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

Haircut in the First Lunar Month Kills Your Uncle??

正月剪头死舅舅

Zhèng Yuè Jǐan Tóu Sǐ Jìu Jìu

This is a Chinese saying that literally means “If you get hair cut in the first month of Chinese lunar calendar, your uncle (your mother’s brother) will die”.

 

Context: The collector and the informant were talking about weird Chinese sayings and customs heard from parents. The informant is a USC student from Beijing.

The informant heard this saying from his mother. Once he planned to get a haircut in the first month of Chinese lunar calendar. His mother stopped him by telling him this saying. However, he forgot his mother’s word and went to get a haircut anyway. Then his mother asked him to text his uncle new year greetings and whish his uncle a year of great health. The informant found it funny and that is why he always remember this saying.

Even though the informant’s mother didn’t necessary believe that her brother would die because her son got a haircut, she didn’t think that was a good sign.

The informant doesn’t believe the saying.

The informant doesn’t know why there is this saying. He guesses it is only because it is in rhyme (“Tóu” and “Jìu”).

 

Collector’s thoughts:

I have also heard of this saying, but only with little impression. I thought it was a very weird saying or custom. Maybe it’s because Chinese people view renewable body parts such as hair and finger nails also as important part of body granted from parents, so it is an ominous sign to cut hair in the first month, a meaningful period of time that is supposed to pave the way for good luck of the entire year.

However, I did some research online and found an explanation: After the Manchus overthrown the Ming Dynasty and established the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu government enforced a policy on Han people that all Han men should shave their hair and have the required hairstyle like the Manchus. Han people valued hair very much. Hair being shaved was considered humiliating. Many Han men refused to follow the policy as well as other oppression, which led to some massacres. The result was Han people passive resisted by not getting haircut in the first month of the year to express their longing for the lost Ming dynasty as “思旧 (Sī Jìu [Literally: Longing for the past])”. However, as the saying was spread, “Sī Jìu” turned into “Sǐ Jìu Jìu (Literally: Uncle dies)”.

Reference: http://www.sohu.com/a/59020978_349043

Folk Beliefs
general
Material
Protection

Sleeping Near Air Conditioning System (Chinese Belief)

Context/Background: The informant is Chinese-American and grew up with different Chinese folk beliefs. One in particular, involves the idea that one cannot sleep next to air conditioning to avoid damage done to the face as heard from her mother.

Informant:

[Face-to-Face]

“So, my mom, I think it was just because there’s this thing in China when you get too cold and your body just starts hurting. Have you like- have you ever just too cold and your stomach starts hurting a lil bit and it’s just like… ouchie. Well, yeah, so uh in order to prevent that, my mom- I’m assuming my mom just told me this- but it was this thing where she would tell us stories about how, if you slept near grates- like fan grates when they’re like on the floor of your house… Have you ever had air vent grates on the floor of your house?

KA: Umm, I haven’t, but I know that’s a thing.

“Okay, well I used to sleep near it because I… I used to lay by it because it was cold and the like… So like, my mom told me, and it was common knowledge that if you were close to it, and you fell asleep, your face would literally fall off and it would move to one side and then your face would just be on one side.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this belief from her mother.

Analysis/Interpretation: I find it interesting how much of these folk beliefs tend to come from parents and it makes me wonder if there’s a higher underlying meaning to it. I think this may have just been something passed down, so it wasn’t questioned by the informant, but I would find it useful to search further into the reasoning behind a sleeping story such as this.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Stab Your Food with Chopsticks – A Chinese Folk Belief

Item:

Q: You said how you can’t stab chopsticks into food?

H: 落去飯(lok6 heoi3 faan6), right?

[Translation: Into rice right?]

Q: Yeah, 飯 (faan6) or 嘢食 (je5 sik6) in general?

[Translation: Yeah, rice or food in general?]

H: 嘢食 (je5 sik6) or 飯 (faan6) or whatever.  Why?

[Translation: Food or rice or whatever.  Why?]

H: 你拜神你係唔係插咗兩枝香落去 (lei5 baai3 sen4 lei5 hai6 m5 hai6 caap3 zo2 loeng2 zi2 hoeng1 lok6 heoi3).  It look like 你拜神插嗰啲嘢(lei5 baai3 sen4 caap3 go2 di1 je5).

[Translation: When you pray, don’t you stick the two incense into the holder?  It looks like when you’re praying and you have the two incense in the incense holder.]

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a Cantonese-English conversation about Chinese and Vietnamese folk beliefs.  The informant can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  The informant is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned not to stab chopsticks into your food from, but only said, similar to a number of other folk beliefs and customs she knew of, that you would just know or pick up this sort of thing growing up from the community around you.

 

Analysis:

The basis of many folk beliefs is the belief in magic, either sympathetic or contagious.  In the case of not stabbing your chopsticks into food, the idea that like produces like comes into play because as the informant says, the two chopsticks standing up looking like sticks of incense used when praying.  Praying occurs for a number of reasons, death in the family and respecting one’s ancestors included, and it can be highly ritualized in Chinese culture, particularly when praying to the ancestors due to the long-standing tradition of ancestor worship and respect for those who came before you in your lineage.  There are rules about where the incense and incense holder are placed, what kind of offerings should be made, and when to pray.  For example, praying for ancestors has set time frames but praying after an individual’s death is done as appropriate.  As such, standing chopsticks in food not only emulates incense in the physical image, it may be seen as a poor recreation of the ritual and consequently a disrespect to one’s ancestors.  With such emphasis placed on respecting one’s lineage, this is very majorly looked down upon.  Furthermore, considering how like produces like – especially if it is not the correct time to pay one’s respects to their ancestors – someone may bring death or other bad omens to themselves or those around them through emulation of praying at an otherwise inappropriate time.

general

Shaky Legs

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

I personally hate looking at people who shake their legs, especially seeing you do it so much annoys me so much. My dad used to say that it is bad in our culture because it is a sign of boredom as well as a sign of losing wealth. In ancient China, if you were to shake your legs, it is like shaking away your wealth. If you kept shaking your legs, you would lose all your coins as they would slip out of your pockets. That is why I always tell people this story to help them get rid of their bad habits.

I have a really bad habit of shaking my legs, after hearing this story I felt that although it does not really happen in our age with the invention of wallets and deep pockets, it is still partially true and definitely a better thing not to shake one’s legs.

general

4th Floor

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

 

In almost every modern apartment in Taiwan, they will usually have the 4th floor, but older buildings will not have the 4th floor because the number 4 is a homophone to the word death. 死(si) death and 四(si) four sound similar so to prevent people from living on the “floor of death” they got rid of the 4th floor. It is especially the case in Hospitals. There are no floors or rooms with the number 4, no one would want to stay in a hospital room or floor that has anything that reminds them of death!

I think this is very similar to the American unlucky number 13, although this seems to be more prevalent in Taiwan. Although not seen as much in newer buildings and such, it is still seen in the older buildings. Just goes to show that with time, some superstitions disappear in many ways.

general

Chopsticks

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

 

Never, ever, ever put your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. This is a physical resemblance to burning incense. We only burn incense when you go to a temple and usually during a funeral, so putting your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice is like praying for someone’s death. Not tot the point of like a threat or anything but like a sign of disrespect.

My mom has always told me as a child to never do this. I never knew the reason, but only knew it was bad. This has really given me some interesting insight into my own culture and why we do these things.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Shadow in the Burial Pot

Daniel is an immigrant from Hong Kong who immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities and a better life for both him and his family. Living in a poor family with seven other siblings, he immediately went to work as a police officer after receiving his high school diploma in Hong Kong. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a computer technician, and subsequently, changed his career to a funeral counselor.

Original Script

This is our Chinese Asian tradition. When we do the funeral service in the cemetery, we will try to keep our shadow away from the burial pot. We believe that if our shadow fell into the pot, our soul will be buried together, which will cause us bad luck and illness.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant heard of this superstition from a Taoist priest during a funeral service. During one particular funeral service, his shadow was about to be caught in a burial pot before the priest pulled him away and explained this superstition to him.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant at his house.

There is the belief that the shadow is the manifestation of the soul; it is commonly associated with life and death. Among many cultures around the world, chaos and darkness were believed to be the beginnings of the cosmos. Thus, people came to believe that the shadow, as a reflection of darkness, possesses life within itself. In addition, one’s shadow imitates one’s actions; it seems to emulate life, leading to the assumption that shadows are living beings. From this belief, the Chinese superstition—a person’s shadow caught in a burial pot will invite bad luck and sickness—was born.

My Thoughts about the Performance

There are many superstitions revolving around death and funerals. According to some cultures, one’s shadow is an essential part of one’s humanity, identity, or soul. Losing it would incur bad luck or even death on the person. I find it interesting how the superstition told by the informant leads to the loss of a person’s soul. I expected the consequence of a person’s shadow entering the burial pot to be the person being haunted by the deceased, because this is one of the most common penalties involving the dead.  

Folk Beliefs
general

Chinese Gambling Superstition

When I went to China last summer to visit the fam in Guangzhou, we decided to go to Macau to meet everyone and gamble a little since I heard it was even bigger than Vegas. When we were getting ready to go to the casino one night, my grandma told me to wear red underwear. I didn’t understand what the hell she was talking about but she explained that it was for good luck. She said red symbolizes good fortune and that I should be wearing as much of it as possible. If I didn’t, she said it could bring bad luck.

The informant told me about this story when we met up and talked about his trip to China from spring break. Even though he is Chinese American, his parents never really taught him about Chinese culture or traditional practices. When he went over there and his grandma told him about wearing red underwear, he said he was definitely weirded out and had never heard of anything like that before. He explained to me that his grandma said that it was a huge part of Chinese culture and that the notion of  wearing red for luck had been around for many many years, though his grandma didn’t know its exact origin.

Though I am very respectful of others’ beliefs, I found this superstition hilarious. I heard more about it in class this past week when everyone brought in tourist items and one of the students talked about the need for wearing red for luck and the use of red underwear.  In America we have our own quirky beliefs about luck, such as kissing dice before rolling them, but red underwear definitely struck me as a bit strange. I look forward to hearing what other beliefs and funny stories the informant has in store.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Initiations
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

New Year’s, New Things

In China, there is a superstition where you cannot start a [Chinese] new year without new clothes and a clean house. Whatever you do on the first day of the year will be an indication of how your fortunes would be for the rest of the year. So people would try to look their best on the first day. They would make sure they get haircuts before the year ends because they don’t want to cut anything at the start of the year.

The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). Having grown up in China, the informant practices this every year.

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