USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’
Folk Beliefs

Haircuts Kill Uncles

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as HZ.

HZ: This involves a Mandarin wordplay, so it might not translate into English, but I think it’s funny. So there’s a saying in China, that in January—like lunar calendar January, the whole month of New Year—you can’t cut your hair.

BD: Why is that?

HZ: Because it will kill your uncle on your mother’s side. Your mother’s brother. Because in Mandarin, we differentiate your mother’s siblings and your father’s siblings.
So your mother’s brother is “舅舅” (pinyin: jiù ji), and your father’s brother is “弟弟” (pinyin: dì di). The saying goes “正 月 剃 头 思 旧” (pinyin: zhēng yuè tìtóu sī jiù) meaning that if you cut your hair in the first month of the year, your uncle is going to die. In the Qin dynasty, when the Qin government took over, they forced all the Hun people to shave their heads, and change their hairstyle. So if you look it up, the first half of the head is shaven, and there is hair only in the back half. But a lot of people who didn’t like the new government and were reminiscent of the old regime, they protested by not cutting their hair. Being nostalgic, the word for that are the last two characters in the saying, “思 旧” (pinyin: sī jiù). But it sounds very much like “死 舅” (pinyin: sǐ jiù), which means “to kill your uncle.” So people just started saying that cutting your hair will kill your uncle. A lot of people still choose to not cut their hair in the New Year’s month.

BD: Does your family believe it?

HZ: It’s obviously silly, and I don’t think it really matters. But everyone keeps saying it, and Chinese people are very superstitious. So if they really don’t need it, they will try not to cut their hair. It’s totally baseless, but people still avoid that. Old barbershops just close their businesses in the lunar new year month.


 

Analysis:

http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-03/06/content_12126196.htm

The article above discusses the same saying, as it is thought about today in modern day China. The informant is quite accurate in that many people today do not believe the idea that an uncle will die, if they cut their hair during the first month of the lunar year. But the article also introduces another saying into the mix—”a time for the dragon to raise its head.” So there’s two contrasting ideas about getting a haircut during the lunar new year month. The photo caption introduces another superstition, that “getting a haircut on the second day of the second Chinese lunar month, which falls on March 6 this year, is likely to bring good luck.”

These varying superstitions around hair cutting and luck (whether it be good or bad) are all related to how words are spoken and thought of in Mandarin, or related to numbers and numerical values. I feel that this marks the significance of attributing specificity in meaning in Chinese culture. My informant, a linguistics major, would definitely agree.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Eating fruit before bed

My friend Justine is Chinese-American, and her parents are doctors who practice holistic Eastern medicine. She shared the following folk belief with me:

“I guess like, it’s a tradition to always eat fruit before going to bed, like you have to eat fruit before you go to bed cause that’s like, it’s better for your body and like it’ll help your immune system too. But I wonder if that’s actually helping, or if it’s more like a- it’s just something that a lot of people do. And I find that that’s like, [a common belief] across all Asian, especially Eastern Asian people.”

Like many folk beliefs and practices in East Asian medicine, this one is not necessarily based in empirical scientific proof, but this does not mean there is no truth to it. Remedies and folk beliefs formerly dismissed as “superstitious” have often been tested and proven effective by the medical/scientific institution, and subsequently incorporated into Western medicine. This belief reflects a general practice in Eastern medicine of focusing on overall bodily wellness rather than quick cures for acute illness.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Sickness & not wearing socks

My friend Justine is Chinese-American, and her parents are doctors who practice holistic Eastern medicine. She shared the following folk belief with me:

“Something that like, my family weirdly believes–and I’m gonna equate this to, like, Eastern medicine or like, myths in Eastern medicine–but my family hates it when I don’t wear socks because they think that if you don’t wear socks, that’s the first like, way you can get a cold. Because like, your feet–and this is true–your feet are like a good signifier of your body temperature, so like, if your feet are cold it means the rest of your body is probably gonna feel cold too. And like, if you are cold you are more susceptible to getting a cold…Also no cold drinks, because it’s like the colder your body is, the more susceptible you are to getting sick.”

Like many folk beliefs and practices in East Asian medicine, this one is not necessarily based in empirical scientific proof, but this does not mean there is no truth to it. Remedies and folk beliefs formerly dismissed as “superstitious” have often been tested and proven effective by the medical/scientific institution, and subsequently incorporated into Western medicine. This belief reflects a general practice in Eastern medicine of focusing on overall bodily wellness rather than quick cures for acute illness.

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.

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.

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).

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.

 

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