USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Chinese zodiac’
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Determining Marriages from the Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening, and the informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains the significance behind the Chinese Zodiac calendar in relation how marriages or compatible partners are determined. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I know the Chinese zodiac calendar holds a lot of importance to the informant, for she has discussed it a lot with me in the past. She told me that she doesn’t remember how exactly she learned all of this; rather, it’s so integrated into Chinese culture and talked about so often that it almost seems like common knowledge that everyone will learn one way or another. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me (while still trying to stay true to her performance), because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription). In this conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as S.

 Text:

S: “In China, we have these zodiacs to, um, see what type of animal you are. For example, this year is the Year of the Pig, so everyone born this year will… have the Pig as their zodiac animal. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but, um, like, the Zodiac calendar lines up with the lunar year—everything we do and believe is connected to what point of the lunar year we’re at. So you can see why this zodiac calendar is so important. We even use it to, um, determine marriages. For example, if a person’s zodiac animal is a Chicken, they can’t marry someone who’s a Dog because chickens and dogs always fight in real life; symbolically, this means that these two, if they get married, will fight for the rest of their lives. Eventually, all of this fighting will break their marriage. Basically we turn to the zodiac calendar to look at, uhh, compatibility. Before Chinese people couples get married, they want to look at each others zodiacs and then look at this other thing called a ‘huang li,’ which determines which years and days they should get married.”

 

K: “Who else can’t get married?”

 

S: “I know that Pigs are considered perfect matches with Tigers, but, um, though I honestly can’t tell you why. I do know that Pigs, in Chinese culture, represent wealth, riches, and, like, will bring lots of happiness, so most people want to marry someone who’s zodiac animal is the year the Pig. People also want to get married the Year of the Pig, and especially want to have children the Year of the Pig.

 

Thoughts:

When I was a kid, my parents would always talk about our zodiac animals—my father is a sheep and my mother and I are rabbits. They would always talk about how their love was meant to be because, in the Chinese Zodiac calendar, sheeps and rabbits are considered perfect matches. Because it was so integrated into my childhood, I think I started to take on the characteristics and personality traits that were expected of a “Rabbit.”

After being told this folklore, I looked up what the expected traits of a Rabbit were, and the weaknesses include “timid” and “hesitant”—though I’ve grown out of it now, as I child, I rarely spoke to anyone because I was too nervous. Strengths of a Rabbit include being polite, generous, and responsible, which were all things that I was (and still am) known for among my family, friends, and peers. Because these traits of our Zodiac animals are so true to who we really are, it’s hard not to take these animals so seriously. As I’m getting older, the concept of marriage is becoming more and more relevant, so it’s natural that my Chinese parents, relatives, and the informant (who is also a Chinese relative) are starting to talk about my Zodiac in the context of marriage. Rabbits are apparently extremely compatible with most other Zodiac animals, according to my family, so perhaps that’s why they’re so confused as to why I’m not in a relationship yet/ thinking about marriage yet.

 

Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Zodiac Race

The Main Piece
Why is the cat not apart of the Chinese Zodiac calendar? Supposedly, the gods set up a competition, a race, for all the animals to compete and win their place in the calendar. However, while all the other animals knew what day the race would be on, the rat was clever and lied to the cat. The rat told the cat that the race would be on a different day so that when the race actually did happen, the cat was no where to be found. The cat wound up missing the race and was unable to be a part of the Zodiac calendar. This tale also explains why cats hate rats in the real world as well.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Being that her mother is Chinese and extremely cultured, she had a good understanding of the Zodiac calendar. Her mother would tell her this tale to explain how the animals got their place. She explained that it was a childhood story that she, and many of her other friends, grew up with. As a child, she enjoyed imagining and reenacting the race with her stuffed animals. It was because she could relate it with the Zodiac calendar, something she uses even to this day, that she can so easily remember the story and its relevance. She states that the story represents not just her childhood, but also her culture.
Context
This Chinese tale was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. We were discussing our life back home, the setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
I enjoyed hearing about the Zodiac calendar. My mother was never really too cultured so hearing about my own culture was a delight. I found it also intriguing that the tale was also able to incorporate an explanation for the cat’s dislike of rats, thereby offering some sort of validity to the story.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dressing in Red for Chinese New Year

Interview Extraction:

Informant: So like, so like say, so like say I’m born in the year of the monkey for example, so in the year of the monkey on Chinese New Year, I have to wear all red, like red clothes, red underwear even. I think it’s because when it’s your year that you were born in, you’re supposed to have bad luck, but wearing red counters that so you’re safe.”

Me: “So have you ever dressed up all in red then?”

Informant: “No, no. We always, my family and I, we always say we’re gonna do it, but we never do.”

Me: “Do a lot of people in China do it?”

Informant: “I don’t know. I hear a lot about it in dramas, but I don’t actually know anyone that dresses up.”

Analysis:

Naturally, just because it is one’s birthday month or zodiac year, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will bring good fortune, but after celebrating the anniversary of birthdays so much, I did not expect that it would be bad luck to be in the zodiac year you were born in. I would have thought that it’d be the opposite, that if it’s the same year you were born in, that it would have been a lucky year for you. Yet, it’s just the contrary. Perhaps it can be because one’s personal zodiac sign has completed a whole cycle and is somehow vulnerable to bad luck entering the new cycle. Hence, protection is needed to ward off the negative energy or demons that can get in. One would envelope him or herself in red, used commonly in Chinese culture to ward off evil.

My informant does not live in China currently, so presumably, even when she is with her family, she feels no cultural mandate to follow this tradition. It appears to still be in vogue however, especially if television shows are referring to it. At the same, it can be somewhat difficult to find clothing and garments all in red, so while her family means to follow through with custom, it is understandable why they wouldn’t.

The color red itself is used extensively in Chinese culture, as a color of celebration and also protection. It is the color of the New Year celebration, and throughout the many facets of the holiday, red is always stressed. Coming from a European background where red symbolizes blood and usually has a negative connotation, it is fascinating to understand the different meanings the color can take, and the great cultural meaning it has as well.

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