Taiwanese art historian: Joseph Stalin and the other Sagittarian dreamers I've come across

Seemingly surrounded by Sagittarians, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun muses about the different Sagittarian characters he has come across, from a would-be politician and an unconcerned husband, to a fashionista and artist, along with the famous Sagittarians in history such as Stalin, Disney and Yang Hucheng.
Russian Communist party supporters gather to lay flowers to the tomb of late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to mark the 144th anniversary of his birth at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on 21 December 2023. (Olga Maltseva/AFP)
Russian Communist party supporters gather to lay flowers to the tomb of late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to mark the 144th anniversary of his birth at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on 21 December 2023. (Olga Maltseva/AFP)

I realised a long time ago that I am surrounded by Sagittarians. Later on, I discovered that I had a Sagittarius Moon along with two Sagittariuses in my birth chart.

I am surprised by the sheer number of Sagittarians in my life. Even when I was soaking in a hot spring, a cheerful man was rather persistent in getting to know me and talking to everyone. Finally, I asked him, “Are you a Sagittarian?”  

With disbelief in his eyes, he said, “Why, yes, yes I am…”

Sagittarians and politics

So then, are Sagittarians so easily recognisable? Are they all straightforward and amiable but terrible at keeping secrets or hiding their feelings? 

It is difficult for me to judge because I am good friends with too many Sagittarians. One Sagittarian was so blunt that another simply stood up and stormed off in a fit of anger.   

Sagittarians are often unaware that they have offended people with their big mouths. They would ask me later, “Hmm, why did X suddenly walk out?”

At times like this, I know that although I adore Sagittarians and have a bunch of Sagittarian friends, I am not a pure Sagittarius — several earth signs in my birth chart are restraining the tendencies of the Sagittarian whose arrow is drawn across a bow. 

But there were indeed two Sagittarians in politics. One is extremely famous — Joseph Stalin. The other is lesser known by the younger generation nowadays — Yang Hucheng, a general involved in the Xi’an incident. 

John Flamsteed, Sagittarius, London, 1728. (Wikimedia)
John Flamsteed, Sagittarius, London, 1728. (Wikimedia)

Many people say that Sagittarians should not dabble in politics — even before an actual coup happens, the whole world already knows of their intentions to launch one, yet they themselves are unaware. 

This is why none of the Taiwanese presidential candidates are Sagittarians — given the crafty and sly nature of politics, Sagittarians would probably be eliminated from the outset. (I recently read a nonsensical piece of gossip on the internet that summarises Chinese palace dramas that have a power struggle theme: Scorpios can normally survive until the 60th episode, but Sagittarians exit the show after five episodes. There’s no scientific basis for this; it is perhaps just a gut feeling people have about Sagittarians.)     

But there were indeed two Sagittarians in politics. One is extremely famous — Joseph Stalin. The other is lesser known by the younger generation nowadays — Yang Hucheng, a general involved in the Xi’an incident. 

Yang was a warlord in the northwest. In the 25th year of the Republic of China (1936), he joined hands with Zhang Xueliang, a warlord in the northeast, and kidnapped then Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to call for national unity against Japan and an end to the civil war. 

This is the naivety of the Sagittarian. He doesn’t know that on one side of the civil war is a Scorpio and on the other is a Capricorn — both are difficult to deal with. 

Yang’s ending is too unbearable to recount. I am old and dislike tragedies. I do not wish to talk about it, you can search online if you’re interested. He was probably unaware of just how ruthless a vengeful Scorpio can get. The terrible fate of Yang’s entire family — I often use this story to warn my dear Sagittarian friends to be careful, to avoid politics and to quickly get out of the situation if the opponent was a Scorpio.  

... if Sagittarians want to be involved in politics, they would probably have to be like Stalin — without an ounce of pretence and unequivocally ruling as a dictator.

John Flamsteed, La Balance, et Le Scorpion (Libra & Scorpio), Paris, 1795. Detailed star chart of the constellations Libra and Scorpio and neighbouring constellations. (Wikimedia)
John Flamsteed, La Balance, et Le Scorpion (Libra & Scorpio), Paris, 1795. Detailed star chart of the constellations Libra and Scorpio and neighbouring constellations. (Wikimedia)

In the myths, Sagittarius shot an arrow at Scorpio in the sky. Maybe it is because of this arrow that drove Scorpios’ desire for revenge even in modern times.

Let’s not forget that Scorpios have a stinger on their tails — while Yang was perhaps pleased with himself for releasing Chiang and completing his mission of admonishment, he never would have expected the brutal revenge that awaited him. 

Sagittarians do not hide

But it is very surprising that Stalin was also a Sagittarian. I have even been to his hometown in present day Georgia; the locals hide their faces and shake their heads whenever he is mentioned. But as I sat in the railway carriage he sat in, with its red velvet cushions and opulent curtains, I thought to myself: if Sagittarians want to be involved in politics, they would probably have to be like Stalin — without an ounce of pretence and unequivocally ruling as a dictator. Which ruler does not want to be a dictator? They just deny the desire to please the ears of the masses. Sagittarians do not hide. He was a blatant dictator, and a successful one at that.

You should look at a picture of Stalin when he was 23 years old and just starting out — wow, what a handsome man. Even my students were star-struck, saying, “Man, Brad Pitt is no match for him…” 

“Brad Pitt is also a Sagittarian…” I reminded him. 

The ancient Han people detested the Xiong (匈, a tribal confederation of nomadic peoples) so much so that they feel satisfied only after adding the word nu (奴, slave) when referring to the Xiong.

Young Joseph Stalin at age 23. (Internet)
Young Joseph Stalin at age 23. (Internet)

The body of a man atop the four legs of a horse — thus formed the contradictory Sagittarius constellation. The horse gallops fast and it is hard not to shoot the arrow drawn on the bow. A human-horse hybrid and an archer… These still remind one of the centaurs in Greek mythology, which were said to be the metaphor used by the elegant and civilised Athenians to refer to the horse-riding hunters of the north. In murals and reliefs, as well as Greek mythologies, we often see centaurs storming wedding halls and snatching brides and maidens.       

To a steady agricultural civilisation, nomads and hunters are always barbaric. The ancient Han people detested the Xiong (匈, a tribal confederation of nomadic peoples) so much so that they feel satisfied only after adding the word nu (奴, slave) when referring to the Xiong. From a different perspective, nomads were bold and passionate, and sang better than the Han people. The Xiong loved to dance too — the Sogdian Whirl dance took the Tang dynasty by storm and exemplified the type of exuberance and energy unique to the nomadic people of the north. They rode on horses and shot arrows, and were frank and candid. Sagittarians and centaurs are both mesmerising to me.   

“The upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse…”

Dreams of power

A Sagittarian friend of mine seemed to constantly be involved in extramarital affairs. He said, “I can’t control my lower body.”

This is him trying to slyly deny wrongdoing. Sometimes, it is also part of a Sagittarian’s childishness.

No matter how flirtatious the male Sagittarians around me were while still single, they would mostly respect their boundaries after marriage and take good care of their wife and children. They teasingly said, “I have already surrendered my weapon.”  

Without their bow and arrow, they have become honest and know their place. They have relaxed, and the horse has slowed down a lot too. 

To this day, the Soviet Union still appears to be the only powerful political body that could rival the US since the Second World War. 

Cars commute during a traffic jam in a rainy day, as Stalin-era skyscraper (right) is seen, in Moscow, Russia on 17 October 2023. (Photo by Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP)
Cars commute during a traffic jam in a rainy day, as Stalin-era skyscraper (right) is seen, in Moscow, Russia, on 17 October 2023. (Photo by Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP)

I visited Stalin’s former residence in Georgia and became interested in this absolute dictator in history; yet he was also a Sagittarian, a horoscope I adore. A Bolshevik and the son and grandson of serfs, Stalin took part in Lenin’s revolution, seized power, defeated Adolf Hitler’s Germany and transformed old Russia from serfdom into an industrial powerhouse that could rival the US in a short period of time. He developed nuclear weapons, and took most of the Eastern European regions of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, the Baltic Sea and Crimea. To this day, the Soviet Union still appears to be the only powerful political body that could rival the US since the Second World War. 

Does this mean that Stalin is an example of Sagittarians succeeding in politics? I dare not say, because the vast Soviet empire was constructed on the ambitions for an almost illusory “workers’ homeland”, a dream so fragile that while Stalin succeeded because of it, tens of millions of lives were also lost as a result. I still have my doubts about the relationship between Sagittarians and politics.

Did Stalin believe that “workers have no country”? At least it was a powerful dream — in the end, the Soviet Union became the “homeland” of the world’s workers. What an incredible and formidable “homeland” that is, sending shivers down the spine of the US.

A Sagittarian’s dream could lead to a dictatorship.

I told a Sagittarian friend the story of Yang and Stalin. He entered the presidential palace in 2000 when there was a change in political parties. Sagittarians are passionate and enthusiastic — indeed, he had tirelessly supported the presidential candidate and yearned to accomplish great things with a group of youths.     

After I told him the stories, he resigned a few days later, and went back to his poems and alcohol. 

Chiang Kai-shek (right), Zhang Xueliang (left) and Yang Hucheng. (Wikimedia)
Chiang Kai-shek (right), Zhang Xueliang (left) and Yang Hucheng. (Wikimedia)

Did the stories I offhandedly spoke of affect him?

Perhaps not. He was already a carefree and unrestrained person to begin with. He is handsome and popular with women, whether he wants to be or not, and is often in trouble with the ladies. Many years later, he blabbered about the fate of his peers in a drunken stupor. They weren’t as bad as Yang’s ending, but some were either jailed or had fallen from grace…

Sagittarians are cute when they are inebriated. He made a serious remark and I darted my eyes around to be sure nobody was eavesdropping. I heaved a sigh of relief for my Sagittarian friend. 

Sagittarians enjoying life

I guess this is why I adore Sagittarians. They are naive, do not play mind games, and say whatever they want. But they do give me a headache sometimes, especially when they continue to be candid and play innocent after having offended someone.  

What if two Sagittarians are put together? Will they point the arrow at each other?

I haven’t researched this. But I once had a meal with three friends, who each kept placing food in my bowl and I was stuffed that day. I was a little puzzled and later realised that all of them were Sagittarians.

Let’s talk about M, a Sagittarian friend I’m not so worried about. He also says whatever he wants, but he’s not in politics, so that’s fine.

M loves his designer clothes. He’s always in front of a computer waiting for a good deal, and would snatch a NT$20,000 to NT$30,000 cotton coat without batting an eyelid. He invited me over to admire his coat, which he refused to take off.

The clothes that catwalk models don while strutting down runways can sometimes make one look like a homeless man in real life. I have always dressed in a casual and sloppy way. When M walked me to the metro station, I was rather concerned that we resembled a pair of homeless men and was trying to keep my distance. But two metres away, the Sagittarian was looking self-assured and smart. If people thought he was a homeless man, "So what?"

People walk towards the morning market in Taipei, Taiwan, 10 January 2024. (Ann Wang/Reuters)
People walk towards the morning market in Taipei, Taiwan, 10 January 2024. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

M was the kind of person who could spend an afternoon at a low-key function changing into three different outfits. He asked me at the end, “Did you notice that all three outfits were from Prada?”

I was apologetic as I did not. I was just wondering how he could suddenly disappear from a crowded social gathering and then reappear grinning from ear to ear as if he had just applied a facial mask and was glowing. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t notice your clothes.”  

But that was not M's concern. Sagittarians often buy themselves flowers — they are a horoscope that knows how to enjoy themselves.

A Scorpio friend of mine married a Sagittarian. She expressed much hatred for the man and I asked her why. It turned out that he “no longer sees her” after they got married, and even stopped looking at her after their son was born. She went for counselling and was told by the doctor to have some confidence in herself and to create opportunities to attract his attention.  

So she diligently changed her wardrobe and hairstyle, and even slathered on purple lipstick and green nail polish. She acted coquettishly and purposely broke a plate in front of him. 

“And?” I implored.

She sighed deeply and shook her head. “He still did not see you?” I asked.

“He did! I donned a long wig and a white nightgown one night and sat beside him in bed, staring at him for ten minutes,” she said.

“And?”

“He put down the Jin Yong novel he was reading and said I looked like a ghost…”

I’m thankful that a bunch of my Sagittarian friends did not become someone's “husband” or “wife” and remained single and independent. I pity the Scorpio wife who married a Sagittarian, tolerating him without using her stinger. I still feel uneasy whenever I think about them. 

Beaten by a Scorpio

While preparing to write this article, I looked for Sagittarians among the list of graduates from Tunghai University’s Department of Fine Arts. And I found a bunch of them. I went through the list again to discover just a handful of Scorpios.

Big data is now like an inescapable net on the internet. If Stalin was alive right now, he could have built the world’s strongest digital department to monitor people’s thoughts down to a T. 

A Sagittarian friend who works in the media industry told me in disbelief that while waiting at the entrance of a mall for his son to buy a pair of sports shoes, countless sports brand advertisements popped up on his mobile screen. 

Why are we still shocked by this? The global positioning system on your phone; your search history; and your chat history with your friends on messaging app LINE… Isn’t big data controlling all these in the cloud?

For the sake of government and corporate surveillance, cameras are everywhere in elevators and in front of people’s homes, chanting: “Smile, you’re on camera.”

Visitors look on in front of the Sleeping Beauty-inspired castle at Disneyland Paris, in Marne-la-Vallee, Paris, France on 16 October 2023. (Ian Langsdon/AFP)
Visitors look on in front of the Sleeping Beauty-inspired castle at Disneyland Paris, in Marne-la-Vallee, Paris, France, on 16 October 2023. (Ian Langsdon/AFP)

We’re all waiting for a Stalin- or Disney-style surveillance — they’re bound to come sooner or later. Ah, Walt Disney? Yet another “empire” created by a Sagittarian. 

Sagittarians are dreamers — both Stalin and Disney had big, amazing dreams. One more — E.T. director Steven Spielberg is also a Sagittarian. 

A Sagittarian friend residing in Australia is passionate about social ideals and hopes to establish a community counselling system to help people with physical and mental health issues.  

But he is warm and lovely. Listening to him talk about his patients, I often feel that he is too emotionally invested. If therapy is like falling in love, he could end up with the same fate as Yang.  

But I often think about him, about that constellation in the heavens above which is like a dream factory that never stops making you want to fall in love.

I told him, “I’m going to write about Sagittarians.”

He replied in true Sagittarian fashion, “Ah, the best horoscope.”

Even though some people believe they are overly self-aggrandising, I genuinely like Sagittarians' capacity for humour and enjoyment.

This time, I invited Martin Lin, a Sagittarian, to create a drawing of the horoscope for this article. He was among the eighth batch of graduates from Tunghai University’s Department of Fine Arts. He later went to Japan to further his studies on Nihonga (a Japanese style of painting that uses mineral pigments, and occasionally ink, together with other organic pigments on silk or paper). 

“Does a centaur's abs grow on its upper human body or the lower part of the horse's body?”

The interior of the Miho Museum in Shigaraki, Japan. The museum was designed by American architect I.M. Pei. (Miho Museum)
The interior of the Miho Museum in Shigaraki, Japan. The museum was designed by American architect I.M. Pei. (Miho Museum)

When I visited him in Japan, he brought me to visit the newly constructed Miho Museum, see restored ancient murals at To-ji Temple, and have a drink at a bar in Osaka. Lin hailed from Tainan and exudes the pride of the former prefecture capital. He’s portly and round, often reminding me of the noblewomen in the Tang dynasty. There was a period of time when he drew the plump beauties of the Tang dynasty — they had looked very much like him.     

A particular masquerade ball of Tunghai University’s Department of Fine Arts left a deep impression on me. He was determined to win the top prize and had put on a strawberry blonde wig and wore his underwear on the outside to imitate Madonna, who was insanely popular at the time. He sped across Taiwan Boulevard on a motorcycle in his outfit at sunset, and had caused quite a commotion.

Is this typical Sagittarian behaviour?

But he only came in second. Clinching first place was an unassuming Scorpio — collected and sophisticated, like Audrey Hepburn coming down the stairs in My Fair Lady, walking and breathing elegance. The Scorpion didn’t have to lift a finger to defeat “Madonna”. 

I wonder if the Sagittarian was hurt. The next time I saw Lin, he actively worked out and trained at the gym every day. All the plumpness of Tang noblewomen turned into huge iron muscles.  

He wore a low-cut singlet that exposed his tough and stocky build which shocked me. I should not be biased, but I still cannot fathom that the fat Tang dynasty noblewoman had suddenly become a gym hunk.  

I want to thank Lin for creating a lacquer painting of the Sagittarius, using gold leaf and mica powder, making it as majestic and luxurious as stars in the night sky. The Sagittarius that he drew resembled his current physique — a chiselled body, an arrow drawn across a bow, and defined pecs and abs. I didn’t ask him, “Does a centaur's abs grow on its upper human body or the lower part of the horse's body?”

Martin Lin Yen-Liang, Sagittarius. (Photo provided by Chiang Hsun)
Martin Lin Yen-Liang, Sagittarius. (Photo provided by Chiang Hsun)

Regardless, I should say that I love Sagittarians and become extremely happy at the end of November and the beginning of December (when the Sun enters Sagittarius). 

But female Sagittarians seem to be a different species. I’m still mulling over the many female Sagittarians I know.

This article was first published in Chinese on United Daily News as “射手座”.

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