Chinese Avoid Having Babies in 2015 to Spite the Qing Dyansty’s Hated Empress

Charles Liu February 6, 2015 2:30pm (updated)

sheep babyLuck means everything to Chinese people. Even though superstitions are not encouraged on an official level, Chinese will still perform certain customs as a way to ensure they get a little luck. It’s like buying a lottery ticket: if you don’t play, you can’t win.

While the use of lucky charms is harmless enough, the Chinese superstition that says babies born during the Year of the Ram is having a major impact on modern society.

With the new Lunar New Year fast approaching, expectant mothers are inducing themselves to give birth now rather than in the unlucky Year of the Ram. Furthermore, some new families are opting to wait until next year to plan their childbirth just so they can avoid the stigma of having a child born under this unlucky sign.

Out a twelve year cycle, how can one of the zodiac signs be considered unlucky? Did Chinese from past generations simply skip having babies for one year? Though it’s a little hard to nail down, it appears the origin of this superstition goes back to one source: Dowager Empress Cixi.


If you watch historical dramas on Chinese TV, you’ll know the Qing Dynasty is not highly regarded. Chinese believe they were corrupt, inept, and the ones that bowed down to foreign imperial powers. But among the most unpopular officials at that time was the Dowager Empress Cixi.

With many anti-Qing factions working to overthrow the dynasty, there were many ways of denouncing the Qing using secret codes. Since Cixi was born during the Year of the Ram (or, if you’re more proactive, Year of the Ewe), sayings about the unluckiness of being born in the Year of the Ram was one way to secretly denounce Cixi.

Cixi died before the fall of the Qing Dynasty, however that didn’t lessen the animosity. The secret anti-Qing messages were then passed on to the next generation who adapted the sayings into superstitions.

Try considering this historical context when reviewing the following popular sayings in China:

  • Out of 10 sheep, 9 aren’t any good.
  • Girls born in the Year of the Ram don’t have long lives.
  • Children belonging to the Year of the Ram will have their all their family members die.
  • Ram boys will be full of cheer, while Ram girls will be full of tears.
  • Ram boys won’t need rations when leaving home, while families of Ram girls won’t have enough food to last overnight.

With some of the population believing that births in 2015 will cause ruin and misery, the People’s Daily Online has tried to diffuse the situation before any major trends happen by listing a number of reasons why this superstition is wrong. It is trying to persuade readers by saying that sheep were considered lucky animals in ancient times. For example, the Chinese character for “sheep” (羊, yáng) is a homonym for the character for “sun” (阳, yáng) which also means “masculine”.

As well, the Chinese character for “sheep” is literally a part of the Chinese word for “auspicious” (吉祥, jí xiáng). The nickname for Guanghou, the City of Rams (羊城, yángchéng), also gets its name from this connotation.

Another argument given for why sheep are lucky is that they form the basis of other positive words. For example, the Chinese character for “beautiful” (美, měi) is literally made up of the two characters for “big sheep” (大羊, dàyáng), one on top of the other.

rush hour 2 zhang ziyiIf that wasn’t enough, here’s a list of celebrities born in the Year of the Ram: Zhang Ziyi (1979), Chow Yun-Fat (1955) and Mo Yan (1955). And while we’re at it, here are some famous foreigners who are Rams: Mark Twain (1835), Bill Gates (1955), and Steve Jobs (1955).

While these are all logical reasons, they may not be enough to overcome a long-held superstition. And what’s more, people may not be able to change their minds unless you give them the truth.

Instead of expanding on the revolt against Qixi, the People’s Daily Online has taken the stance that sometime during the Ming Dynasty, the venerable ancestors of China simply screwed up. Instead of “out of ten lambs, nine are lucky”, people misheard and started to say instead, “Out of ten lambs, nine are incomplete”. The Qing Dynasty then happened, and apparently this mix-up was ripe for the pickings in time for the revolt.

Whatever you may think of superstitions, they mean much more to the people that follow them. But by knowing the origin of this saying, we can see that the enmity towards China’s “worst queen ever” has led to Chinese not having babies due to their spite for her.

Photo: ChinaiissSupersenmy, green vine blog

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor