Hong Kong: Annual prophesy says ‘all efforts will be in vain’ this year of the Dragon

Kenneth Lau told the press about Che Kung's oracle of the Dragon Year. Image from inmediahk.net. CC: NC-AT.

With the start of the Lunar New Year, the year of Dragon began on February 10, 2024. 

In Hong Kong, it is customary for a leader of the local rural community to visit the temple of the local deity, Che Kung, to inquire about Hong Kong’s fortunes in the year ahead. Typically, this prediction will become a hot topic on social media. For seven consecutive years since 2018, the city has obtained a rather gloomy prophecy. 

This year's prediction was no different, and some interpreters refrained from presenting their readings to the public out of fear that negative comments on Hong Kong may get them into trouble.

Che Kung was a general during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). Taoist worshippers believe that the deity protects the state just as the general defended the dynasty till the very last minute by helping the last emperor of Southern Song escape to the South. In addition to protecting the country, Che Kung also safeguards the community from epidemics. 

Although most Hongkongers are not Taoists and do not practice this Taoist tradition, many are impressed by Che Kung’s divination and observe the annual ritual. One of the most uncanny prophesies was this prediction in 2003, which reads: 


Sailing downstream to Yangzhou, halfway up, the waves hit the boat head-on. Its difficult to make any progress no matter how hard you try, the boat can’t move forward as the radius and sail are dropped.

In 2003, Hong Kong was hit by the SARS epidemic and the government's attempt to push a local version of the national security law, according to Article 23 of the Basic Law, was called off after half a million people rallied on July 1 as the public feared that the legislation would undermine the city's freedom of speech and the press.

Since then, Che Kung’s annual prophesy has become one of the most talked about news items during the Lunar New Year. 

This year, on the second day of the dragon year, Kenneth Lau Ip Keung, the head of the Rural Affairs Committee, received an unfavourable prediction after four failed attempts.

The prophecies, which usually cite stories and fables from ancient Chinese texts, are written on bamboo sticks. During the prophecy-seeking ritual, the seeker has to shake the bamboo holder until one of the sticks falls out. If more than one sticks fall out, it is considered a failed attempt.

Once Lau managed to successfully complete the ritual, the prophecy read: 


Take the axe into the forest, but you can find none as the time is not right; you have harmed the good timber (the Chinese expression of “good timber” usually means talents) and lost your strength. Hold on until spring arrives. 

The text comes from the dialogue between the ancient Chinese Confucian philosopher Mengzi and King Hui of Liang in Mencius. Liang asked Mengzi why his country did not have people's support despite his policy efforts. Mengzi talked about the importance of timing, or all the effort would be wasted or even bring adverse consequences.

The message is obvious, and one interpreter, Chan Tin Yan, told the press that the prophecy spoke negatively about Hong Kong's economic prospects as a result of the exodus of talent since the state's crackdown on civil society after the enactment of Beijing imposed national security law on June 30, 2020. He was pessimistic about the Hong Kong government’s economic revitalisation campaigns and suggested the government suspend the Lantau Tomorrow mega-development project, which is a massive land reclamation project that costs at least HKD 1,500 billion (USD 192 billion).

The Hong Kong government has also attempted to revitalize the city’s economy through the Night Vibes project and mega-event campaigns after lifting pandemic restrictions in February 2023. However, compared to other cities, its economic recovery has been slow due to the exodus of talent and the weak performance of both the property and stock markets. 

Apart from economic policy, the Hong Kong government is projected to pass the local version of the national security law this year. However, no news reports nor interpreters have associated Che Kung's oracle with the legislation.

In fact, some interpreters admitted that they have refrained from presenting their readings to the public out of fear. For example, Master Wong, a well-known interpreter, told a reporter of an online news outlet, the Collective:


I would be lying if I told you Hong Kong’s fortune is good. It doesn’t look good in general. Even Gregory Charles Rivers (an Australian-Hong Kong actor) took his own life, can’t you tell how Hong Kong’s environment is? … I am talking about Hong Kong’s environment, not [the leaders of Hong Kong]; please don’t make it wrong or the police will go after me for saying bad things about Hong Kong. 

He also told the reporter that readings about Hong Kong’s fortune have become too political:


If you asked questions like this, I could not answer. If my answer was publicized, it could be interpreted as “smearing Hong Kong”. This is no joke. All we can do is tell good stories about Hong Kong: Hong Kong will become better, and the country will be prosperous. 

Following the mainland Chinese propaganda strategy, the Hong Kong government has been urging media workers to tell positive stories about Hong Kong and sees negative comments about both Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese government as soft resistance and vows to suppress critics through domestic national security legislation. The escalating political pressures have resulted in the vanishing of critics from the public domain in recent years. For example, the prominent political cartoonist Zunzi was banned from mainstream news outlets and his books were pulled from public libraries. 

However, since the Che Kung prophecy is written in relatively plain language, people can make sense of and interpret the text by drawing from their own experience, even without the interpreters’ assistance. Many on social media have concluded that Che Kung's advice for the city in the Dragon Year is “lying flat” or doing nothing, as all efforts will be in vain under the current environment.

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