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

Ghosts and Paralysis

Context:

The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. She recounts some of her grandmother’s traditions to cure paralysis. 

Body:

J: “So I got it from my grandma. So it talks about when people are suddenly paralyzed, they have to lie on their back and sometimes they blame it on a ghost. So, they actually say the ghost is dirty and you accidentally bumped into them when you were walking on the street because you can’t see them since they are a ghost but they want to get out – but they can’t. So you have to find someone who is specialized in the ghost theory and they will do some…they’re not like a magician…but they will do some sort of ritual/ceremony in order to get the demon outside of your body.”

A: “Kind of like a witch doctor?”

J: “Yeah like they will do different things like burn paper in order to cure and get out the demon from your body and then you can start to walk. I don’t know if it’s real, but what my grandma said is that it actually happened to one of her sisters and the witch doctor actually worked! I don’t know if she exaggerated some part of it.”

A: “Do you think that’s played into some of your grandma’s beliefs and what they have passed down to you?”

J: “I definitely think that it influenced her generation, but I don’t think it technically was passed down to my mom or me, but it’s still out there but we don’t actually believe it.”

A: “Do you think if you were to be paralyzed that your grandma would want you to have this treatment?”

J: “I don’t think so. What they say about ghosts is that there are less ghosts in the Western country like Europe and America they have less. Whereas in the eastern country, like China and things like that, we have more. Especially the rural parts like where the places aren’t civilized. Where it’s civilized with high rises, ghosts are scared of this because it’s crowded so they tend to move to the countryside and that’s where they are more active.”

A: “Is your grandma from a rural town?

J: “She was born in a rural town then moved to the big city when she was 16”

Takeaways/Thoughts/Analysis:

It is very intriguing regarding the informant’s grandmother and her beliefs that ghosts are stuck to people that then cause them to be paralyzed. This could relate to ancient Chinese medicinal cures as well for ailments and how she believes one has to perform rituals to rid one of the “ghost” of paralysis. This can also be seen as moe plausible due to the “FOAF” (Friend Of A Friend) phenomenon in which the informant’s grandma’s sister was cured from this ritual. An interesting note is one of her last sentences where she describes how ghosts are most active in the countryside since they are scared of cities. This could be due to the fact that usually rural towns are smaller and closer knit communities where stories are passed down more often and this plays into people’s beliefs. They also may not have knowledge on new medicinal technology. Whereas in the city, it can be a whole melting pot of many people from many places and this can cause some stories to be lost, and medicinal discoveries can be more easily known among an urban population.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Ghosts Affecting Crying Babies

Context:

The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. She is describing Chinese beliefs about crying children and how there is a belief held that babies cry the most loudly when they have a ghost that is connected to them. 

Body:

J: “So ya know when babies cry really loud during the night? This is blamed to ghosts. Because what they say is that babies are really vulnerable since they are just born and this is kinda like a life stem. When a baby is born, it’s like a small stem then they grow into a tree later. So it refers to their life as a stem and when they are first born, they are really vulnerable so little things like the wind can hurt them so that’s why babies sometimes can see ghosts because they’ve just been born and are more likely to see ghosts than adults.

So when they see a ghost, they can’t say it because they don’t know how to talk. So sometimes when a ghost haunts them in the night, they start crying and crying and crying and some kinds of ghosts will stick to the baby so that they baby will cry for a long time. Like every night they will cry. So what they do is some ritual ceremonies to get it out. Because a lot of babies tend to cry, but only a certain amount of babies cry really loud at night…every night. They have a certain name for them. **See image below for Chinese characters** So that’s the name.”IMG_1342

A: “So that’s for children that cry a lot at night?”

J: “Yep, like during the night some people will hear a baby cry at night and they will call them this.

A: “So to calm the babies at night then, they perform rituals to calm them down?”

J: “Yep”

A: “Have you ever heard of this happening in your family or friends lives?”

J: “One of my mom’s friends actually. But he is kinda old and my grandpa’s age. His grandson would always cry during the night. It didn’t happen after the day he was born but it actually would happen when he was two years old then he would always cry at night. So our friend actually found someone to perform the ritual and he stopped crying at night! It’s weird!”

Takeaways/Thoughts/Analysis:

This contribution that babies cry loudly during the night due to a ghost “sticking” to them can be seen as rational especially since babies don’t know how to communicate what they are seeing or experiencing except for them to cry. This can also be seen as more credible due to “FOAF” (Friend Of A Friend) where the informer had a family friend where the ritual was a success to calm the crying child! The ways of ridding the ghost seem to be rooted in ancient teachings and practices that were passed through from generations. The child’s crying can also be associated with a ghost because a child’s cry can be very aggravating as I am sure it would be to have a ghost possessing your body. To stop the crying and thus, “rid the ghost,” performing such rituals to make it go away would help the child sleep better and thus the care takers as well.  

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cold Remedy

Context: My informant first told me this remedy when I was sick with bronchitis. For collection purposes, I asked her about the remedy again and recorded the interview.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: When I was little and I got sick, and I had a runny nose, my grandpa would give me a bowl of brown stuff with ginger in it, and he goes, “Drink this. It’s boiled cola with ginger, and it’ll make you feel better.” And I’d drink it, and he’d tell me to eat all the ginger, and I do, it’s really spicy, and then a couple days later my nose isn’t runny anymore.

Me: Do you think that the remedy helps you?

Informant: Sure. It also tastes pretty good.

Me: It does. How old were you when your grandpa told you about it?

Informant: Three or five?

Me: And was this something that, um, runs in the family? Or did he learn it as a cultural thing?

Informant: Most Chinese people know it.

Me: What type of person would you normally share this with? Anybody, family members, friends?

Informant: People who don’t think I’m crazy.

Me: Do people usually react badly when you tell them about it?

Informant: Hmm… See, I haven’t tried it with anyone who might think I’m crazy.

Me: I see. So it’s more of a self selecting type thing?

Informant: Sure.

Me: How do you think it compares to other cold remedies?

Informant: It tastes better. And I don’t have to swallow any pills.

Analysis:

This remedy is meant to be both enjoyable and healing. Ginger flavored cola is more pleasant to drink than cough syrup, and my informant commented on its good taste. Hot liquids, such as tea and soup, are also commonly consumed by people with sore throats and coughs. This recipe also makes use of the spiciness of ginger to open one’s sinuses. According to the informant, the recipe is most often known by those of Chinese heritage and is commonly used by people within that demographic. My informant commented that she does not share this remedy with those she believes would react skeptically to it. The remedy has not yet gained prominence within Western medicine.

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