The long-suppressed practice of divination revives, with modern twists

“Lüdagunr!” cries the old woman selling “donkey rolls,” a snack made of glutinous rice with bean paste, in front of a courtyard home on central Beijing’s Chengxian Street. “Want some lüdagunr?”

Get closer, though, and she might lower her voice to mutter: “Want your fortune told? Try inside.” This is because Chengxian Street is also known as “Fortune Telling Street,” in reference to an ancient though enduring profession that’s tolerated—along with other “feudal” beliefs, such as feng shui—yet still occupies a legal gray zone in China even after thousands of years of practice.

Today, fortune telling—also known as divination or “fate calculation” (suanming, 算命)—is arguably more prevalent than it’s ever been, and more diverse. Millennials are turning to swanky tarot-reading parlors and apps that claim to offer “AI fortune telling”; government officials have been routinely chastised for their predictive predilections; and these trends have inevitably attracted the attention of scammers.

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Seeking Fortune is a story from our issue, “Grape Expectations.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Han Rubo is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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