their gold for fiat Federal Reserve Notes on pain of imprisonment. After 1933, paper money no longer stated that it was backed by gold, because after 1933, it wasn’t. The statement was quietly removed from all bills. FDR was not popular with the business community at the time, and there was even an attempted a coup against him.


Congress got busy spending money on New Deal legislation, creating make-work programs to try to end the Depression. Although the stock market had bottomed just one year earlier at 41 (from a 1929 high of 381), the unemployment rate stood at 25%, up from just 3.2% in 1929. Germany and Japan left the League of Nations, charting the terrible course to war. Leo Szilard came up with the idea for the nuclear chain reaction while waiting for a red light on Southampton Row in Bloomsbury. Prohibition ended, but marijuana and hemp were outlawed (yes, there was a time when both were legal in the US, and it is a tragedy that industrial hemp, one of the most useful plants on the planet, is still illegal in the US). 1933 was one of the worst years of the dust bowl.

1945 – Endings and Beginnings

The crescendo of violence reached a fever pitch as World War II drew to a close in 1945. The Russians liberated Auschwitz in January, where 1.5 million people were murdered. The US firebombed Dresden, killing 35,000 humans, and Tokyo, killing 100,000. Kobe was hit, killing 8,000, and the U.S. sent 1,250 bombers in one night to destroy Berlin. Adolf Hitler, realizing defeat, ordered all industry, military installations, shops, transportation and communications facilities in Germany be destroyed. Hitler took his own life as allied forces approached his bunker in Berlin. FDR also died in this final year of the war.

1945 - Endings and BeginningsIn the month of August, Leo Szilard’s idea came to fruition on August 6th in Hiroshima and again on August 9th in Nagasaki, Japan. Over 200,000 were killed, and WWII ended less than a month later. Was this the start of peace? Not really; it was just the beginning of a new, different kind of conflict. The US and Russia split Germany and Korea, marking the end of the old war and the start of the Cold War. The Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, took power in Hanoi, presaging the Vietnam war. But nations made efforts to work together - The United Nations Charter was ratified by the US, and the World Bank was formed. The computer was born: The Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer - ENIAC, the world’s first general purpose computer was completed.


1957 – A Quiet Rooster

Sputnik & the BeatlesAfter all the activity of the previous two Great Years, 1957 was relatively speaking, quiet. But 1957 still had its significant events. The USSR launched the first manmade satellite, Sputnik, marking the beginning of the space race. The first commercial use of nuclear power occurred in Santa Susana, California. IBM released the FORTRAN programming language for commercial sale, making it the most widely used computer language of its time. Osama bin Laden was born. John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who would go on to form The Beatles, first met at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England. And an Asian flu pandemic that lasted into 1958 claimed the lives of over 1,000,000 worldwide, including 72,000 in the US.

1969 - Nostalgic Endings

1969 holds a singular place in US history, as the end of the fabled decade of the 1960’s. Bryan Adams captured the feeling in his song “Summer of 69:”

Oh when I look back now/That summer seemed to last forever/And if I had the choice/I'd always want to be there/Those were the best days of my life

In general, it was a nostalgic year of endings. The last issue of the Saturday Evening Post was published after 147 years on the newsstands. LBJ who didn’t want to be president anymore, made way for Tricky Dick and a new regime in the White House. The Beatles made their last public performance on the roof of Apple Records and had their concert broken up by the cops. Micky Mantle retired from the Yankees. Ike, who took the oath of office for his second term as president in 1957, and who everybody liked, died in 1969. This was of course the year of Woodstock, the big music blast that said goodbye to the decade of the ‘60s. Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, marking the end of the space race that started 12 years earlier. John Lennon left Paul and the Beatles, and he and Yoko went off on their merry way imploring the world to ‘give peace a chance.’ In the UK, the halfpenny gave way to inflation and ceased being legal tender. A severe famine in China was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20 million. Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 storm ravaged Mississippi, killing 248 and causing $1.5 billion in damage.

Beatles on the Moon

Notable new beginnings in 1969 included the Automatic Teller Machine, which made its first appearance in New York City. ARPANET, predecessor to the Internet, was born, and the Boeing 747 made its first flight from Seattle to NYC. Wal-Mart Stores was officially incorporated, and Yasser Arafat was appointed leader of the PLO, embarking on a reign of terror of his own. Bell Laboratories developed Unix, Linus Torvalds of Linux fame was born, and AMD, Intel's main competor today was founded.

1981 - "Morning in America" (Start of the 1982 - 2000 Bull Market just one year away!)
The world still refused to give peace a chance: John Lennon was shot and killed in December of 1980. Ronald Reagan began his first term as president, promising "Morning in America" and was shot just two months into the job. Two months later, Pope John Paul II was shot and nearly killed. Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt, was assassinated. Walter Cronkite retired after 19 years on the air. The CDC first took note that a rare form of pneumonia was taking the lives of homosexual men in LA. These turned out to be the first AIDS cases. Who can forget that the 52 American hostages in Iran were released in 1981? In a blow to labor unions the world over, the Reagan personally fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work. This year he also gave the CIA the authority to support secret Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The effort to support the Contras was a major component of the Reagan Doctrine, championed by American conservatives, that provided U.S. military support to movements that the government didn't like.

It seemed like quite an inauspicious, dark year at the time, but 1981 was, like 1945, a turning point up from a bottom in some sense. It was the first year that a woman, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, was appointed to the Supreme Court. The IBM PC was introduced along with MS DOS. Pac Man became the first worldwide computer videogame craze. And the great bull market of 1982-2000 was just one year away.

1993Start of the Roaring 90's

  • Bill Clinton was sworn in as 41st president of the United States
  • The First WTC bombing took place
  • Branch Dividian complex was razed by Federal Authorities at Waco, Texas
  • IBM’s $4.97B loss became the largest corporate loss in history
  • Arafat and Rabin shake on peace deal in the Middle East
  • Intel shipped the first Pentium
  • The first piece of spam was sent
  • NAFTA was signed, marking the start of the “giant sucking sound” of jobs out of the US


3. Predilections and Patterns

As the years advance, the drama of the Rooster seems to lessen. In a way, the events of 1933 - 1945 seem like a distant nightmare, but in another way, they seem closer than ever, as though we stand on the brink of another such period of terrible events. One thing that stands out sharply from this review of years past is the ever presence of war and human conflict. In 1933, the path to war was clearly set; indeed the entire period from 1933 – 1945 was one long period of war. And even when WWII ended, it continued to smolder on in ideological form, as the Cold War, and expressed in violence in Korea and in Vietnam. Every one of our Rooster years was touched by war, somewhere in the world. This is not saying much, since every year of human history is marred by human violence, and 2005 will be no exception. Humanity, at least to date, seems to have a predilection for war.

The second thing that stands out to me is a certain symmetry of events. For example, both Hitler and FDR rose to power in 1933, and then died in 1945, a 12 year reign. The atomic chain reaction was first conceived in 1933, first tested and used for violence in 1945, then first used to generate power commercially in 1957. The space race between the US and USSR that was started in 1957 with Sputnik, ended in 1969 with Apollo 11. The Beatles met in ’57, broke up in ’69, and John Lennon was shot in December of 1980, just one month shy of another Rooster year. The first computer was invented in 1945, the first commercial programming language released in 1957, in 1969 UNIX, Linux and the ARPANET were born, 1981 came the IBM PC, and though the new Rooster has yet to officially begin, Hewlitt Packard has just announced nano-molecular technology that it expects will replace the transistor, the foundation of modern computing. These are all major milestones in the development of computer technology. And finally, Rooster years have been notorious for terrible earthquakes, as seen in this Table:

Major Earthquakes During Rooster Years
Date Location Magnitude
10/23/1873 California/Oregon Coast 7.3
4/10/1909 Rat Islands, Alaska 7.0
9/8/1909 Fox Islands, Alaska 7.4
3/2/1933 Sanriku, Japan 8.4
3/10/1933 Long Beach, California 6.4
8/25/1933 China 7.4
1/15/1934 Bihar-Nepal, India 8.1
10/27/1945 Iran 8.2
3/9/1957 Andreanof Islands, Alaska 9.1
3/22/1957 San Francisco, CA 5.4
7/2/1957 Iran 7.4
12/13/1957 Iran 7.3
7/25/1969 China 5.9
7/28/1981 Iran 7.3
1/17/1994 Southern California 6.7

4. Meaning?

Do these events have any significance, any connection, or is this all merely coincidence? Humans are notorious Meaning-Making-Machines, finding patterns and reading meaning into them where in fact nothing but randomness exists. Is this an example of the former or the latter?

There is a recent trend in society towards the idea that there are no such things as coincidences, that everything has meaning and happens for a reason. I first came across this idea nearly a decade ago in the popular best seller The Celestine Prophecy. New Agers embrace such ideas whole heartedly, while the strictly rationally oriented believe this is a shift away from logic, towards dangerous, magical thinking. The truth is that humans are both logical and emotional beings, and to ignore either of these equally important sides of ourselves puts our species at great risk.

5. Questions for You

If the 2005 Rooster year were to resemble any of the past years, which, would it be? Will it be a year of endings, new beginnings, or terrible events? Or none of the above? If any symmetry were to appear in 2005 to complete event started in previous Rooster years, what kinds of events would arise? These are the questions I will be thinking about over the coming week, and I invite you to think about them as well and email me with your ideas. What kinds of associations came up in your mind looking at the pictures? I promise to read all the emails, even if I cannot respond to them all personally. But I will post the most interesting, stimulating ideas (both good and bad!) in a fashion similar to these responses to my last article: Comments on ‘The Bull Market is Dead! Long Live the Bull Market!

The volume of all the gold ever mined can occupy a cube 63 feet on each side.

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