In Beijing's main maternity hospital, there is an even more expectant air than usual. All of the 200 beds in the wards are full, and of the scores of soon-to-be mothers, most have scheduled a Caesarean section to ensure that most auspicious and treasured of babies – an Olympic baby.
It's not just babies – more than 16,000 couples will tie the knot today in the Chinese capital to ensure their marriages have the best possible start, on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the new millennium. The day the Olympics started. In case you haven't guessed, eight, which sounds like the word for wealth, is a lucky number in China.
Nurses at the city's biggest maternity hospital in Yaojiayuan Street are gearing up for what is set to be one of their busiest days. "There are going to be more than 60 births tomorrow, many of the women have made an appointment for a Caesarean section," said one staff sister. "Ordinarily we'd only have about 10 births."
The one-child policy of population control means that the single birth most women have is a huge community event. In the maternity hospital you see pregnant women with their partners and usually a group of four grandparents fussing around cheerfully.
"We are very happy that we are going to have an Olympic baby," said one mother-to-be, Pang Lan. Her husband, Yang Shi, added: "Tomorrow will be a perfect day. Our baby is very lucky. We all love the Olympics. It means a lot to China. Beijing has changed a lot, its environment and traffic are all turning better and better. I am proud of China."
There are long queues for C-sections in the hospital and some are worried they might not make the grade.
"Expectant mothers staying in the hospital basically all want to give birth to their babies on 8 August," said one mother-to-be, Li Wenqing. "There are too many mothers staying here and waiting. Moreover, on that day there might also be some mothers who have immediate health emergencies. Doctors cannot guarantee that every mother can do the surgery. But I will still try. After all, this date is quite rare and special."
For months, couples have calculated the length of their babies' gestation in the hope of landing a baby on 8 August.
Hou Hongying, a obstetrician at the Sun Yat-sen University hospital in Guangzhou, told local media of a pregnant woman who requested a Caesarean section at 36 weeks to coincide with 8 August. In 2000, there were more than 36 million "millennium babies", nearly twice as many births as in 1999 and a year later in 2001. Then in 2007, the Lunar New Year was the Year of the Pig, and a particularly lucky Pig year it was too as it coincided with gold, which meant millions of couples timing some 20 million births to coincide with the auspicious year. The Chinese obsession with having children at auspicious times can cause some log-jams in the social services. Baby booms put pressure on hospitals, then schools and finally job markets.
"The birth rush will create a series of shortages starting from when babies are born to the time when they look for jobs," Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, told the China Daily.
Whatever the sociologists say, luck is a more powerful force than theory in superstitious China. And you can be sure that lots of these babies will be given the most popular name of the moment – "Aoyun", which means Olympics.
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