USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’
Foodways
general
Material

A Poor Chinese Communist’s Guide to Cooking

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend is Chinese on his mother’s side, and she grew up in a poorer part of Communist China.

The Cooking Method: Because of the lack of proper food that poor Chinese people had to eat, they adopted a method of cooking that involved simply throwing whatever was edible and available together “in ways that made it taste good.” Over time the method became just the natural way of cooking to the people, even once regular food and ingredients became available.

Analysis: I like that the originator of this method of cooking is merely the will to survive, rather than simply a single person who decided to start cooking things a certain way. It’s also interesting to point out that these are folk recipes that emerged from a certain socioeconomic climate, a product of a generally difficult time period for the proletariat Chinese. More ties to folklore and the history of a culture.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

No Dancing in Texas/China

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend was originally born in Texas, where his father is from, before moving to California as a child. His mother is an immigrant from China.

Dialogue: Yeah, um, again, I wrote a paper for dance history class that was in freshman year, about my personal experience with dance, and the professor gave me 100%, pulled me out of the class, and said, “Hey, I really enjoyed that paper, it was really cool, and I really appreciated the way that you opened up in the paper about your experiences,” because I wrote about how I have absolutely NO personal cultural experience with dance, like, in my life… Um… And that was due to the fact that my father was from the Deep South, and there, uh, at least for men, dance was seen as… something that was highly effeminate, and, like, if you danced it would somehow make you gay, um, and being from the Deep South he didn’t want me to be gay… So, I just NEVER danced as a child! And, then, on my mother’s side of the family, I had no cultural experience with dance because… uh, she was from China, but she was born under the Mao regime, and, um, during that time, a LOT of forms of art were actually pushed, um, out of the cultural sphere… And so there wasn’t really any dance except for this one dance that they did was like, “Hail the Might Mao” or whatever. Um… And, most forms of art were pushed out, so I had no culture of dance from that side either.

Analysis: I debated whether or not to check this under the Folk Dance category, but went against it because there isn’t actually a dance to be learned or performed. It’s interesting to compare these two different types of censorship, and see how much they’re based on the same kind of ideals. While the Maoist restriction of dance and art forms in general is more a complete totalitarian regime, the Deep South’s stereotyping and discrimination against gay people is more focused and specific. Yet they’re both based on the idea of controlling what people do through the use of villainization (against art and homosexuality, respectively).

Foodways
general
Material

Conserving Chili Oil

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend is Chinese on his mother’s side, and she grew up in a poorer part of Communist China.

Dialogue: Recently, when my mom cooked, she would kind of be leading me through what she was doing, because I was gonna be going to college and needed to know how to cook for myself, live on my own and everything, and in the the past, like, three years I’ve helped her with cooking, helped her with dinner and everything. Um, and specifically, there is a sauce that we had at my house. My entire childhood we had this sauce. It was a, a special chili oil that actually her mo- her father made for her. Um… and I think I’m diverging but that’s fine! But the— this chili oil, like, it’s kind of like… You know how when people make sourdough you need to have, uh, like a seed sourdough batch that you use to build the next one, and then each sourdough is like a build on that previous sourdough? The chili oil was kind of like that, so she would have this— er, her father would have this chili oil that he, he had made a very long time ago, and then it would run low, and then he would just build on what he already had… Um, and so then the chili oil that we have in my house is vastly different from where it began, and honestly I have no idea if he was the first one to make the chili oil. But it’s in little glass jars now, so, it’s… become a little modernized now, at the very least.

Analysis: I really love how symbolic this is of the passing of the family line, and has some connections to the idea of ancestors living on in the form of little bits of chili oil that are still left over from decades earlier. It’s very unique as well, for something out of Chinese culture, and really reflective of how the Communist regime in the country affected the poor, what will the recycling of materials for each fresh batch of chili oil.

Foodways
general
Legends
Material
Narrative

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is a legend behind a certain dish that my roommate knew about.

Dialogue: The way the legend goes is that the original person who created it was cooking the soup, and on the other side of “the wall” there was, um, a Buddhist, or maybe a Buddha, since that’s what they call them when they achieve nirvana, um, meditating, and once the soup was finished it smelled so good that, uh, the Buddhist monk summoned all of his strength and leaped straight over the wall just to have a taste of the soup.

Analysis: I looked up the recipe this legend is based on (see below), and the complicated cooking process is one of the biggest clues as to what might make it delicious enough for a Buddhist monk to forsake their oath of vegetarianism (anything that takes three days to cook MUST taste amazing). While the other stories I’d heard from this roommate revolved around Vietnam, I found that this legend is of Chinese origin, and collectively these pieces then show us how the spread of Buddhism has affected lives and folklore tellings across East and South Asia (or, at least, in more than just one country).

Annotation: The recipe for Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, as well as a slightly different origin of the dish, can be found here.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Old Man, the Boy, and the Mule

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: This is a story that my friend read when he was learning to speak Mandarin as a child.

Dialogue: This old guy and his young son are on their way to the market, and they’re riding a mule and taking all their stuff with them. They start off, uh, the, the young guy, er, the… The old man is walking alongside the mule and the young, the young boy is sitting on the mule, and as they walk by a group of people, they overhear the people, like, criticizing— er, like, gossiping about them, criticizing: “Why is the, why is the young guy riding the mule and forcing the old guy to walk?” So the, the pair hear this, and don’t really wanna be judged, so they switch places. And so the old guy starts to ride the mule, and the young guy starts to walk, um… And, so then, they, as— They keep going, and they pass another group of people, um, and, they overhear some more gossip. These people are like, “Wha- Why is the, why is the old guy not letting the, the young boy ride the mule? How selfish is he?” And so, at that point, they… switch again, cuz of, after overhearing those people, um… So then they keeping going for a bit… And then they walk past another group of people and they overhear some more gossip, er, some more, um, talk. And these are like, “Wow, look at those two, they’re forcing that mule to carry so much stuff, poor mule!” Uh, so, at that point, the two decide to, they basically start carrying the mule on the way to the market.

Analysis: The friend who told me this story said that the moral he gained from hearing it was to avoid letting judgment from others affect your own actions. According to him, this is an older story that he read as a a way of learning more Mandarin. I would agree with him about the story’s moral, but I’d like to compare his delivery to that of the original.

Annotation: Upon further research, it was found that this is one of Aesop’s Fables. The moral given in the strict Aesop version is “Please all, and you will please none.” This was very enlightening to me, since it showed how differently the story appeared to my friend once it reached him as a child.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo

“So this is a Chinese one.  Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo.  So back then, way, way back in time, back in Chinese time, um, sons were idolized and first borns were the most treasured member of the family.  Cause of that they gave them huge long regal names that worshipped them.  It would be like, “One that I worship”  And so it would be a big long name like, uh, and then, uh, so this woman had two sons.  The first one, her firstborn she named Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo.  So and then, which means like “One that I adore” or “Most wonderful child in the world” and then she had a second son and she named him Chang, which means like “Second” or “Another” or something– you know, it was a very short name.  And she idolized her oldest son and thought he was wonderful and, um, but anyway, the boys loved each other and they would play together and everyday the mother would go down to the river and do her washing and the boys would go and they’d play around her.  And there was a well by the river and um, sometimes their mother would let them go up on the hill and let them play, play near the well cause it was a nice view.  So they’d play around up there and, um, one time, Chang, got a little too adventurous, and he was lookin’ in the well and he was so small and he, uh, lost his balance, and he tumbled in… and, it was awful.  And Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo ran all the way down the hill with his little legs and told his mother that Chang had fallen into the well.  And the mother said, “Oh what? What are you saying?  Speak up, the water’s so loud down here I can’t hear.  So the boy hollers, “Chang fell into the well!!”  And his mother goes, “Ohhh, go get the old man with the ladder then.  Underneath the tree.”  So Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo runs over to the man with the ladder and says, “Ohh my brother has fallen into the well, Chang has fallen into the well!  Please come help me with the ladder!!”  And the guy says, “Oh I’m comin’ right straight away!”  So they get him out, they fish him out of the well and, uh, the old man, like turns him up on his knee and pumps all the water out of him and Chang is kinda choking and gasping for a moment, but he comes back to life, you know, he’s good as new within 20 minutes.  He comes back, he’s just fine.  Um, so, the boys were very scared of that incident, so many, many months pass before they go up on the hill again.  But they got braver and braver and they went up finally, after a long time, and they got a little more braver and braver and more curious and more curious about the well cause Chang had told hi brother about the well and what had happened inside it.  And soo, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo says, “Ooo I wanna poke my head in there.”  And Chang says, “Be careful, I wouldn’t do it if I were you.”  And well, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo does it and, um, falls into the well!  And Chang, on his little legs runs down the hill as fast as he can to his mom to his mom and says, “Mom, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And he’s practically out of breath after such a long name and running down the hill.  And the mom has the water rushing in her ear and can’t hear and says, “What?? What are you saying to me?”  And he says it again, he says, “Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And she’s like, “What nonsense are you talking!?”  Because he’s just like saying it so quick, and so she says, “Slow down! What are you saying!?”  So then, the boy is so out of breath he says really slowly, “Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo is in the well!!!”  And his mother says, “You should show your older brother more regard than saying his name like that!!”  But then she realizes that he’s fallen in the well and she says, “Oh my goodness, run, run right away to the man on the hill with the latter.  So the boy, whose exhausted now trying to get his mother to pay attention to him, runs over to the guy whose sleeping under the tree.  And so he’s out of breath and can just barely get it out of his mouth and he says, “Sir, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And the old man is sleeping and Chang’s voice isn’t loud, so he’s like, “What? What?  What’s in my dream?”  And, um, the boy jostles him and says, “Sir, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo is fallen in the well!!  And the guy is like, “What?”  And finally Chang shouts, “My brother fell in the well!!!”  And the guy says, “Oh my gosh, lemme get my latter!!”  And they run up to the well, run up the hill, and the poor kid is like completely out of breath.  But they get there and they drag the boy out and they try and try and try to revive him, and they work really hard, and they do revive him, but it is many, many– he is sick for a very long time after that, and um, ever since then, Chinese people have stuck– they have stuck with short, quick, easy names to say.”  

 

Conclusion:

 

This story was told to me by my Aunt Susan.  She said she heard it when a teacher told it to her son’s kindergarten class on a day when she was helping out at the school.  This was one of my favorite pieces that I collected.  I think it’s cool how it’s a long story that has an ending that provides an explanation for a specific aspect of Chinese culture: using short, quick names.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

Wong Fei Hung- A Chinese Legend

Informant is a Chinese American student at USC from Houston, Texas. Her parents were born in China, but she was raised in the United States. This is a story that she was told when she was younger.

“So, uh, this is one of the stories that my dad used to tell me about when I was younger. It’s about a person called Wong Fei Hung, who was a legendary Chinese martial artist who was born sometime in the late 1800’s. So it was actually a real person haha. But there are many stories about how he was the greatest kung fu martial artist of his time, and had mastered many of the kung fu styles, including one that he had made famous, called the Hung Gar style or something. One of the stories goes that he helped to save parts of China from the Imperial Japanese Army by teaching the local farmers kung fu so that they could fight back, and then leading them against the Japanese troops to save their lands. He’s a pretty big deal in China, so I guess its pretty cool because he was a real person and not just a myth. I’m not sure if all the stories I heard were completely true however.”

Did you ever do kung fu?

“Oh no not me hahaha. But this is a famous story for a lot of Chinese people, so you don’t have to be a kung fu student to have heard of it.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This is an example of a legend about a person who actually lived in real life and did important things, but the stories told about them may have been exaggerated or made up to make them seem like an even bigger deal. I have also heard about this story from my Vietnamese dad, so it is a very popular tale in Asia.

 

For another modern version of this story, see the movie Rise of the Legend (2014), a Chinese film on Netflix that tells about the Wong Fei Hung legend and how he rose to fame and saved his town.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Hong Ahn (Egg Rub Remedy)

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

So whenever I like fell down or had a nasty fever my mom would put this egg—she would boil an egg and she’d cut them open and then you’d have to slice it and then you take out the yolk and then you put a real silver coin in it where the yolk was and then you put the egg in a like cloth like hanky and then you twist it and then you rub it against wherever you‘re hurt like if you got a headache you put it on your forehead and then if you have like a bruise on your knee you’d put it on your knee and then you’d have to keep rubbing it and then the coin would suck out all the bad vapors from that area all the negative stuff and then the coin would turn to different colors so like it depends on what color it is. It means like different things. So if the coin turns black or blue it means you have too much like cool air and red and orange it means it’s too much hot air or like yi-hei and then that means like you’ve been eating too much fried food instead—you’ve had like too much hot air. Well that’s it, so the coin sucks out all the bad stuff that’s been making you hurt.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first learned of this Chinese remedy when her mother performed it on her when she was sick as a child. She felt much better laying on her mother’s lap and feeling the pleasant warmth of the boiled egg gently rubbed on her face.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This traditional Chinese medical treatment involves continuous pressured strokes over the skin with a rounded tool. It has been practiced by practitioners, who believe the treatment releases negative elements from injured areas, stimulates blood flow, and encourages healing. Nowadays, Chinese parents often use this remedy on their children whenever they have a fever or a cold or whenever they feel depressed.

My Thoughts about the Performance

This is a remedy that my mother has also practiced on me when I was sick or unhappy. Common spots parents rub the boiled egg on are the forehead and eyes. The warm sensation of the egg, while laying on one’s parent’s lap, gives a sense of security and calm to the child. I find it fascinating how this ancient folk medicine maintains a continued presence in today’s world, passed down by generations of families. In the past, this treatment seemed to have a more respectable and legitimate status. Now, it is generally treated as a placebo effect to comfort people, specifically children.

Folk speech
Proverbs

No ivory is there in a dog’s mouth

Title:

My informant LWQ is a 47 years old Chinese artist. She was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 36.

The conversation is in Chinese.

 

Main piece:

Original script: “狗嘴里吐不出象牙。”

Phonic script: “gǒu zuǐlǐ tǔ bù chū xiàng yá.”

Transliteration: “No ivory is there in a dog’s mouth.”

Full translation: “A filthy mouth cannot utter decent language.”

Analysis on the script: Dog is a representation of badness, or vulgarity, while ivory symbolizes objects that are valuable and precious. This idiom is used to describe a person’s speech in sarcasm, that the words from this person are all truthless hogwash.

 

Context of the performance:

My informant LWQ was joking about a conversation between her and her husband. In a jocular manner, she described her husband’s words using this idiom, to express a disagree attitude in her husband’s words.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

It is very interesting that there are so many idioms, proverbs in Chinese about dogs, and without any exception, dogs carries negative meanings in all those folk pieces. In general, dogs represent inferiority, humbleness, degradation, and manifests people who are inferior in morality and status. However, at the same time, though folk pieces about dogs are all negative, they are used in a jocular manner, always being performed in joking, or playful satire. Moreover, I remember by grandmother always call me “狗东西” (phonic script: “gǒu dōng xī”, transliteration: “Dog thing”, translation: “doggie”) where dog is used in a term of endearment. It seems that there’s an ambiguous attitude toward dog among Chinese people.

Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

Chinese Zodiac Origin Story

So I understand that you’re going to tell me a story?

“Yeah, I got you a story. This story’s about, umm… why the Chinese Zodiac’s in the order it is. So you know the Chinese Zodiac, right? It’s like, 12 years, it’s a 12 year cycle, there’s 12 animals, and it’s, umm… Rat, uhh, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat… Chicken… Wait, Monkey, Chicken…? I think it’s Monkey, Chicken… It’s either Monkey Chicken or Chicken Monkey, [laughs] and then it’s Dog and Pig [laughs].”

We’re off to a great start!

“It’s Monkey, Chicken. It’s Monkey, Chicken. Cuz’ I have to translate from Chinese to… yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay so the order that… so then, once upon a time, back in the old days, some god was like, ‘hey, we, uhh, there’s a lot of animals-‘ ”

Do you remember this in Chinese?

“Do you want me to say it all in Chinese?”

Yeah, if you can.

“You want me to, like, say this story, well I mean it’s, like, it’s a folk story, it’s just a story… Saying it in Chinese would be harder for me, because I remember the contents of the story, and my Chinese is worse than my English.”

Okay, then we’ll go on in English.

“Yeah.”

Who’d you learn it from? Let’s start there.

“Probably my grandma? Or my mom or dad? This was told to me when I was really young.

It was a race, the gods were deciding which 12 animals to deify, kind of, or like make into a calendar, or something, some sort of race. So it, so… yeah, so something was happening, but they were like, ‘Hey, alert all the animals, we’re gonna have a race to determine who’s the dankest- Oh, I’m sorry, who’s gonna be deified, who’s gonna be chosen, right- [laughs] Asian-American…

But yeah, so then, they told the rat to go alert everyone. So the rat was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do that.’

And the rat does go and tells everyone, but he tells everyone that the race starts a little bit later than it actually did, and then… the rat also specifically does not go to the cat, because the rat hates the cat.

So then, umm, then the day of the race comes, the rat’s there on time, and a few are early, or the ones that happen to be nearby, so then, umm, the race starts, and then the animals start running, and then some of them show up late, and some of them are on time. And then, umm, so you think, oh, it’s a race, how the heck is the rat first place then?

Well, the rat’s real smart. So he told the ox to show up on time, because the ox is a real strong, dependable guy, and the rat was like, ‘I’ll navigate for you, and you run, and together, we’ll be a great team.’

So the rat sits on the ox’s back, and he navigates, and they get a head start and ox is a strong, sturdy partner, and then they get to the end first, and right before the finish line,  the rat jumps off the ox’s head to be first place.

And that’s why the rat has this reputation of being like, really shrewd, and somewhat manipulative, and the ox is sturdy, solid.

The reason the tiger came in after, and so is the rabbit, but in the middle of the race. There’s also a river, so like, those animals weren’t as adept, so the ox could walk straight through no problem, because he didn’t mind it as much, and everyone else starts trickling in.

And normally the dragon would be like, number one, even more so than the ox, but uhh… the dragon and the phoenix were having a uhh, uhh, like a tussle. They were, they started the race, and then they, like, started arguing with each other, cuz’, historically dragons and phoenixes are, like, real bad to each other, they don’t like each other, fight a lot, they’re both like kings of the sky, but theyre like very different kinds of king, and they’re both very prideful animals. So then they started fighting, and the dragon won the fight, and then managed to end up fifth. [laughs]

And everyone else starts trickling in, monkey, dog, and the pig actually ends up making it.

Umm, yeah, and the cat woke up too late, cuz it didn’t know, cuz the rat didn’t, like, alert the cat, and then the cat’s basically like, oh, well I guess I dont, oh, [laughs]

So the cat’s not in it, even though there were a bunch of cats back then. That’s that story.”

Analysis: This is a very unique take on the Chinese Zodiac origin story, as told from memory and in constant mental translation. Yet, with the occasional bit of American slang, all of the animations that the informant was making use of, and the constant changes in pitch and inflection to emphasize humor, it was a very fun and unique experience to listen to.

Like many myths, the Zodiac origin story probably has a slew of moral wisdom packed into it. The full story, therefore, likely has more lessons for the audience from each animal’s experience. Knowing the informant personally, however, it is evident why he recalled the rat’s cleverness most clearly, as that part of the story was likely the most relatable to him.

[geolocation]