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DEBBIE ELLIOTT:

China is struggling to prepare for a baby boom as it ushers in the Year of the Pig, which starts today. Some newspapers have called it an especially lucky golden pig year, which only comes around every 60 years. But could that supposed luck turned into a curse? NPR's Louisa Lim reports.

(Soundbite of chanting)

LOUISA LIM: Monks chant at a Shanghai temple. A steady stream of people flow past, bowing at the altars and tossing coins into collection boxes. In the courtyard outside, flags flapping the wind as people burn incense. Many of the visitors are in their 20s, like Andy Huang(ph)

Mr. ANDY HUANG: (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: I want the New Year to have a good start, he says. He's clutching designer shopping bags in one hand, incense sticks in the other. He's accompanied by his girlfriend, Helena Jang(ph). It's especially lucky to give birth in the Year of the Pig, she says, voicing a popular belief.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

LIM: Newborns mewl and squawk as they're bathed in a maternity hospital. In China, city dwellers are only allowed one child, so many timing their pregnancies according to the traditional calendar. Among the pregnant women waiting for an exercise class is Bao Huiyuan. She's 30 years old and expecting here first child in June.

Ms. BAO HUIYUAN: (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: They say children born in the Year of the Pig will be especially intelligent and healthy. So everybody is rushing to have babies this year.

Ms. YEN: This baby boom is leading to fears of a labor shortage this year.

LIM: That's certainly the case in Bao's company. She works in the sales department of a multinational.

Ms. BAO: (Through translator) Five of us are having babies this year. That's about ten percent of the whole department. Of course having so many employees on maternity leave, we have an impact on the whole company.

LIM: In the hospital's registration area, heavy-bellied women are lining up to see doctors. Shanghai's maternity beds are already booked solid until March. Chang Li Nan(ph) is the honorary director of the International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital, the biggest of its kind in the city. She says the number of pregnant women registering there is twice as high as normal.

Ms. CHANG LI NAN (International Peace Maternity and Chile Health Hospital): (Through translator) For our hospital, it's very hard work for our doctors and the midwives. Yeah. We're short of beds and short of doctors and nurses.

LIM: The city governments even stepped in, warning women to try to avoid getting pregnant this year. As Bao Huiyuan points out, these piglets will compete for beds to be born in and go on competing for the rest of their lives.

Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) In six years, they will be competing for school places and in 18 years, they will be competing for university places. And in 20-something years, they will be competing for wives.

LIM: But actually, it's not even a golden pig year, according to fortune teller Jiu Hye Ching(ph), but a fire pig year.

He says this litter of piggies will be naughty, bad-tempered individualists. And he blames the baby boom on ignorance.

Mr. JIU HYE CHING (Fortune Teller): (Through translator) Chinese people don't really understand fortune telling, and the media really don't understand it at all. So this is just something they have whipped up.

(Soundbite of commercial)

LIM: Commercials for baby products, like this baby lotion ad, are taking up double the air time this year as companies prepare for bumper sales. Outwardly, China may be changing unbelievably fast, as skyscrapers spread and farmland is gobbled up by ever-expanding cities. But beneath that modern veneer, traditional superstitions still run deep, and some are cashing in on them.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: If you look at the who's who of the years of the pig, you too could start to believe in porcine luck.

Here are just a few of the success stories. The politicians: Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. From the film world: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen and Lucille Ball. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were obviously destined for each other. Both started off as piglets. Elvis Presley was born in the Year of the Pig. So too was Duke Ellington. You might have guessed that by now from the music you're hearing.

And finally, for those of you wondering about your favorite piglet, his literary birth in Winnie Pooh in 1926 fell in a Year of the Tiger.

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