Many supposedly atheist civil servants on the mainland are turning to ancient philosopher Zhou Gong's spiritual explanations to discover the meanings of their dreams.
That is the conclusion of a recent survey conducted by the China National School of Administration, which found that more than half of its 900 respondents, all county-level civil servants from 17 provinces and autonomous regions, held superstitious beliefs.
According to the survey, conducted between September and December last year, only 47 per cent of the respondents said they did not believe in anything that could be considered 'superstitious'.
'This is worrying. We didn't expect the figure would be so high,' said Cheng Ping , a researcher in charge of the project. 'As civil servants, most of them are members of the Communist Party. Party members are supposed to be atheist.'
Among four choices of superstitious beliefs, physiognomy (the art of determining character from the form or features of the face) ranked the most popular, given credence by 28 per cent of the interviewees. Zhou Gong's interpretation of dreams came second with 18 per cent. A further 13.7 per cent chose astrology, and 6 per cent the use of I Ching divination.
Dr Cheng said some superstitious beliefs had their roots in traditional Chinese culture and would be hard to overcome.
'It would be natural for Chinese people to pay attention to a person's face and try to predict his personality and destiny,' Dr Cheng said. 'But it shouldn't be overly relied on.'
She said there had been cases in which officials granted promotions or demotions based on their subordinates' facial features and Chinese astrology, or Ba Zi (eight characters).
Hu Xingdou , a sociologist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that resorting to superstitions showed that the officials were not confident in their career prospects.
Dr Cheng added that a report on the survey had been submitted to the central government.