Author Archive
Customs
general
Protection

Yellow String

“The informant wears a yellow string tied around her wrist. It was given by her mom for luck.”

After thoughts: The strings are called blessing cords and used in Buddhism practice. In the traditional practice, the Lama ties a knot in the cord and blows a mantra into it which makes a blessing. This allows you to take your teacher with you wherever you go. This is similar to many other religious traditions where the teacher is associated with spiritual blessings. They are meant to touch your body and purify any negative mantras.

Festival
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Zongzi,” a Traditional Chinese food

“During the “Duanwu” Festival, most families get together and eat “zongzi” which is basically sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Sometimes it’s stuffed with meat or red bean.”

The informant was born and raised in Taipei.

After thoughts: “Zongzi” is a traditional Chinese food eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. A popular belief of eating “zongzi” involved Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet from the kingdom of Chu. He was known for his patriotism, and unsuccessfully tried to warn the king against the expansionism of the Qin. In the end, the Qin general took the king and the Chu Capital. Qu Yuan was so upset that he drowned himself in the river. According to the legend, packets of rice were thrown into the river to prevent the fish from eating the poet’s body.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

“Gua sha” or “Coining”

“My uncle used to use a coin to scrape his skin whenever he wasn’t feeling well.”

The informant was born in the United States, but her family moved from China and celebrated Chinese holidays.

After thoughts: “Gua sha” is a traditional Chinese medical treatment where the person scrapes their skin to produce light bruising. This is believed to release the elements from injured areas and stimulate blood flow and healing. This can be seen in other societies such as in Vietnamese and Indonesian cultures.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red Envelope

“One of my favorite holidays growing up was Chinese New Year because I got a lot of red envelopes.”

The informant was born in the United States, but her family moved from China and celebrated Chinese holidays.

After thoughts: In China and other East Asian countries, a red envelope (“hong boa”) is a gift given during any special occasions. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is also a symbol to chase off evil spirits. Red envelopes are usually given out by married couples to single people regardless of age. The amount of money in the envelope usually ends with an even digit because according to Chinese beliefs, odd numbered money gifts are usually associated with funerals. The origins of the red envelope started during the Qin Dynasty, where the elderly would thread coins with a red string. The money was referred to as “money warding off evil spirits” and was also believed to protect the younger generation from sickness and death.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Qigong

“When I was young, whenever I had a stomach ache, my mom would always press on different areas on my stomach and tell me it will feel better because of “qigong.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: “Qigong” which means “Life Energy Cultivation” is a holistic system of breathing, and body posture used for health and spirituality. It has roots in Chinese medicine and philosophy and is viewed as a practice to balance the energy in the body. It dates back to ancient Chinese culture, especially in traditional Chinese medicine for preventative and curative functions.

Foodways
general
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Longevity Noodles


“Every birthday celebration, no matter where, and no matter the age, we always ate noodles to signify a long life.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: Longevity is one of the most respected ideals in Chinese culture, and reflects Taoism philosophy. Longevity is most commonly associated with birthdays, and noodles became the food metaphor because it;s long and continuous in shape. It’s important to not break off the noodle you are eating, since the longer it is, the longer it suggests your life will be. Also, cutting the noodles is considered unlucky and equivalent to cutting your own life. Longevity noodles symbolizes a long and healthy life.

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Surrounded by Symbolic Items

“There’s a tradition in China for a baby’s first birthday. The baby is surrounded by items such as a stethoscope, a spatula, a book, money, a tape measure, etc…” The baby is then encouraged to choose one of the items. Whatever item the child picks up would symbolize his/her future. So if the child chooses a spatula, then it means that he/she will be a chef.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: Many other cultures have similar traditions. Armenian parents celebrate this ceremony called Agra Hadig. Similarly, Dol is a Korean tradition that celebrate the first birthday of a baby and blesses the child with a prosperous future. In the past, death rates for children were high, so this was an important milestone for the whole family and wishes a long life and fortune for the baby.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle

Belly Button Story

“My mom kept me and my sister’s umbilical cord stump and put it together in a box. Apparently this means that we will have a good relationship in the future.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai. The informant’s mother heard this from her mother.

After thoughts:

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Families in China

“男的要让女的,姐要让弟“

Context: Whenever my sister and I used to fight, my dad would always tell us that “the boy must let the girl, but the older one must let the younger one.” So in the end, we shouldn’t actually be fighting at all.”

After thoughts: Similar to China’s traditions and beliefs about familial roles, the man is viewed as the head of the household and should be respected. However, the elders of the families are also well respected.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Rose

“Every rose has it’s thorn”

Interviewee: My grandmother used to say this to me. Not everything beautiful is perfect and everything that is beautiful has its flaws. Sometimes the most beautiful.”

The informant is Persian. A similar proverb, believed to be from Persia, says “he who wants a rose must respect the thorn.” Here the idea of imperfection is expressed and teaches people to love and respect one another despite individual differences and flaws.

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