Tag Archives: red

Chinese Red Eggs

Piece
H: Because the infant death rate was so high, people used to celebrate the baby’s birth after one month, so one month is actually their birthday. If they can, there is a big party and everyone gets red eggs. Ah-ma’s family was too poor to have a big party, but they give red eggs to the neighbors instead.
J: Why red eggs?
H: They’re a symbol of good luck and fortune. Also chicken eggs and chicken are a special treat in Taiwan. So the eggs are chicken eggs and red is for good things. [pause] You give them to people for other birthdays too, particularly for older people. Grandparents. Parents. Like 50 or 60. You give them red eggs too. You make red rice cakes stuffed with red bean. Anything with red bean paste. Mold it and make it the shape of, umm, the word doesn’t come out, a, a turtle! The rice cake in the shape of a turtle to symbolize long life. And if the person is older than you, you bow to them. When it’s their birthday, you bow to them.

Context
The informant learned this traditon from their mother who was born in Taiwan where this was a practice in their village and aided in throwing the red egg party for their neice.
This story was shared upon request by the collector when asking about various cultural traditions.

My Thoughts
I vaguely remember a red egg party for one of my first cousins. We dressed in red, fancy clothes and brought gifts. We ate red eggs and many other delicious foods and treats. Everything was red from the paper banners to the tablecloths to the food.
While red being a good color in Chinese culture is nothing new to me, I was surprised to hear at least some of the reasoning behind the eggs. In America, chicken is pretty cheap and easily available. Yet, for the informant, having chicken or chicken eggs was special and for celebratory occasions only.

Japanese New Year Feast

Piece
Every year, the informant cooks a Japanese New Year Feast for their family. It is an all-day affair where hundreds of guests, friends and family, can come and go to eat lunch and/or dinner and socialize with those present. The informant makes the following traditional dishes:
Ozoni (rice cake in vegetable soup) is the first thing eaten on New Year’s day and wishes good health and prosperity to the family
Gomame (dried sardines) to bless attendees with health
Kombu Maki (rolled kelp) to bring happiness and joy
Kuri Kinton (sweet potato or lima bean paste with chestnuts) to bring wealth
Renkon (lotus root) as a symbol for the wheel of life
Daikon (white raddish), carrots, and other root vegetables to promote deep family roots
Ise ebi (lobster) for the festive red color and to symbolize old age and longevity; note: the lobster must be served whole and cannot be broken lest the spine of the old ones break
Context
The informant learned to cook and serve these dishes from their mother and has trained their daughter in how to give the feast. To the informant, The New Year is the most important holiday of the year as it is when the entire extended family comes together. Food preparations begin weeks before the event and there are leftovers for days after as a result of the concern that the table could run out of food.
My Thoughts
Some of the foods look similar to an object such as the lotus root looking like a wheel or the lobster’s spine curving like the spine of an older person while others symbolize good things for their cost or how the word for the food sounds similar to the word for whatever it symbolizes. The feast was a time to celebrate and welcome the New Year and do things that would hopefully ensure prosperity. It was a time where social barriers could be crossed and family meant everything. The extensive amount of time taken to prepare the foods probably shows the care that the family and friends have for one another and the desire to serve each other. The pursuit of good fortune in the food symbolism is an acknowledgement of the lack of control that they have over many aspects of their lives, particularly for the peasants who depended so much on the rulers of their areas.

Wearing Red for Lunar New Year

Background: My informant is a friend of mine of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese heritage. His parents are both from Taiwan and are mixed between Chinese, indigenous Taiwanese, and Japanese. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. 

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Wednesday afternoon. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. During the call and in between our discussions of different folklore items, we talked socially about how we were acclimating. Thus, this conversation was more casual than the rest of my interviews. The main piece is made up of a transcription of our call.

Main Piece:

Chinese New Year. Right, everyone wants to be a red because red’s a lucky color. 

And I don’t know what the exact rationale behind it is but like apparently for certain years like it’s even more important for whatever Zodiac animal it is for that year.

To wear red because they need luck that you’re more than others. Others for some reason. So the way that my family took that was that they for Chinese New Year we buy each other gifts of red underwear, so that we would always read throughout the year. Yeah, even to this day. People still talking about the red, red underwear, both on both sides of the family both my white relatives and my Asian relatives.

Me: White relatives too?!

Yeah they’re definitely… they’re gung ho about it.

Me: OK but definitely they’re not wearing red every day of the year right?

Yeah its just more times than not.

Thoughts: I found this a particularly entertaining variation of a classical Chinese tradition of wearing red. This tradition was modified for my informant’s family so that they could wear red without showing it outwardly, and do it throughout the year rather than just one period during the lunar new year. I thought it was also really interesting that my informant’s white relatives performed and enjoyed this folklore as well. This shows that this folk practice is more tradition than heritage. 

Chinese Red Name

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Informant: So, I grew up in Thailand but my family’s actually from Shanghai, China. There are lots of Chinese people living in Thailand, but even with Thai people there are plenty of cultures that we share. For example, we both don’t write our names with a red ink. Or anyone’s names, people tend to not write any names in color red. I though this was a strictly a Chinese tradition, but it was pretty common in Thailand too.

Interviewer: My Korean family also believes in that myth.

Informant: I guess it’s pretty common amongst all Asian cultures. I just thought it was Chinese exclusive because the color red is so heavily used in China. Chinese people love the color red. We think it can bring good luck and good energy, but it’s also heavily associated with death at the same time. So when you write someone’s name in red, it’s as if you’re welcoming death.

Interviewer: What would you do if you had to write your name and you only had a red pen?

Informant: (laughs) I guess I’ll have to write my name and hope I don’t die suddenly.

Background:

My informant heard about this piece when she was very little from her Auntie. While she doesn’t recall the exact whereabouts of how that was brought up, but she describes it as a common tradition that one acquires simply by being around other Chinese people.

Context:

My informant and I were discussing traditions that we share in common, as we come from two different cultures – Chinese and Korean, respectively. One thing we found was that both our cultures avoid writing a person’s name in color red. This conversation took place at her house, she currently resides in Los Angeles.

Thoughts:

This was an interesting piece of folklore to learn about as it’s common in multiple cultures. I think the reason why it’s so heavily spread in Asia is because how deeply Asian cultures are unified, especially East Asian regions where Buddhist ideologies of linking death and good luck as coinciding factors are common.

Why You Can’t Write Your Name in Red

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. The informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains why Chinese people never write their names in red. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I had known of this superstition for a while, but never understood why. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me, 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).

 

Text: 

“Chinese people never use the color red to write people’s names because historically, in China, when people’s names are written in red, it means that they are criminals that have been sentenced to death/ are dead. This doesn’t go to say that the color red is unlucky; in fact, the color red usually brings in good luck and is meant to express excitement and happiness. For example, during Chinese New Year, everything is decorated with red things. During a wedding, people wear red to celebrate and bring good luck to the newly wedded couple.

In this case, red is bad luck because it’s being written.  Usually, only people with authority can write in red. This isn’t just the people that decide which criminal to put on death row; we even see this school systems. Generally, a teacher is expected to use red pen to correct their students exams and papers; when a students sees a red marking, this means that they know they made a mistake and that they need to correct something. When the color is used in written form, it serves as a warning. So when someone’s name is written in red, and the name that they’ve written down is of someone that is still alive, Chinese people will panic or freak out because that means that they’ve ultimately just been sentenced to death by someone of higher authority (AKA, the person holding the red pen).

So traditionally, we never write people’s name in red ink because that means you want them to die.”

 

Thoughts:

I’ve known of this taboo my entire life—I remember when I was about 5 years old and I wrote my name in a bright pink pen, and my mom yelled at me and whited out my name. When I asked her why, she told me that pink was too close to the color red, and that I should never write my name in red or red-like colored ink. After that, until I was 14, my mom didn’t let me use pens that were a color other than black, blue, or green. A few years back, I again encountered something similar: I was working at a tutoring center, and my boss had written a girl’s name in red ink at the top of her worksheets that she had to take home. The mother of the girl, who was Chinese, screamed in front of the entire classroom, yelled at my boss, and then actually ended up having her daughter quit the tutoring center.

Clearly, this taboo is taken very seriously in Chinese culture; I ended up looking up why people couldn’t right their names in red after this conversation with my informant, simply because I had never heard of writing the names of criminals in blood as a practice. Sure enough, she was correct. In an article by a Vision Times: “All Eyes on China,” an online newspaper about China’s history, influence, and China in today’s context, Yi Ming writes: “In ancient times, a death row criminal’s name was written in chicken blood, and later this evolved to being written in red ink. Thus, in all official records, the names of death sentence criminals were written in red ink.” However, Ming gives even more reason for why the color red (in the context of writing names) is unlucky. She states that “Yán Wáng Yé, the King of Hell, also marked people about to come down to hell in red ink,” and that deceased death row criminals had their names written in red ink on their tombstones.

This folklore suggests that this taboo is an example of sympathetic magic, where “like produces like.” If you write your name in red, then you’re essentially writing a death sentence to yourself because it resembles the death sentence of a criminal or the red ink on a criminal’s gravestone. These taboos exist to protect ourselves socially; we would never want our own names written in red because we don’t want to die, and we would never want our relatives or friends names to be written in red because we don’t want them to disappear from our lives nor have anything tragic happen to them. We are surrounded by this fear of the reality that we can’t control the bad things that happened to our loved ones, so we attach this fear to rituals; these rituals give us autonomy over processes like this, perhaps psychology providing us comfort and making us feel like we are doing everything in our power to protect one another.  

 

To read more on this, this is the citation for Yi Ming’s article on Vision Times:

Ming, Yi. “A Chinese Taboo: Never Write Other People’s Names Using Red Ink.” Vision Times, 2

June 2016,

www.visiontimes.com/2016/06/02/a-chinese-taboo-never-write-other-peoples-names-using-red-ink.html.

 

Red in Indian Weddings

Collection:  Indian wedding – significance of red

A: “What is the significance of red in Indian weddings?”

B: “ Well red symbolizes a married woman, so the groom spreads red tika called Sindoor on the bride’s hairline…Oh! And the bride wear red.”

A: “A red dress?”

B: “It can be a saree, salwar suit, or whatever she wants.”

Context/Interpretation: While different colors take on different meanings and degrees of significance around the world, red is almost universally used in the development of womanhood. Marriage is a defining moment of adulthood, specifically womanhood, in many cultures. Therefore, the red in Indian weddings stays consistent with the red symbolism.

Annotated Bibliography:

SmarterTravel. “So THAT’S Why You Shouldn’t Wear A Green Hat In China.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 Jan. 2017.

According to the article, “Red is the most powerful of all colors in Indian culture and holds many important meanings.” In fact, red can convey fear, power, fertility, love, beauty, and more. More significantly, red is known to symbolize an Indian woman’s marriage through red henna, red sindoor, and her outfit.

 

Ambulance Superstition

A conversation with a female friend went as follows:

Me: “I am not a very superstitious person at all. I don’t feel like those things ever do anything.”

Response: “I don’t have a a lot, but there are a couple that I do religiously. I don’t even think about it anymore”

Me: “Really? I would NEVER think that about you.”

Response: “Yeah… they are so subconscious at this point I don’t even think anyone else would even notice. I don’t even notice haha. But like…let me think of one…. Oh, every time I see an an ambulance I have to touch something red”

*(as she responds, she reaches her right hand to her left hip)*

 

 

Background: She is a twenty-year old born and raised in Boston, MA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA attending USC as a sophomore. Her parents are divorced and she has two younger sisters.

Context: This conversation took place as we were walking from class back to my apartment building.

Analysis: As my friend was telling me about a superstition of hers, she subconsciously reached her right hand across her body towards her left hip. At first I laughed, wondering why she did that, and when I told her why she was laughing she realized what she was doing. She explained that she typically would see an ambulance with its lights on while she was driving or in the car, and therefore, the closest thing to her to touch would be the red base on seatbelts. This superstition and “touching something red” has become so second nature to her that she literally acts like she is touching a seatbelt even when simply talking about the superstition itself. The fact that she didn’t realize what she was doing demonstrates how embedded folkloric beliefs can become in our worldview and within our daily actions. I was very intrigued by this interaction and loved gaining more insight into the depth of her superstitious beliefs as our conversation continued and developed.

Wear Red on Happy Occasions

S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.

S: So for like the Chinese culture there is so many, like it’s so crazy, but I guess, like the most popular ones, like would wearing red for like a birthday count as folklore?

Me: Yeah. But why wold you wear red for a birthday?

S: So like, so it’s the belief of the Chinese that red is like the ultimate like color for luckiness, and just like power and everything, so for your birthday you want everyone to be wearing red. And if anyone comes in wearing black, like that’s a big no no, ’cause black would mean like death or just like negative things, and like wearing black to a birthday or like any happy celebration would be like, it’s a sign of like disrespect and like wish that person like that bad luck. so never do that.

Me: Is it something that you do even now that you’re here? Like now that you live in the U.S.?

S: Um, no, not here, but if I’m with like family, or if I know that it’s a Chinese family, it’s like a more common known thing. So like even all around the world, you know. Yeah, so, but like you can wear other colors actually, as long as it’s not black though.

S talks about the Chinese culture in which it is customary to wear red on birthdays because the color red symbolizes luckiness, power, and in general just has good connotations. She says that it is okay to wear other colors as well, though it isn’t the same thing as wearing red, as long as you don’t wear black. Black symbolizes death and has other bad connotations so black is not to be worn on happy occasions, and it is considered disrespectful if people do wear black on happy occasions. Though she does not follow the practice so much now that she lives in Los Angeles, she still does when she is with family or other Chinese people.

Red String Bracelets

“If you go to the western wall in Israel there’s always people who are there—like around there and basically, like, they give you, um, like you’ll give them money, like, if they’re like begging and then they give you a red string and then they make a blessing on it and then you can’t take the red string, like you can’t remove it until it falls off. And that’s to keep the evil eye away. Like Jews are super into that, about keeping the evil eye away.”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition and related practices within her family. When I asked the informant to further explain this practice, she said, “Lot of times there’s this thing—have you ever seen, like, the hand? Like the image? So it’s called a ‘hamsa’ in Hebrew and like it’s the same thing, it’s to keep the evil eye away.”

 

The informant had seen this practice occur a lot during her travels to Israel and says she first learned about it from her grandmother who “would [do that] right before she died, she was super into that.” However, at the end of the interview she told me, “I don’t do that, I don’t do evil eyes and I don’t do the hamsa . . . I don’t like it because I feel like it’s idolatry, and I don’t . . . I’m not into that. But I would do the red string ‘cause it’s kind of a cultural thing.”

 

I found this practice to be fascinating because it seems like the greater religious/spiritual meaning of it has become somewhat divorced from the physical act. Something that started as a way to “keep the evil eye away” is still done for that purpose, but also because it has become a cultural thing that someone just does. This is revealed in the fact that an informant who is quick to assure me that she does not believe in the hamsa or the evil eye on the basis of her seeing them as idolatry would still willingly participate in this practice. In addition to it being performed for the previously stated spiritual purpose, I also think there is something to the fact that someone is given these red strings by people who are begging. Because it is now considered a normal cultural practice, it has become an expected social interaction between two people of differing class status in this part of Israel. Essentially, while giving a red string and a blessing might have been an organic way of thanking someone before, it is now almost a required act of gratitude by beggars near the western wall.

Yusheng for Chinese New Year

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  She is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  Her family is from China but she has lived in Southern California for nearly all of her life.  Her dad spends lots of time working in Shenzhen.  She speaks fluent Mandarin and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals her family has.

 

Item: “For Chinese New Year my family usually gets together.  Traditionally, ever since I can remember, the adults have given kids red envelopes filled with money, and, we always have specific foods that translate to specific proverbs like good fortune and good health.  An example would be, having, um fish, because “Nian nian you yu” means abundance throughout the years, but the last word ‘yu’ means abundance but also means fish.  They are two completely different words but have the same pronunciation.  And, a couple of other things we would say is, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” which means ‘congratulations for your wealth’, “Wan Shu Ru Yi” which means ‘may all your wishes be fulfilled’.

 

Sometimes our family does follow this tradition but we don’t follow it too strictly, but there should be a placing order in how you bring the different foods to the tables.  You’re also supposed to say phrases with the addition of each ingredient such as pepper or lime or oil.  Uh, some of the themes touch upon wealth, luck, youth and business success or advancement.  That’s basically one specific dish but there are other flourless cakes that basically expands as you cook it.  It kind of symbolizes growth for kids especially.  Our family also hangs specific square red banners that has the word “Chūnmeaning ‘spring’.  We’d flip it upside down because when you flip it it means ‘dao’, or ‘it is here’ like ‘spring is here’.  We also do that with ‘fu’ which means prosperity, so prosperity it is here”.

Analysis: Chinese New Year really seems to revolve around luck, prosperity and happiness for the new year.  The props used – which vary from clothing to food eaten to the number of dishes served all are meant to be congruent with Chinese lore and beliefs.  The number 8 means good luck so things are done in eights, the color red is lucky so red is shown often and new, clean things are seen as ushering in good luck for the coming year.  There is a cyclical nature in Chinese/Eastern thought that we do not have here in the West.  The coming of the new year, though celebrated here, doesn’t truly entail the “reset” that it does in China.  This may be in part due to the fact that the Chinese civilization has been around for over four millenia (most of which they were relatively isolated), so they’ve seen a much longer time span of existence than most other cultures.  As such they’ve seen empires rise and fall, other warring worlds, and geographies change but still remain, which may contribute to their more cyclical way of thinking as opposed to the U.S.  There also seems to be very set things that are done in a precise process each new year celebration.  This is in contrast to many of the U.S. informants I interviewed who admitted a much more diverse and relaxed understanding of rituals and traditions.