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Folk Beliefs
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Material
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persimmons scare the tiger who wants to eat crying babies

Context
I was having lunch with the subject, and he told me about this bed time story. He lived in Korea until he was 14 years old, one year from finishing middle school. He then moved to the United States to finish his middle school and high school.

Piece
Informant: It’s really for a kid who don’t go to bed or like keep crying. So, this involves a baby crying. So, basically, you are the main character. And, there is an evil tiger outside. Trying to get the crying baby. So, basically the old ones, for me it was my grandma. My grandma keeps telling me,’if you keep crying the tiger is going to get you.’ But I’m in the middle of an apartment. There is no way the tiger is going to get me. Or else, the zookeeper is going to come and pull it away. And now I still don’t know how I believe in this story. I believe that the tiger is going to come and get me.”

Interviewer: Are you afraid of it?

Informant: Not any more. Yeah, so the way you defend off the tiger is actually like — you know what persimmon is? Persimmon is like a fruit. It’s very sweet fruit. So, the dry version of it. They say, if you give that to the tiger, the tiger will actually run away. So, they will actually bring it from the fridge and give it to you, and you basically eat that. And people eat it, because of the childhood story. So, to summarize it. A child keeps crying so the grandma basically threatens the child that if you keep crying the tiger is going to come for you. But the kid stills cries because there is a tiger coming, right. So, the Grandma gives the persimmon and the child stops crying, right? Because it’s food and you can eat it, and you can’t cry while eat it. So the tiger outside is scared by the persimmon because persimmon is stronger than the tiger.”

Analysis
I ask whether persimmons carry some special meanings. He explains that the fruit is eaten in late autumn. It is also dried so that it could be eaten in the winter, like in early February. The fruit is eaten on holidays such as Lunar New Year, which is on Jan. 15. The informant believes that persimmon symbolizes family reunion because people eat it when they meet their family on holidays. He says that it is not a national fruit. When I asked him why persimmon scares off the tiger, he said persimmon is not a repellent against the tiger, but rather a stronger version of the tiger because it stops the baby from crying better than the tiger does. He explains that persimmon stops the baby from crying, because it is a sweet food, and the baby has to stop crying so that it can eat the fruit.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The fairy and the woodworker

Context
I was having lunch with the informant. He lived in Korea until he was 14 years old, one year from finishing middle school. He then moved to the United States to finish his middle school and high school.

Piece
Informant: So, the male is not a farmer, but actually a woodworker. So he just like, cuts down trees.
So, the fairy is taking a bath. And like in a mountain, like a hot spring, for example. And then, the guy sees it. The guy cutting down trees sees it. So he takes the clothes away. And the fairy doesn’t know what happened. So the guy comes out and is like, if you want clothes you’ve gotta be my wife, which is, criminal. And then they become a forced couple, because that’s the guy’s wish. And then the girl somehow sees the clothes in the house and wears it and goes to the sky with her kid. And the guy doesn’t know what happened. That’s how the story ends basically.

The guy and the girl – they both didn’t want to be separated, but I don’t know why the girl wanted to be separated – wait, the girl wanted to be separated. She’s basically going back home.

Comment
Interviewer: so it’s the guy trying to find the girl?

Informant: Well, that’s the worst thing. I think, technically the both want to stay because they have a child. But she took the child with her. Then who pays for the child? (smile) That’s like a two-thousand year-old divorce story.

Analysis
The story is a shortened variation of the Chinese folktale the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. In the story, a cowherd hides a fairy’s clothes and keeps her as his wife. Then, the fairy finds her clothes and is forced to return to the sky, leaving her children behind. Her mother forbids her from seeing her husband and separates the family by creating the Milky Way. Finally, the family are able to reunite on the Qi Xi Festival (七夕节) on the bridge formed by magpies.
The informant told me that Korea had two separate stories developed from the Chinese folktale. This version is a variation of the first half of the Chinese folktale. The cowherd becomes a woodworker, because forests are abundant in Korea, while fields and cows are common in China.

 

Game
Kinesthetic
Legends

Game for Summoning Ghosts

Context
The informant is currently a Chinese college student. She heard this piece when she was in Junior High School. We were talking about ghost stories when she brought out this piece.

Content
Informant: You need to find a rectangular room. 4 people each stand in 4 corners. A person starts to walk along the wall. S/he touches the next person, who starts to walk. This person touches the next person who then starts to walk. And there are 4 people who had played the game for the whole night until they realized that when the fourth people walked towards the first people, s/he should’ve not touched the first person, so there was 1 extra person.

Interviewers: Wait, why the fourth person should not touch the first person when s/he walks back?

Informant: Because the first person is not yet back. He stayed where he touched the second person.

Interviewer: Oh f**k. What’s next?

Informant: The story just ends.

Interviewer: I felt a chill just ran down my spine.

Informant: I just remembered that this is a ghost-summoning game. You basically follow the rule to see if you can resume it.

Interviewer: OMG. Are there any requirements like turning off all the lights?

Informant: Yes. Make sure that no one can see the person in front of him/her.

Interviewer: By the way, what do you mean by ghost-summoning?

Informant: Basically, if you can keep on with the game, then there is a real ghost coming out.

Analysis
The informant told me that this had been her childhood shadow.
This story is most frightening if the audience imagines the occasion carefully. Many people would get stuck, not understanding why the first people should not be touched by the fourth people. But the scenario is fully understood with a little effort, the story turned out very scary. The story doesn’t describe many details, which invites the audience to draw their most frightening imaginations on what is the ghost and what would happen to the 4 people trapped in the game.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Guang Hua has 30 floors; a jump solves a thousand troubles.

Context
The informant is a freshman at Fudan University. We were talking about our lives as college students when she brought up this item.

Piece
光华三十楼,一跃解千愁
Roman form: Guang Hua san shi lou, yi yue jie qian chou.
Transliteration: Guang Hua thirty floors, a jump solves a thousand troubles.
Full translation: All trouble will be solved if you jump from the top of the 30-story-tall Guanghua Building.

Analysis
According to my informant, Guanghua Building is 2 strangely tall buildings at Fudan University. They are 30-story tall, while most other buildings are only 4-5 story tall. Facilities in the buildings are mainly offices.
Besides, this is a parody of a Chinese line from an old book called Zeng Guang Wen Xian

三杯通大道,一醉解千愁
Roman form: San bei tong da dao, yi zui jie qian chou.
Transliteraition: 3 cups to big road, a drunk solves a thousand trouble.
Full translation: A few shots of alcohol delight people, while being drunk solves all the trouble.

The original line explained how alcohol kills all the bad mood. In the parodic version, suicide is likened to alcohol, because once you are dead, you wouldn’t need to worry about anything else. As a parody, this item sounds like it should be dealt with seriously, which adds to its funniness. For the students, they are aware of and even empathetic with college students who commit suicide, especially as a result of academic anxiety. By expressing this possible outcome in a funny way, the students find a solution to solve a cognitive disagreement: a) to kill off anxiety in an extreme way; b) to never think about extreme conducts such as committing suicide.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Game
Homeopathic
Magic
Proverbs

Step on a crack, and you will break your mother’s back.

Context
The informant is a Chinese American. We were discussing interesting superstitions in Chinese or American cultures when she brought out this item.

Content
You’re not supposed to step on cracks in the floor. If you step on it, you’re going to break your mother’s back. And I think kids kinda play for fun with it when they’re little. There are very few kids who actually believe it. Obviously, because kids step on it all the time, and no one’s mother dies of that. It’s mostly just for fun.
Interviewer: And how do they play with it? Like in what situations?
Informant: Someone would say, don’t step on the cracks or you would break your mother’s back. And all the kids have to avoid stepping on cracks. They just have to all walk around like to avoid cracks,
Interviewer: And they just do it for fun?
Informant: Yeah, they just do it for fun.
Interviewer: Like, they laugh and walk around it?
Informant: Kind of. It’s more like if someone does accidentally step on a crack, they would point it out and like, ‘haha, you stepped on a crack; you broke your mother’s back!’ kind of thing. It’s obviously rude and stupid.

Analysis
First, the saying itself includes a rhyming between “back” and “crack”. This is probably how the crack in the road is connected with the mother’s back.
Second, the saying involves homeopathic magic. Stepping on a crack is likened to actually stepping on mother’s back.
Third, the kids make fun of the saying, because they don’t believe in it. There is a counter-hegemonic feeling involved. The kids are supposed to follow the saying even they don’t believe it, so they follow the saying in an exaggerated way: for example, they intentionally avoid all the crack, and make fun of the kid who accidentally steps on a crack instead of feeling worried for the kid’s mom.
My informant doesn’t believe in the saying. She thinks the saying is stupid. She also cannot understand the doings of the kids.

Legends
Magic
Narrative
Old age

An apartment is found haunted by reflection on the window

Context
The informant grew up in Beijing. We were discussing ghost stories when she brought out this story.

Content
A man bought a new apartment. It was on the first floor. Outside the window is the garden, a small grassland in a residential district. He said that when the apartment was being furnished, he often saw an old man staring at him strangely from the window. When he walked outdoors to find the old man, the old man disappeared. When he moved into the house, a friend of his came to visit him. He told his friend that he often saw an old man. He asked his friend to go out and take a look, while he stood indoors to see whether the old man disappeared from the window. The friend went out, and then ran in hurriedly, brought him out and said, “You could not live in the apartment. The old man is a reflection on the window.”

Analysis
Because the old man is a reflection on the window, he is a ghost in the house. The main motif of the story is that mirrors or mirror-like object (window in this story) can show the reflection of ghosts, even though ghosts cannot be seen directly. Notice that the ghost is an old man. The old man must have some unfulfilled wishes that connect with the apartment – he probably lives in the apartment. To me, the story reflects the anxiety of the working force who fail to pay enough attention to their aging parents.

Legends
Narrative

Supernatual event at Lu Xun Middle School

Context
The informant grows up in Beijing. The story happened in a middle school in Beijing. We were talking about ghost stories when she brought up this legend.

Content
Informant: In our city, there is a school called Lu Xun Middle School. Because it is Lu Xun Middle School, it has a statue of Lu Xun. I don’t know in what position, but the statue is pointing at a direction, I think it’s left. Then, a student for some reason goes into the school at midnight. He says that when he goes in the school, the statue looks as if it’s pointing to the right, but the statue is still facing the same direction. Then, he goes into the building to fetch his things. After that, his hand was dirty, so he washes his hand. When he comes out, the Lu Xun statue is still pointing to the right. So he goes home. But the next day, he is told that someone is killed. He goes back to see the statue. It’s still pointing to the left. He finds out that the sink where he washed his hands the night before is filled with the blood of the victim.

Analysis
I did some research online. It turns out that the Lu Xun Middle School is furnished in a traditional style. It was built in 1901 and 2 of its alumni were killed in the March 18 Massacre. The violence was taken by Bei Yang Governments, who tried to suppress a demonstration that asked the government to stop signing inequal treaties to western countries. The famous writer Lu Xun called it “the darkest day in the history of the Republic of China”.
The school was named after the influential Chinese writer Lu Xun, who was honored for attacking conservative forces relentlessly by his writings at that time.

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