BEIJING (AP) — The new Chinese year is the one to go bananas over. On Feb. 8, the zodiac calendar enters the Year of the Monkey — the ninth of 12 animal signs. Plastic monkeys are adorning shopping centers and office buildings, and government departments have been giving out toy monkeys.
Having a baby in the Year of the Monkey is generally thought to be more auspicious than in that of its predecessor, the sheep, and the cute creature is in any case largely beloved by the masses for its playful and human-like characteristics, despite a penchant for stealing food.
The new lunar year is already boosting a fighting style that imitates the movements of a monkey. It also offers an excuse to cash in on China's most famous monkey — Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King — a fabled demon-slayer.
Less happily, feng shui predictions foresee fire, disease and volatile stocks.
A look at what mischief the Year of the Monkey may have in store.
Those born in the Year of the Monkey are held to be playful, mischievous and clever — much like a monkey.
"Many people say people born in the Year of the Monkey are smart and have a very good imagination, but it is thought that their chances of achieving success are not very good as they are less capable of executing things," said Beijing resident Wang Jinping, whose zodiac sign is the monkey.
As is customary when it is the year of one's zodiac, Wang, who turns 60 this year, will be wearing red to ward off bad spirits. Ahead of the new lunar year, the museum manager was already wearing a red silk jacket in the style of those worn by officials more than a century ago at formal occasions, bought for him by his daughter-in-law's mother.
"My son and daughter-in-law also bought me four pairs of long red underwear, four red underpants and four pairs of red socks," he said. "Actually I don't think these are something people must wear, but, in my year, the Year of the Monkey, I must do things very prudently and cautiously."
MORE BIRTHS EXPECTED
This year, not only has China's one-child policy been loosened to a two-child policy, but some superstitious Chinese will be raring to give birth. During the previous 12 months, the Year of the Sheep or Goat (it's the same character in Chinese), some people were reluctant to have children as they considered the year inauspicious and believed sheep babies would be more likely followers than leaders.
According to China's national statistics, there were 16.55 million births in 2015, compared with 16.87 million in 2014. Some state media reports have attributed the drop in births last year to the Year of the Sheep.
FIRES AND VIRUSES
Market ups and downs, fires and viruses, the Year of the Monkey is predicted to have them all.
Hong Kong feng shui master Louis Wong foresees "a lot of fires happening around the world, especially in the forests. So we need to watch out for fire hazards," he said. "Southeast Asia will see a lot of viruses or disease, so we need to be very careful about the Zika virus now."
To enhance a couple's relationship this year, Wong advises placing a pink crystal on the woman's side of the bedroom and a purple crystal on the man's side. He added: "And if we want them to have fewer quarrels and arguments, we can put a firecracker behind the door." While watching out for fire risks, of course.
Wong cautioned that bad luck is more likely to befall those who are monkeys — "they need to be careful about their career and wealth" — and tigers — "they need to be careful about accidents, especially car accidents."
Wong says the lucky signs in the coming year will be the dragon and rat. "For the people born in the Year of the Dragon it will be good for their career and wealth, while for the rat it is good for their relationships with people," he said.
A Hong Kong brokerage that publishes a tongue-in-cheek annual feng shui report said the Chinese territory's Hang Seng stock index would perform decently until a downward swing mid-year, followed by a recovery.
"Overall, it's a year for slow, considered expansion, not for raucous monkey antics," it advises.
The CLSA brokerage says U.S. presidential campaigner Donald Trump should watch his cash outflow and beware the "golden-tongued" Hilary Clinton, who was born in the Year of the Pig and is therefore a good pal of the monkey.
JUNGLE OUT THERE
Also on the agenda: A revival in houquan, or monkey kung fu. Practitioners imitate monkey moves, in the same way as other strands of martial arts are based on animals such as tigers and white crane.
The monkey style dates back to China's Western Han Dynasty around 200 B.C., said Chen Qifang, the head of Lin'an City Martial Arts Council in Zhejiang province. "It's a kind of kung fu that attempts to imitate a monkey's lively, mischievous and cute features with some of its typical moves like leaping, somersaulting, scratching ears and looking around as if for peaches or to see if someone is attacking its territory."
Because of its somersaults and other challenging moves, it's not as popular as other styles, says Chen.
His organization has taught houquan in the past, but never seen as many primary school students sign up for it as in its latest class — almost 200.
"The coming Year of the Monkey may boost the resurgence of houquan, as it would be a lot of fun for the kids to show off some monkey moves at the family party during the Chinese New Year holiday," he added.
The Year of the Monkey gives a little-needed excuse to reference the much loved Monkey King character from the 16th century adventure novel "Journey to the West." The supernatural Monkey King, also known as Sun Wukong, accompanied a monk on a journey to retrieve sacred scriptures and the story has inspired countless TV shows and movies over the years.
Unashamedly trying to capitalize on the new zodiac year, yet another Monkey King adaptation will be released on the first day of the lunar new year — Feb. 8. The 450 million yuan ($68 million) budget movie stars Aaron Kwok as Sun, Feng Shaofeng as the monk and Gong Li playing the skeleton demon.