Should fortune telling in Vietnam become a thing of the past?

By Editorial   December 1, 2017 | 04:28 am PT
The murder of a baby allegedly prompted by a fortune teller's readings of the family's future has shocked the nation.

Fortune telling has for centuries been an indispensable part of life in Vietnam. But people don't just want to know about their future for the sake of knowing. It is widely believed in Vietnam that you can actually influence your destiny.

The fortune teller's job entails advising clients on how to avoid bad omens and make the most of good ones. This is why it's customary for Vietnamese to consult fortune tellers before important life events, be it choosing a new house, a life partner, wedding dates, when to have a baby, open a business and even funeral dates.

The most popular type of horoscope is perhaps tử vi, which foretells your career, wealth, relationships and health based on your sex and the time and place you were born. According to common usage/interpretation of tử vi, one's life is composed of certain pre-defined conditions that can't be changed (it works like privilege) and conditions that could be influenced by the choices we make (something like free will). 

Considered by ardent followers as a science, the horoscope, they explain, is the product of years if not centuries of work, which based on observations, assigns life events to the forces of the universe.

Depending on the branch of tử vi, which originates from China's Zi Wei Dou Shu (Purple Star Astrology), there are roughly 100 "stars" of varying cycles that at each hour of the day combine to yield a set of effects on a person born in that hour. The total collection of more than 500,000 combinations of these "stars" repeats every 60 years.

Other popular methods of fortune telling include palm reading, reading betel and areca nuts, western horoscopes and more recently, tarot cards.

Ask any Vietnamese person and they're likely to tell you a story of their own, or one of an acquaintance, that confirms that legit fortune tellers exist. 

But these practices have also come at odds with modern life.

It’s not uncommon to hear about a loving couple breaking up because fortune tellers say their stars don’t align.

Every year after Vietnam's Lunar New Year, the media report how thousands flock to a pagoda in Hanoi that is perceived to be holy to chase away bad luck, effectively taking over one of the capital's main junctions. 

Recently, in a rare and extreme case, a grandmother was arrested for allegedly killing her newborn granddaughter because a fortune teller had said she would bring bad luck to the family.

Some blame this on scammers eager to take advantage of gullible believers. Others have chosen to learn the art (or science) from books to help them navigate their own lives.

Meanwhile, skeptics have increasingly more options in today’s society to deal with the uncertainties of life.

We have self-help books and inspirational speakers, proponents of free will as the guiding force as opposed to destiny. 

Then, there’s modern medicine to help prevent, predict and solve your physical and mental problems.

Life today is certainly less risky (unpredictable) than that of our ancestors, whose lives directly depended on a good harvest.

So what does fortune telling's continued popularity say about the needs of Vietnamese people?

Given advancements in science, medicine and much greater economic safety nets, is it time fortune telling was made obsolete?

Or does it deserve further studies and preservation not just for being part of Vietnamese culture, but also for carrying ancient wisdom still little understood by modern society?

Cast your vote and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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