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The Year of the Dragon could be lucky — but only if we’re kind to one another

“Long-term, it could also be the year in which major conflict can be resolved, if people can focus on empathy,” one Chinese folklore scholar said.
Red and gold glowing dragon with paper texture curls out of corner of image
Kelsea Petersen / NBC News

It’s the Year of the Dragon, and people can expect a lot of good fortune — but only if they’re harnessing the animal’s most important quality: compassion.

Lunar New Year — which includes Chinese New Year, Seollal in Korea, Tet in Vietnam and more — will begin Feb. 10, kicking off more than two weeks of festivities, customs and plenty of feasts. It celebrates the arrival of spring and the start of a fresh year based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar.

The upcoming year’s dragon sign is perhaps the most popular zodiac creature, associated with a host of positive qualities such as nobility, wealth and wisdom. 

The year’s dragon sign is, more specifically, a wood dragon. The element of wood is seen in Daoist tradition as a return to the natural state of being, which in the dragon’s case, points to a return to kindness. And Confucian thought interprets wood as a symbol of unlimited potential. 

“I’m seeing this wood Dragon year as a year of unlimited potential in terms of prosperity. Long-term, it could also be the year in which major conflict can be resolved, if people can focus on empathy,” said Jonathan H. X. Lee, a professor of Chinese folklore and religion at San Francisco State University. “If we continue our tribal thinking and selfish thinking, we’re not going to achieve it.” 

With ongoing wars across the globe and with the United States in an election year, he said, it’s important to approach contentious discussions in good faith. 

“This comes from the teachings of Taoism, as well as Buddhism and Confucianism. Violence and conflict erupt and grow and fester and get even worse because of the ego,” Lee said. “If there is any kind of conflict, one is to suspend the ego and be reflective and introspective.”

According to Chinese folklore, the dragon was one of 12 animals that raced to the Jade Emperor in a competition that would determine the order of the zodiac signs. While flying overhead, it had noticed that the rabbit, a poor swimmer, had become stuck in the middle of a river. 

“The dragon could have easily flown right over the rabbit and been the next one to cross over the finish line. But, instead, the dragon blew a very powerful breath that propeled the rabbit onto the shore. Then the dragon came after,” Lee said. 

So, he said, it’s important to behave in accordance with generosity and selflessness, just as the dragon would. 

“Being good, being kind and compassionate and loving will bring you an abundance,” Lee explained. 

The dragon, which corresponds to years 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012 and 2024, has long been associated with highly valued traits, he said. Those born in the year of the dragon are often said to be generous, make great leaders and have a lot of charisma. In fact, many parents plan births around dragon years. 

Additionally, the wood element, much like its practical use, is an extra reminder to set a good foundation that will lead to long-term success, rather than short-term gains, Lee said. And a strong foundation should be established with empathy at its core, he said.   

However, not all will experience the year of the dragon in the same way, Lee said. Those with zodiac signs that are considered compatible with the dragon, such as the rabbit, snake, rooster and rat, could be looking forward to a very prosperous year, he said. But those who are born in the year of the dragon themselves will be going through what’s known in Chinese culture as benmingnian, or “fate year,” Lee said. The fate year falls on one’s zodiac year and is thought to be a rather difficult and challenging one. 

“If you spent this year cultivating empathy, you will go into next year with a strong foundation to succeed in anything,” Lee said of those born in a dragon year. “You’re going to have success overflowing.”

Those who are born in the year of the dragon, in particular, can take other steps to counter any potential negative energy, as well, he said. He recommended wearing red, as well as yellow and green, which are often associated with the wood dragon. Adding plants and wooden items into the home can also help. And wearing jade pendants could be useful as they are thought to remove impurities from the body. 

“If you do those kinds of folkloric practices, you can maximize the energy of the year,” Lee said.