Author Archives: Melody Chiu

Festival/Holiday – Chinese

Chinese Valentine’s Day

The 7th daughter of the Emperor of Heaven and a cowherd fell in love; the emperor was enraged that his goddess daughter fell for a lowly human. As a result, he separated the two lovers and were only given one day a year to meet—the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. The two lovers’ story actually begins with an ox that the cowherd was tending to. The ox was actually a god who was banished from the heavens after he committed certain crimes. The ox led the cowherd to a brook, where the emperor’s seven daughters were bathing. The cowherd fell in love with the youngest, and to keep her from returning to heaven, he stole her clothes. Without her magical clothing, she could not return to heaven with her sisters. The cowherd told the goddess that he would not return her clothes unless she agreed to be with him; because he was handsome, she agreed and fell in love with him. A few years later, the emperor demanded that his daughter be found and returned to her home in heaven; after he found her, he put her on a star so that she could not escape again. The cranes who saw all of this happening felt sorry for the two lovers, so they decided to help the goddess and the cowherd. On the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, millions of cranes gathered to form a bridge for the two to be together again, even if it was just for one day.

I was told this story by my Chinese teacher when it was asked if Chinese people celebrate Valentine’s Day. She said that Valentine’s Day, specifically February 14th, is not normally celebrated by more traditional Chinese immigrants. Rather, spouses or couples will celebrate their love for one another on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Before she told us this story, my teacher explained that Chinese people are more shy and hesitant about revealing information about their personal relationships. In addition, Chinese parents are also stricter about dating when it comes to their own children. Chinese parents tend to analyze their child’s partner; this relates to the story because the goddess’ father would not allow her to be with a mere mortal. He even went so far as to break them apart and break his daughter’s heart because he felt so strongly about the relationship.
My teacher also told us some legends that are related to this story. One legend that exists is about the weather; it is said that rain is especially frequent around Chinese Valentine’s Day. Chinese people claim that this is because the goddess and the cowherd are shedding tears because they have to separate after only a few hours together. Another legend that exists about Chinese Valentine’s Day includes the cranes that gather each year to help bring the goddess and the cowherd back together. It is said that it is very rare to see a crane on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in Asia. This is because all of them are gathering together in the Milky Way to build a bridge for the cowherd. Another legend that is told to reiterate the story is the fact that cranes have much fewer feathers on their heads than they do anywhere else. Not only this, but it is said that the feathers are especially few after Valentine’s Day in China.

Legend – Chinese

Chang Er & Hou Yi

Chang Er was an immortal girl living in heaven; the emperor banished her to live on Earth because she accidentally broke one of his belongings. The emperor told her that she must stay there until she proved she was worthy of returning the heaven. Chang Er was placed into a small village; one day, a handsome young hunter named Hou Yi saw her, and thought she was incredibly beautiful. One day, ten suns rose in the morning instead of one, scorching all the crops in the village. Hou Yi became a hero when he shot down nine of the suns with his bow and arrow. The people chose him to be their king, and he married Chang Er. However, he became a vicious tyrant and wanted to find an elixir that would make him immortal. Chang Er found it before him and swallowed the pill before Hou Yi could. After she did, she floated to the moon where she is still there today.

There are many variations to the story of Chang Er and Hou Yi. This is the version of the story that I was told by my father. Other variations include situations in which Chang Er became jealous of Hou Yi, thus she swallowed the elixir of life to spite him. However, because she used the elixir in the wrong way, she was banished to the moon. In another variation, it is said that the elixir was actually poisoned to stop Hou Yi’s evil actions. Chang Er did not know this, so she was actually the one who was poisoned. This story is often used to explain why there are several shadows in the moon. It is quite like the story of the man on the moon in Western culture. Another “shadow” that is on the moon is the figure of a woodcutter. This woodcutter is actually a man who tried becoming immortal. This angered the gods in heaven severely, so he was given the “chance” to redeem himself. The gods told him that if he could successfully chop down a tree on the moon, they would allow him to return to heaven. However, this was a trick—once he reached the moon, he realized that the tree grew back immediately each time he cut it down. All of these stories are also told to teach children moral listens. Another figure that exists on the moon is the rabbit. This legend is also existent in Western culture. In Chinese culture, however, the rabbit is a symbol of luck and fortune. Rabbits are seen as quick witted, fast, and lucky. While all of these legends are entertaining bedtime stories, they are also stories to teach children not to be greedy. My father told me this story when I was young to tell me to be grateful for what I have, and not to long for more, especially if it is obvious that there will be consequences.

Myth – Chinese

Pangu and the Beginning of the Earth

At the beginning of time, only darkness existed and everything was very chaotic. In the darkness, however, there was a large egg in which lived a giant named Pangu. When he became very big, he broke the egg shell, and these shell bits became the heaven and the earth. Pangu was very happy with what he had done, but he was hesitant that the heaven and the earth might fall together. He placed himself between the heaven and the earth, and held up the sky with his hands. After the sky finally became secure, Pangu died. His body decomposed and slowly became all the elements of the world—wind, clouds, thunder, lightning, the sun, the moon, etc.

Many stories about the beginning of the Earth exist. It was actually my roommate who told me this story about the beginning of the universe. I asked her if she knew of any folk stories in Chinese literature, and this was the one she remembered with the most detail. She heard the story from her great aunt. Her great aunt told her and her siblings this story when she was ten because she wanted to pass on her heritage. My roommate and her family like to go camping many times during the year. The whole family goes together, and cousins, aunts, and uncles will often accompany them to Carlsbad, where they usually go to camp. This story was told while they were sitting around a campfire, cooking dinner together. To pass time, each family member told a story that they felt was of great importance to them. My roommate told me that while she does not believe that this story is actually the beginning of the Earth, she does believe is reiterates her heritage. She is a third generation Chinese, so she has been very influenced by Western culture, even more so than others whose parents might still be Chinese native speakers.

Proverb – Chinese


Translation: Old horse in stable still wants to run 1000 miles.

This is a proverb that my informant heard at the young age of eight. He told me that his mother scolded him when he naively pointed out an old man who moved very slowly. This proverb’s moral meaning is that people should not judge a person because he or she is aged. Although people may look aged on the outside, they have incredible wisdom on the inside due to experience that they have gained in their lifetime. Another moral meaning that this proverb holds is that even older people have dreams and aspirations that they want to fulfill.

In Chinese culture, the older a person is the more respect they deserve. This can be seen in birthday celebrations. One major birthday that is celebrated is the first full year of life; this is celebrated because very few babies lived to see their first birthday due to illness in the past. The next birthday that is celebrated is the twelfth birthday. This birthday indicates that a child has entered into adulthood. After this, very few birthdays are ever celebrated in China. The next important birthday is the 50th birthday. When a person has reached the age of 50, they are very much revered, because he or she has had 50 years of experience and knowledge. Grandparents are always given the first priority in a Chinese household. When their daughters or daughters-in-law are cooking meals, they must always think about what the grandparents want to eat. Grandparents also typically return to live in their child’s home when they become older. This is so that their children can return the love and time their parents spent on them.

Proverb – Chinese


Translation: Person needs face, tree needs bark.

This proverb means that a person needs a respectable reputation in order to survive. Like a tree needs its bark to protect itself from harsh weather, a person needs to have a “face” to show the world. My informant has heard this phrase many times in her life. Often, she heard it from her elders, such as parents, uncles, aunts, or grandparents. She told me that once, she was very disrespectful to her mother’s friend, and failed to say hello. Her mother used this phrase to scold her and tell her that not only does she look bad to her mother’s friend, but her mother looks very bad as well.

In Chinese culture, having a “face” is very important. There are other phrases that are similar to this phrase that is also often used. One phrase is that is similar is “mei you lian.” The literal translation for this phrase is “having no face.” One of the most important aspects of social interaction in Chinese culture is taking someone out to eat. Often in Chinese restaurants, one will see many people at the same table fighting over the check; the idea of “going Dutch” is simply unheard of. Thus, a phrase including the words “losing” and “face” will often be heard in restaurants. Different families will fight over the check by saying that if someone else pays for the check, they will “lose face” with the rest of the Chinese community.

Idiom – Chinese

Literal Translation: point out deer as horse
My informant was my father. He told me that my grandmother taught him this idiom at a young age. The literal translation of this idiom is “to point out a deer as a horse.” The meaning for this idiom is that sometimes a person has to purposely trick others to see who is loyal. Basically, sometimes the truth must be twisted in order to have a good outcome. My father told me that many idioms in Chinese culture seem very random—that is, the words in them seem very out of place. However, he said that every idiom has its own story.
This idiom’s story comes from China’s deep history. Zhao Gao, who was the chief advisor to the Emperor at the time, wanted to have control of the entire government. To do so, he knew that he must have loyalty from all of the members. As a result, he decided to make a plan in order to see who was loyal to him. He called all of the members of the government to one room. He then brought a deer to the front of the room and told everyone that it was a horse. Undoubtedly, many in the court, along with the emperor, were befuddled by his actions. However, some members of the government stood behind him and called the deer a horse. After that day, the chief advisor slowly got rid of all the court members who did not support him during his test. I personally see this test as one of malicious intent. However, my father says that though the story is one involving evil, the idiom has evolved to a good one. He says that people must be very careful of who they choose to be their friends, and sometimes it takes several “tests” to see who your true loyal friends are.

Recipe – Mexican

Tamale Filling:

  • pork loin
  • large onion
  • garlic
  • dried California chile pods
  • water
  • salt

Tamale Dough:

  • masa harina
  • beef broth
  • baking powder
  • salt
  • lard
  • dried corn husks
  • sour cream

My informant for this recipe is a Mexican-American classmate. I asked Darin if there were any special dishes that his family eats often, and he told me that one item his family always makes for Christmas is tamales. He says that every Christmas, his family and many family friends will all gather into the same kitchen to make batches of tamales. During this time, they are able to all come together, which he says is very rare because everyone is so busy. Darin says that this has been a tradition even since before he was born. Each person in the family will have a different job; the women will make most of the filling and the dough. The men do more of the “packaging,” most likely because the women are the ones who know the recipe. In fact, Darin had to ask his mother for the exact ingredients for the tamales, even though he has made tamales for more than 20 years. Making the tamales is an all-day event, so many of the family and family friends will go around telling stories. He says that the parents love to talk about their children and talk about family because family is very important in their culture.

Festival – Hawaii/Japan

My informant described the traditions that people in Hawaii carry out on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. More specifically, he described to me what Japanese-Americans in Hawaii do to celebrate because he is part Japanese. He says that one of the biggest traditions that Japanese people carry out is the popping of fireworks. On New Year’s Eve on the dot of twelve, almost everyone in Hawaii pops fireworks on their front lawn. The fireworks that they pop are long strings of red firecrackers, and they create very loud popping sounds. He said that there is a legend for why Asian-Americans do this in Hawaii; however, the tale actually started in China. The story begins with a dragon that lived in the mountains. Every New Year’s, the dragon would come down from his mountain and into the village to steal away the little children and eat them. For many years, the people in the village could not figure out what to do. Instead of being happy and celebrating the New Year, people were very afraid of the events that would undoubtedly come. Then, one day, a man thought of using gunpowder to scare away the dragon. At the strike of midnight, the man set off the gunpowder and it scared away the dragon. Now, it is tradition to “scare away the dragon” by being as loud as possible.

The next tradition that takes place is on New Year’s Day. He says that there is a huge Japanese karaoke song festival that many Japanese-Americans will watch the night of the start of the New Year. This festival is actually recorded in Japan on their New Year’s Eve. He and his family also drink a Japanese mochi soup called “ozoni.” Ozonie contains clear noodles in a chicken broth, and has a variety of vegetable such as baby corn, carrots, and bamboo shoots. At the very bottom of the dish is a piece of soft mochi. For dessert, he and his family will have Japanese-style mochi that is fried in butter. The mochi is then coated in a type of brown sugar called “kinako.”

My informant tells me that these traditions are very common in Hawaii. He says that the sound of all the firecrackers popping at the strike of twelve is very deafening. However, he says that it is a very exciting time, and it makes him and all of his neighbors feel closer to one another. The food that he and his family make is also something to have them bond. Because he is part Irish, part Chinese, and part Japanese, he does not actually have one culture to follow. He says that this way of celebrating the New Year is a good way for all of his cultures to mend together and accept one another.


My informant related a tradition that runs in her family every time Christmastime comes around. When she was very young, she, her mother, and her sister all went shopping together at a department store. There, they were all amazed as the beautiful decorations. They wanted to bring back a bit of the splendor so her mother bought them a Christmas diorama. The diorama came with fake snow, a church, a schoolhouse, a house, and a man and a woman. It became a tradition to add a new piece every year during Christmas.

My informant says that this tradition brings together her and her family. Because everyone is so busy during the rest of the school year (she has two older siblings, but who were in college well before she was), the diorama gives all of them an “excuse” to spend a lot of time together. They spend several weeks before Christmas shopping together and searching for a unique piece to add to their diorama. The diorama is only shown in the house during Christmastime, and it sits on her mantel in her living room. She says that every time she or the rest of her family looks at it, they remember all of the Christmases they have spent together since many years ago.

My informant says that this tradition might have been brought on by something her grandmother did. Her grandmother had a quilt that she made after she married her grandfather. Each year, her grandmother would add on another piece of fabric from a special item that would remind her of times she spent with her family. My informant feels that her mother based the diorama idea on her own mother’s tradition.

Proverb – Chinese

Literal Translation: big water poured into dragon king’s temple

My informant told me that she learned this proverb when she was put in a bad situation. She was the project leader for one of her school classes. The rest of her classmates in her group did very little to no work, so she did the work for them in order to get a good grade in the project. However, when she turned in the project, the teacher accused her of cheating. No one else in the group stood up for her, though she had actually been doing them a favor. After she told her family about the situation, her grandmother taught her this phrase.

In Chinese culture, the dragon is one of the most important and powerful creatures. Although in Western cultures, dragons are usually associated with evilness or maliciousness, in Chinese culture, a dragon is known as a benevolent and intelligent creature. In ancient China, the people believed that there was a dragon god or king that lived in the oceans. They believed that this dragon was in control of the weather and of the sea. Therefore, people often went to the temple of the dragon god in order to give sacrifices so that their families would be safe at sea and so that there would be good weather. This proverb is actually a twist of irony. The people would go to the dragon god’s temple so that the dragon would stop floods from happening. So, going to his actual temple and flooding it with water would actually damage the temple, therefore hurting the dragon.

The moral of this proverb is that sometimes even good people who are in control of things can get hurt. Even those who are kind and helpful to others may get burned by those they trusted. What my informant’s grandmother was trying to teach her is that sometimes you have to be able to have a thick skin and accept the way others treat you. It will only make her stronger and know how to deal with other things in her life.