ccording to Chinese tradition, babies born in the Year of the Dragon are high-spirited and fearless, destined for success. This lunar year, 4698, is also the year of the Golden Dragon, which comes only once every 60 years, making it the most auspicious year of all.
And that could mean a bumper crop of babies born to Chinese mothers over the next 12 months -- both in Asia and in San Francisco, where 34 percent of the population is Asian and Pacific Islander, mostly of Chinese descent, and 49 percent of public school students are Asian.
In Taiwan, officials have said they expect a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of births during the Year of the Dragon, which began on February 5 and will end in February 2001. Total births there are estimated to shoot up to 380,000 from the past decade's yearly average of 320,000.
In Singapore, where ethnic Chinese account for more than 75 percent of the 3.2 million population, officials expect a 10 to 15 percent rise in the birthrate, attributed mostly to the dragon year.
San Francisco obstetrician Pearl Yee said many of her predominantly Asian patients recently have expressed a wish to get pregnant soon, citing their desire to have a "lucky" dragon baby.
"It's definitely happening," Yee said, adding that she expects San Francisco could experience a baby boom, though she doubts it will be as significant as the increase expected in Taiwan and Singapore.
"I think delivery numbers are going to go up, because this year is also mixed with the millennium, too, so the general population wants to have a baby in year 2000, and the Asian community is excited about the Year of the Dragon," she said.
The dragon is believed to be the luckiest of the 12 zodiac signs. In 1988, the last dragon year, Kaiser Hospital registered an increase in Asian births from the previous year. Hospital statistics show there were 887 births to Asian mothers in 1987, then 943 in the Year of the Dragon. The Asian birthrate then dipped to 855 the following year, the Year of the Snake.
Yee pointed out that 1988 was a particularly lucky year because eight is an especially lucky number in Cantonese tradition, since the pronunciation is similar to the word meaning "to rise."
"It's like bread rising, everything goes up, your prosperity rises, your bank account rises, your family rises, your spirit rises, everything," she said. "I had patients who had babies born on 8-8-1988 and they were so happy and felt so lucky."
The allure of the dragon stems from the Chinese belief that it is better and more powerful than any other animal, said Kaiping Peng, an assistant professor who teaches a class on Chinese psychology at UC-Berkeley. Some even believe the Chinese are descendants of the dragon, he said, explaining that the reverence for the mythical beast has ancient roots.
Whether your little dragon baby grows up to have the predicted fiery personality or blazing ambition, he or she already is distinguished by being born a dragon.
"In Chinese, we have a saying that it is far better to be the head of a dragon than the tail of the rabbit," Peng said. The phrase derives from another well-known expression, "a rabbit's tail won't be long," meaning that one's time is up or luck is running out, he explained, which is why parents usually prefer not to have babies toward the end of a rabbit year.
As for how many dragon babies will be born in the months ahead, it is anybody's guess. Prospective parents still have about three more months to conceive a dragon baby.