Peking looks to new year of the ox to bless the reclaimimg of Hong Kong

Stephen Vines on why a new boss makes a monkey of Patten
Hong Kong - Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong, is a monkey, whereas Tung Chee-hwa, who will head the first post-colonial government, is an ox. No disrespect is intended here, it is simply a matter of Chinese belief that a person's life is to a large extent governed by their birth sign.

Thus it is fitting that Mr Tung will become Hong Kong's first Chief Executive just as the twelve year cycle hits the Year of the Ox. Generally speaking it should be a good year for those in the year of their birth.

According to one Chinese astrologist, those born in the Year of the Ox are known for their "diligence, perseverance, determination and assiduousness". Apparently Oxen will "run a tight ship this year", and, "responsibility and conservatism are the name of the game".

Mr Tung would certainly not be unhappy to be called conservative, nor would he be troubled by the idea that he will need to be responsible during the year.

As for Mr Patten, like other monkeys, he is advised by one astrologer to "beware of a rival who may emerge mid-year". And there's more from the same source: "You will face disastrous consequences if you do not draw the line between private and public involvement".

This may well mean that Mr Tung is a danger to Mr Patten in June and July, as they swap jobs, and could also be interpreted as a warning for the outgoing governor not to let his personal feelings bubble over into public pronouncements.

Monkey year people are known to be slightly eccentric and a tad unpredictable: "Do not overstep the mark, though, as the ox could come down hard on you in an attempt to straighten your ways," warns the astrologist employed by the Hong Kong Tourist Association.

Although Chinese astrology is not taken as gospel by Hong Kong's generally highly superstitious population, there is a strong belief in the influence of birth years.

That is why it is possible confidently to predict a mini baby-boom in 2000 when the Year of the Dragon next comes round.

The dragon reigns supreme in the Chinese calendar, and many parents will do their best to give their children an auspicious start in life by ensuring that they are born in a dragon year.