David Railey studied journalism in college but has been a professional astrologer since becoming hooked on the subject in the 1970s, when astrology became so popular on college campuses that a group of skeptical scientists felt compelled to mount a serious public relations offensive aimed at trashing the movement. He has been solely supported by his professional astrological practice, mostly in Atlanta, since 1978.
In the late 1970s, Railey was asked by then Mayor Maynard Jackson to serve on the Atlanta Board of Astrology Examiners (ABAE), a city sponsored program that tests for astrological competency and provides accreditation for astrologers. He is a past president of the Metro Atlanta Astrological Society and, at one point in his career, was the astrologer on WSB TV’s Good Morning Atlanta. The ABC affiliate is believed to be the first station in the U.S. to broadcast a weekly “cosmic forecast” as a regular feature on a morning news program.
Railey moved to Los Angeles in 1995, where he continued to build his astrological practice but also found time to write six screen plays and complete the first draft of his book, The Soul Purpose, before returning to Atlanta in 2000. He was totally unprepared for the reception he and his book received during a recent tour to promote a translated version on mainland China in the Fall of 2010. The response, he says, has been “quite astonishing.”
ANS: Are you telling us that people on the Chinese mainland today are interested in Western astrology?
DR: You have to understand the history of China over the last 60 years; they have been through more as a people than most of us in the west can even begin to grasp. Traditional Chinese astrology, of which there are several distinct schools, was labeled as feudal superstition and barely survived on mainland China — though it continued to thrive in Hong Kong and on Taiwan. However, there was no attempt to modernize traditional Chinese astrology, even after it began to slowly reemerge in China over the past 15 to 20 years.
The advent of the internet has coincided with the emergence of a more affluent and well educated “young” Chinese population. There are slightly more than 500 million Chinese internet users –many that read English — out of a population of more than 1.3 billion. Many Chinese people have encountered western astrology on the internet and love it! It speaks to them. They find it relevant to their modern urban life. The crowds that attended my events in China were mostly young, twenty to forty, and wild for astrology. Quite frankly, it’s like the late 60s and early 70s was in the west all over again in China as far as astrology is concerned. You can hardly imagine… There are many new students that are quite serious about pursuing astrology professionally.
ANS: The reception for your book went well?
DR: Better than I could ever have imagined. On the tour, there were crowds at every event. At lectures, if there were chairs for 60 people, 90 people were standing! I did five or six book signings, seven lectures, seven newspaper interviews, a TV interview on KU6 and a two-day workshop. Since its publication date, the book has been selling about 200 copies per day on Amazonchina.com and, apparently, the first printing sold out in less than five months. As still another indication of interest, in January of 2010 I started a blog on Sina (an online Chinese newspaper published in English) and, by the end of the year, had already counted more than 208,000 visitors
ANS: What led to your decision to test the publishing waters in China?
DR: I’ll give you the short version of the story. Three years ago I was completely happy living with my wife and the youngest of our three sons in an Atlanta suburb. My astrology practice was thriving and I felt blessed every day just to do astrology and work with my clients, most of whom I’d known for 20 years or more. Even though China had fascinated me as a boy — and I had kept a translation of Lao Tzu’s ‘Way of Life’ close at hand for nearly 40 years — I was not thinking about China. Then an email arrived from a woman in China who wanted me to do a chart rectification (an evaluation technique astrologers use to help determine accurate birth times when this information is not available from other sources). The client, Felicia Jiang, was referred to me by a close friend and fellow astrologer (Jeff Jawer). She was very happy with the rectification and gradually, through email correspondence and Skype, became an enthusiastic and serious student of astrology. It wasn’t long before this one client opened the door to China for me, and little by little things began to happen.
ANS: What sort of things?
DR: Beyond referrals and introductions, I found myself increasingly aware of a real interest in western astrology in China. A number of online study groups began to form. In the fall of 2008, I rewrote The Soul Purpose and the second edition of the book published in March, 2009. The book was plugged as a “must read” by a popular online western astrology site (Star IQ), and my growing list of friends in China noticed. Felicia Jiang, who is now my partner in an astrological services company we’ve started in Beijing, touted the book to Chinese publishing companies and, in less than a month, three companies were interested. I signed a contract with Totebooks in June 2009 and spent the summer of 2009 rewriting the book for a Chinese audience, substituting well-known Chinese examples in place of their lesser known or unknown American counterparts. With help from others, Felicia Jiang translated the book into Chinese and sent it to the Bureau of Censorship. It was published in July 2010.
ANS: So how is your business venture in Beijing doing?
DR: The interest in western astrology in China is incredible. There are study groups in China there that are familiar with the work of many of the leading astrologers in the west. Our company has opened an office on the 19th floor of a building in the Chaoyang District of Beijing. We have a fulltime staff of three wonderful dedicated people, Zoe, Cora and Michelle, plus a wide audience that we are in constant communication with. They don’t have Twitter in China, but they do have “micro blogs.” Thanks to my staff, I have three micro blogs currently and the largest has 150,000 people following my comments every day. Right before I left China at the end of October (2010) I was told that my name had been Googled in China three and a half million times already. This was quite astonishing to me.
ANS: What about plans for the future?
DR: I plan to work in China four times a year for up to three weeks at a time. We’ll be launching a website, but mainly I’ll be teaching workshops and classes and meeting with students at informal gatherings. On my last visit I introduced my workshop students to the various astrological organizations in the U.S. and told them about the United
Astrology Congress (UAC) conference scheduled for May 12 in New Orleans. I hope to bring a contingent of Chinese astrologers and students to this event. It should be quite exciting!
ANS: It sounds like you’ll be keeping busy?
DR: For whatever reason, I find myself faced with the opportunity to share the astrology I’ve studied and practiced for forty years with the largest audience in the world. I want the new Chinese students of astrology to know about the resources we have in the west. Also, it is my belief that the widespread serious interest in western astrology in China today will infuse what we are working on here in the west with new, young energy. I can only begin to imagine how hundreds of new students might impact our astrological organizations, and am dedicated to guiding them in this direction.
ANS: You were able to get your book approved by the Bureau of Censorship. How would you characterize the “official” response to western astrology in China? Is the academic community as hostile to the subject as it is in the west?
DR: The fact that the government has gone from officially branding astrology as feudal superstition to allowing a westernized explanation to be published for Chinese audiences speaks volumes for the changes underway in 21st century China. However, quite frankly, I have no idea what the official response is to western astrology, and am in no position to characterize it. I do know I am both grateful and humbled by the opportunity to teach western astrology in the country.
The western astrology I’m introducing to China is of a very responsible and ethical character, where the interests of the person, be it student or client, are of the utmost concern. Astrologers should always be careful as both teachers and counselors to make sure that the information they are providing is carefully and responsibly considered.
I think the academic community in China may have a “healthy” skepticism. Interest in astrology is growing, so there’s bound to be a reaction to it. However, I had an interesting exchange with a scientist at one lecture at the Lady Book Salon, where he asked me what I thought was the “physical basis” of astrology. My response, which centered around “Earth cycles” pleased him very much. He said that this was, in his mind, “the only way that astrology could be substantiated scientifically– if it was going to be.” I was encouraged by his openness in our discussion but don’t know to what extent this is representative of the academic community in China.