- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

BEIJING — When the Chinese New Year begins today, so will a baby boom that threatens to overwhelm the country’s overstretched health care system.

The next 12 months will be known as the Year of the Pig, during which anyone born is supposed to be easygoing and lucky.

But, for the first time in six decades, it will also coincide with the year in which the element of gold passes through the Chinese zodiac — and babies born in the Year of the Golden Pig are twice blessed.

The promising celestial combination has led hundreds of thousands of couples to target 2007 as the year to have the sole baby they are permitted under China’s rigid one-child policy, in the hope that their offspring will have double the normal entitlement to riches and a long life.

In Beijing alone, 150,000 babies are expected this year, up from the 129,000 born in 2006, according to the Beijing Health Bureau.

With just 3,800 beds in Beijing’s maternity wards and only 3,000 doctors and nurses available to work in them, the fear is that the capital will be unable to cope with the number of births.

Recently at the Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, home to the largest maternity department in the city, the lobby was jammed with expectant mothers and their anxious husbands.

The hospital is seeing 700 women a day, more than twice as many as usual.

“We started queuing at 7:15 a.m. to get a ticket for an appointment with the doctor in the afternoon,” said Liu Li, 38, a tailor whose wife, Wang Jie, is eight months pregnant.

Under the first-come, first-served system that operates in China’s hospitals, all patients must wait in line to buy a ticket to secure an appointment with a doctor.

At the Beijing hospital, a ticket costs less than $2, but scalpers by the entrance were doing a brisk trade in selling tickets for more than six times that amount.

The long wait to see a doctor is frustrating, but pales to insignificance when compared to the luck that couples think their unborn child will enjoy as a “gold pig baby.”

Mr. Liu said: “Of course it’s good for our daughter to be born in the Year of the Pig. I think everyone here is excited about having a gold pig baby, even if they don’t want to admit it.”

Under the Chinese zodiac, one of 12 animals is assigned to each year. People can be a rat, ox, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, rabbit, dog or pig.

In addition, five elements — gold, water, wood, fire and earth — rotate through the zodiac. Every 60 years, the most coveted element, gold, coincides with the most auspicious Year of the Pig.

In 1947, the last golden pig year, China was embroiled in a bloody and protracted civil war, which ended in 1949 with Mao Tse-tung and his communists taking power.

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