Can horoscopes accurately predict events in your life? Are star signs just a load of hocus-pocus? While skeptics might argue otherwise, many believers in astrology argue it is one of the earliest sciences in human history. But would you part with 3,900 yuan ($622) to attend a two-day workshop learning the finer points of astrology?
That's exactly what more than 70 people did when they met at the headquarters of NoDoor, a Beijing-based company that promotes astrology, to attend a lecture by renowned American astrologer Steven Forrest.
Fascination with the belief that the positions of the moon, sun and stars affect human affairs isn't confined to the cashed-up astrology faithful. On social networking website douban.com, fortune tellers promote their services to those who believe their fate is written by the stars.
But despite astrology's growing popularity in China, its legitimacy is still debated. Furthermore, the unregulated market environment means people should be extra cautious before handing over money for a supposed peek of their destiny.
Meet the stars of astrology
NoDoor's China branch was opened in 2010 by David Railey, a professional American astrologer with over 35 years' experience in the field and former president of the Atlanta Astrological Association.
As part of its goal to promote Western astrology in China, the company is holding three two-day workshops this month. Joining Forrest in delivering lectures is fellow American astrologer, Jeff Jawer.
"The topic is really interesting. Forrest is different from others in that he ties astrology with the concept of reincarnation in Buddhism," Dong Yu, who flew from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, to attend last Saturday's workshop, told Metro Beijing.
The 32-year-old housewife said she initially became interested in astrology because she wanted to "better understand" herself.
Aside from NoDoor, there are individual astrologists who offer readings in Beijing. Pei En is a full-time astrologer who is also familiar with the teachings of Forrest, having heard him lecture when he came to China in 2010.
Most of her clients come to her after finding out about her online or through word-of-mouth feedback from satisfied customers. Their needs include requiring a reading of the future, finding out more about themselves or seeking help to overcome personal anguish. Pei then reads their future using an astrolabe, the predecessor of the sextant used to find the altitude of stars, and offers her advice.
Clients pay her, usually a couple of hundred yuan, if they feel she has given a meaningful reading. "Clients come to me for consultative purposes and, if they feel satisfied, they pay. If not, they don't have to pay," Pei explained.