The Water Snake Cometh…

KUALA LUMPUR/BEIJING: Fireworks singing in the skies, emotional family reunions, feasting and gift-giving. Millions of Chinese nationals, one fifth of the world’s humanity, ushered in the ‘Chinese Year of the Water Snake’ Feb 10 with much fanfare and prayer in their hearts, hoping that the snake does not bite, but bring them good luck and prosperity.

In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia which is home to the third-largest Chinese community in the world, after Thailand and Indonesia, the atmosphere is celebratory and even carvinalesque, with malls and public squares awash in a sea of red lanterns. At Petronas Twin Towers mall, the defining landmark that symbolize the urban landscape of the country studded with glittering high-rises, shoppers in thousands are in a buying frenzy, snapping up sale deals, big brands, souvenirs and snake-themed items of a mind-boggling variety. On the New Year’s eve, the traffic was a nightmare, with swanky cars stuck in serpentine snarls. Around 7 million ‘Chinese’, nearly a quarter of the population – live in Malaysia and control nearly three-fourth of the national economy.

Myths have proliferated around symbolism and meanings of the ‘Year of the Snake.’ In the Chinese zodiac, the snake is the sixth animal, listed after the Dragon. On the one hand, it has connotations of malevolence, cattiness and mystery, and on the more positive side, the snake symbolizes acumen, divination and the ability to distinguish herbs. According to popular folklore, Buddha had invited animals to participate in a race and the first 12 which completed the race found a place in the Chinese zodiac. The snake, apparently deploying its cunning and guile, hid in the hoof of the horse as the latter swam across the river.

Opinion is split on what the year of the snake is in store for the humanity. In the Chinese system, the snake is a symbol of persistence and determination, to carry on, overcoming obstacles, and is underpinned by the adage that the fortune favours the bold and the audacious. However, there is the flip side. “Some fortune-tellers will try to predict a year’s conditions based on this. For example, since it is water snake, it may mean that this year will get murky, unstable and fickle, because snakes normally do not reside in water,” says Dr Yam Kah Kean, a senior lecturer at University Malaya’s Chinese department.

Maybe we just have to flow with the flow, feeling your way by feeling the stones, to wit Deng Xiaoping, the presiding deity for Xi Jinping, the president-designate of the PRC. In the Malay folklore, if an unmarried woman dreams of snakes, it means she is going to find spouse soon. So, cut out all the serpentine talk, don’t be afraid of the snake (in Indian culture, a snake in the courtyard means luck and prosperity), and live in more interesting times!

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.