USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Taiwan’
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Taiwanese Summer Tradition

Text

During Summer, which is usually August, there’s this thing, which is.. Um.. we believe that the doors between Ying and Yang, which is between heaven and..um….. Earth and hell will open, so all the three, um…. worlds will open together and become one on Earth. So it’s like, it’s kind of the concept of purgatory opening on Earth.. It’s kind of weird. But then, at this time, usually ancestors will come back, ghosts will come back, and especially those who has no relatives or those who does not have people…. to respect them after their death. So, those are ghosts with bad intentions, and people do fear them and respect them at the same time. So, during this whole month, usually people go to temples. They pray for them. They pray that one day they can leave purgatory and go up to heaven. And they’ll bring food and, um, basically.. pray for them. So, that’s what we do during the whole summer and, at the end of August, the door will close again and we hope that those that we prayed for, and we gave food for, will go up to heaven.

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese traditions from her grandparents, or it was talked about at her school (there would be stories in their textbooks about them). She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Thoughts

Outside of simply being widely practiced in Taiwan, this tradition seemed deeply rooted in Chinese and Taiwanese beliefs about ancestors and respect. It makes sense, then, why this tradition is so important to the informant, who is from Taiwan, but is currently going to school in the U.S. and plans to live in the U.S. in the future. Carrying on this tradition seems to be a way for her to keep her connection to her Taiwanese identity, even though she now lives outside of that country.

Holidays
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Valentine’s Day in Taiwan

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese traditions from her grandparents, or it was talked about at her school (there would be stories in their textbooks about them). She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Context

The informant told this story to a group of female friends, while out to dinner one night. She had a smile on her face the whole time and the audience reacted with coos and aww’s, eating up the romantic parts of the story.

Text

During July, we have our Chinese Valentine’s Day. So, Chinese Valentine’s Day, it’s — it’s really cute. It’s more of a.. It’s more of a Taiwanese and Chinese tradition. So, the story is that there’s these two…um… there’s this one couple. One of– the female– is one of.. She’s a goddess. The male is just a normal peasant. And one day, when the goddess comes down to earth and, uh, take a shower at one of the.. um.. fountains and stuff. This peasant saw her and fall in love with her. And, uh, in order to attract her, he stole away her clothes. So, she has to go after the peasant and she– they fall in love. But, then you can never — a goddess cannot fall in love with a human. So.. um.. they can’t be together. Uh, the main gods, they separate the couple. So, um, during July, the goddess just.. Um.. oh, wait, wait. Oh! The gods do pity them, so they decided that they only meet once in a year, which is Chinese Valentine’s. So, on Chinese Valentine’s, there will be birds, there will be, um, celestial creatures that will build a bridge between heaven and Earth, so they can walk onto the bridge and meet each other at the middle of the bridge. So, that is Chinese Valentine’s.

Thoughts

I thought it was interesting that the informant was talking about a holiday that she participated in her home country, but she discussed it in a narrative form. It seemed that the story behind Chinese Valentine’s Day was more significant or interesting to her than the holiday itself. This might have something to do with tendency for humans to relate more to something when it’s told as a narrative. The reason she discussed this holiday using a narrative might also be because of the audience. She was talking to a group of her girl friends, who she probably  thought were more interested in hearing a compelling love story than hearing about Taiwanese traditional holidays.  

Customs

Taiwanese Wedding Tradition

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese wedding traditions from her grandparents and as a part of daily life by going to weddings. She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Text

Usually, uh, traditional weddings, there will be like, um, multiple different.. like.. stages. So, usually the first– like, after, um, you engage, you have to meet each other’s parents. Like, you have to dress formally, like, usually traditional, uh, Taiwanese dresses. And girls, uh, the wife will make tea for the parents of, um, the husband’s side. So, making tea is a sort of respect, and to show that you have the ability to cook and stuff. So, you make tea, and you kneel down and you serve them the tea. For, um, the husband’s side parents. And, uh, if they accept it, it means that, like, this engagement will be made. And then, um, if.. If it’s a traditional wedding, sometimes.. It’s… it’s most of the time it happens at the southern part of Taiwan, they have really big, like, wedding ceremonies. They’ll invite hundreds of people. And they will go to like plazas in front of, um, temples and they will have a lot of tables of food. So, it’s like a huge, um, festival that invites all of the people. Your neighbors, friends you know. So, they’ll, uh, all go there. They will give out “hongbao,” which is red envelopes with money inside. So.. so, they will give those monies to, uh, the wedding couples and stuff, so they can have money to, you know, buy houses, buy stuff. So, that’s usually a part of, um, the gifts you give them. And during those… um…. dinners– So, there will be a lot of people who cook right there. And, uh, usually they will look at… they will enjoy, like, traditional Taiwanese operas, as well. So, yeah, that would be a show stage over there, and people would just eat, and there would be a performance going on.

Thoughts
The informant seemed to hold great respect for Taiwanese wedding traditions. When I asked if she saw her future wedding resembling these traditions, she said that she plans on likely staying in America, so whoever she marries might have traditions of their own, but that it would be important to her to include some of her Taiwanese traditions in the wedding process. Continuing Taiwanese wedding traditions seems to be a way for her to maintain her Taiwanese identity even while in an American setting.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Funerals (Taiwan)

This is a Chinese thing. After someone passes away, like Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, whoever, it’s like a very long two-week, three-week ordeal where there’s a ton of praying, there’s a funeral where you go to a funeral home and then you pray for hours. You have to do like a special thing where you like put your hands together and bow and nod your head, it’s very, just….culture. Culture.

 

Do you say things? Is it silent prayer?

 

Yeah you have to say like, I don’t know, my mom told me I forgot. Sorry. But okay so for the death thing, they’ll…I cant remember exactly but they take the body to like a temple where it gets burned…

 

Is this after the praying?

 

Yeah, there’s praying for like a week, not like a straight week, but like – get up, go pray, get up, go pray, get up, go pray. So yeah you pray for a week while everything’s being prepared, like all the ceremonies are being prepared. So then you go to the temple, and while the body’s actually burning in the furnace you keep praying, a ton of people are there, even the grandchildren. You keep praying while it’s burning, and then afterwards my mom told me that they took out the tray, or whatever he was on… There were still some bones left, because bones don’t burn unless they’re cracked, unless the heat from the fire cracks them open or something. So apparently my grandpa’s femur bone and like tibia or something was still left there, so the grandkids have to go and pick those up…and then I forgot what she said they did with them! Um, I’m pretty sure they burned them or somehow like, crushed them. So they eventually burn all of them. And then they put him in this little box, his ashes. And actually there might be some other traditional things in there, sorry I don’t know. So, I mean this is for my family, I’m sure if you’re richer I’m sure you get like a special temple somewhere like really nice, but he was actually a veteran, so he was buried in the veteran cemetery. And it’s way different than our cemeteries, it’s like green grass, it’s taken care of by caretakers every single day, it’s beautiful, it’s up in the hills kind of, it’s really nice. So the whole family was there, my cousin, uncle, aunt, grandma, and other family members, and one of my cousins put the box on his back, they strap it on so they actually carry it up the mountain, all the way up to where his gravesite is. And then you bury the box in the ground. Also I don’t think you wanna like, take pictures of this because it’s kinda like, you’re capturing the soul, and you don’t wanna do that cause then the soul wont be able to go up to heaven. Or like the Chinese heaven. So I mean they didn’t take pictures of the box directly, but they took pictures of like the hills and stuff. And then they just pray some more, like say their goodbyes at the grave.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a funeral ritual which involves a very lengthy and specific process for proper mourning, treatment and burial of the body and ashes, and symbolic acts. There is a specific time period of mourning, and even poses and physical actions in mourning; there are specific roles that different family member play in the ritual according to their ages; there are superstitions and beliefs regarding how the deceased’s spirit or soul gets to heaven, and how to do everything correctly so as not to interfere with that transition. The whole process seems to be both in support of the dead family member’s transition to the after life, as well as the family members remembering, honoring, and making sacred that person and their life.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Ghost of Drunken Moon Lake

The informant learned the following legend while studying abroad in Taiwan, and told it to me while recounting her experience at National Taiwan University.

“At National Taiwan University, there’s a big lake in the middle of campus, and it’s called Drunken Moon Lake, and the story is that there was a woman who was I think rejected by her lover, for some reason couldn’t be with her lover, and she drowned herself in the lake and I’m not sure how long ago it was, so they believe that a ghost is an unhappy spirit, like an unrestful soul. And they believe that she lives there on the lake. So there is a pagoda in the middle of the lake that doesn’t have a bridge to it, there’s no way to get to it, so there’s just birds there, and they believe that she lives there with other unhappy female ghosts, female sprits, and that if you’re a man, you should not walk by the lake, especially at like sunset or dusk. And if you do walk by the lake, you should definitely not talk to any woman because it could be an evil spirit trying to seduce you and she’ll drag you into the lake with her. Or else, if she doesn’t drag you into the lake, she could also go with you and pretend to be your wife or your girlfriend, but she’ll continue to bring bad things into your life and continue to haunt you without you knowing. And you’ll think you’re in love with her and meanwhile she’s destroying your life. So yeah, don’t find a girlfriend at Drunken Moon Lake”

The informant learned of this legend gradually over her time studying abroad in Taiwan, as whenever she would be around the lake, other people would warn her and tell her about the ghost that resided in it. She received pieces of the story in both English and Mandarin from different people.

The informant did not mention anything regarding the origins of this tale, or why people believed it, but it seemed to be taken quite seriously. Like many other horror tales and legends, maybe its origins had some practical application. Perhaps it was meant to deter young men from approaching the lake for some reason. Perhaps someone wanted to keep them away from flirting with the women around the lake, or keep them from trying to swim in the lake.

Legends
Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

A Taiwanese aboriginal story about two suns

The following story was told to me by the informant while talking about the things she learned while studying abroad in Taiwan.

“An aboriginal story from Taiwan… There’s a lot of different versions of it (the aboriginal story) and actually different tribes have the same story but different versions, but the one that I heard was told by a man of the Atyal tribe, he’s probably about sixty. So, It’s the story of two suns, and in the story, they’re living a long time ago, and the tribe is having a huge problem because there’s two suns in the sky, and it gets too hot, and it’s never dark, and it’s destroying the plants, and the people can’t live because they can’t sleep and they can’t produce any food for themselves, and I think the plant that they grow is millet. And so they want to select a hero from the tribe to go and shoot one of the suns with a bow and arrow, and so they keep on choosing the strongest man, and they have him go out. But every time he goes out, by the time he gets close enough to the sun to shoot it down, he’s become an old man, and he’s no longer the strong warrior of the tribe that could do it, and so they go on for a long time and they can’t… they have no way to solve the problem, and so then one time there’s a wise man and he’s strong, but he’s not the strongest, but he’s a smart young man and he says, ‘I’m going to take a young boy from the village, and I’m going to carry him on my back with me, and I’m gonna train him, and I’m gonna take him on my quest with me to take down the sun.’ and so by the time they get close enough to the sun, the wise young man is no longer a young man; he’s an old man. But he’s brought up a new young man who’s now strong enough pull the arrow and to shoot down the sun, and so he shoots down the sun and saves the tribe, and that’s how the story of two suns goes.”

The informant learned about this story because she was studying the ancient Taiwanese aboriginal language of the Atyal tribe. Their language is almost extinct, with only about 200 remaining native speakers. However, as the informant points out, this same legend is shared by some of the other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, in different versions. When I asked about the origins of the Atyal people and other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, the informant said that they are indeed related to the same Polynesian peoples who also inhabited New Zealand and/or Australia (she couldn’t remember which).

By examining aboriginal cultures where they are at risk of going extinct, we can learn more about ancient culture, and perhaps draw conclusions as to how modern cultures came to be. Unfortunately, aboriginal peoples like those belonging to the Atyal tribe are dwindling and being forgotten, a pattern that shows no signs of reversal. It’s important to document legends and myths such as the above before they disappear, so they can be examined and studied and perhaps teach us something about our modern society.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection
Proverbs

Crow’s Mouth

Information about the Informant

My informant is a freelance editor and translator living in Taiwan. She was born in Taiwan and has lived there essentially her whole life, except for a few years in America. I asked her specifically about this proverb that I’d heard my grandma tell me when I was young as I’d never really understood it, and she told me the origin of the proverb and how it became the version that I heard as a child.

Transcript

“‘Having a crow’s mouth.’ Because we Chinese believe—no, not believe, Chinese always claim that crows are bad luck. The story’s very simple. It’s just…we feel the crow—because it’s black, so it’s bad luck. So when it—and other people say…uh…most of the time, it’s just that we believe, it may go against biology, but we believe that most of the time, crows don’t speak. That they don’t go, ‘Wah, wah, wah, wah.’ So when they do speak, it’s that bad things are about to happen. That it’s kind of like…a…prophet, can predict, can tell you that bad luck or bad things are coming. So, so, when they speak, they just…they tell you that you will have misfortune—not necessarily you, not you specifically, just somewhere around there or Taiwan or something. Just that there’ll be misfortune.

So then people started saying ‘having a crow’s mouth,’ became like ‘you’re acting like…a crow.’ That is to say, what you say, after you say this thing, it’ll actually happen. So they’ll say you have ‘a crow’s mouth.’ But if…if a person says something and then it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t count as ‘crow’s mouth.’

Collector: “But you…you—when you say someone has the ‘mouth of a crow,’ you don’t know yet if the thing will happen. Just, as soon as they say, ‘Oh, this bad thing might happen,’ then you need to say, ‘CROW’S MOUTH.’

‘Yes.’

Collector: So you haven’t even checked, to see if it’s really happened.

‘Yes. And, when it—when it first started, ‘crow’s mouth,’ this term was…was…changed—it was that the thing the person said, if it really happened, then we would berate him, saying, “It was you having a crow’s mouth.” That is, for instance, uh, we at NTCH [informant’s work place], each of us wishes…wishes that our boss won’t, won’t do a certain thing. And then a person then, then says, ‘Oh!’—never mind, if we, let me give an example, for instance, we have our first day off, we just had, let me see, Memorial Day. And the day before we get Memorial Day off, someone says, ‘Let’s hope that…after the holiday ends, the first day we come back to work, we don’t get called to a…kind of…meeting…that starts at 8 in the morning and lasts till 7 in the evening kind of meeting.’ I’ve heard that the person who likes our English writings, that boss has that kind of meeting a lot. And then…and then—because everyone thought he was just kidding, ‘No, no, no, that won’t happen,’ and then, yeah, the first day back at work, it actually happens that there’s a meeting from 8 in the morning, as soon as you get to the office, you get called to the meeting, lasting until the afternoon, 7 o’clock, getting home at 7 pm. And then people will yell at the person who said it, ‘You have a crow’s mouth.’ However, if it was this person, it happens that every thing he says like that always has this kind of effect, that is, whenever he says something, it always has this effect, for instance, he eats lunch, that one, that one, at that place that [a coworker of hers] took you to eat once, and then, the dish that they like to eat, they say, ‘I hope they’ll have that dish today,’ and then that person says again, ‘They won’t have that dish today because it’s that…um…that—lately that dish has been going up in price. They definitely won’t use that dish.’ And then when they go, they really don’t have that dish, they’ll say, ‘You had a crow’s mouth!’ And then…um…in the future, when he talks, people will say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth,’ to stop him first. So when he’s prepared to—before he, um, starts to talk, you have to say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth.’ But then, that is, nowadays, um—actually, Taiwanese people are becoming more and more superstitious. Because we’re having more and more bad luck. Don’t we say a lot that we are a bad luck family? The whole country, it has more and more of a workload, things like that. Less and less money. Then everyone starts to become really nervous, whenever someone starts to say something, they say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth!’ Meaning in case, meaning if you say it, then it’ll become a bad thing. So, this phrase became a sort of ‘stop someone from becoming’—it’s superstitious, in case what they say becomes a thing that, um, comes true.”

Analysis

The meaning behind the proverb and how it became a preemptive warning instead of a way to blame someone after a misfortune is pretty clear in the transcript. I do agree with her that this change from a comment or exclamation after the fact to a warning (and the time I remember hearing my grandmother tell me the proverb, she did sound pretty horrified and frantic) does reflect a change in the culture of Taiwan. I don’t believe necessarily that it is due directly to a sort of economic crisis or “bad luck” for the whole island, but it does seem to at least reflect a change in behavior from a more relaxed one where such prophecies were not welcome but tolerated, to one that actively tries to prevent these prophecies from ever being made in the first place.

Original Chinese

Continue reading Crow’s Mouth

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Jade Mountain Ghost

Information about the Informant

My informant is a freelance editor and translator living in Taiwan. She was born in Taiwan and has lived there essentially her whole life, except for a few years in America. She told me about a ghost story that she heard from one of her college classmates that he actually supposedly experienced.

Transcript

“The first one is our class—my undergraduate classmate told me this. He’s one of those—he belonged to a club for…for—mountain climbing kind of stuff—a hiking club. So, they went to the tallest mountain in Taiwan—that mountain’s called Yu Mountain. ‘Yu’ is for like ‘jade.’ Jade Mountain. Although if you just pronounce it, it’s just Yu Mountain.’ So they went to the place that was just…just very remote, with no one around. So they—some people would build little huts for their—so that they could all be together. Sleeping. So they were all sleeping at night. Then—because Yu Mountain counts as a…um…a—lots of people who go there to climb have accidents, that kind of mountain, so there are a lot of ghost stories. So their…their hut, so people say, used to be some people—because Taiwan during springtime sometimes has times when it suddenly gets really cold, and it seems some people don’t bring enough clothes there, so they froze to death. So…so…that hut people said was haunted.

So my classmate, his team had a total of about twenty people. Both guys and girls. He said at night, he’d been sleeping till late at night, he…he…maybe it was early morning or midnight, he felt that there was a girl trying to wake him up. Telling him, ‘I’m cold.’ She borrowed from him a pair of socks. And so he just kept sleeping like that, half-awake, walked over to his sack, and got a pair of socks for that girl, and that, dong, fell asleep again. And then—and then, the next morning he woke up, he suddenly remembered this event, and so…and so he began to ask all the girls on the team, ‘Last night, did one of you come and borrow a pair of socks from me?’ Everyone denied it. So he went to look at his socks and, sure enough, he was missing a pair. And so…so they began to be very scared. And everyone went to check their pairs of socks—everyone went to check if they had—who had slept—because, you know, when you get tired on high mountains—to see if one of them had in a drunken-like state stolen his pair of socks. Everyone—no one’s socks had his—his pair of socks. No one’s sack had his pair of socks.

[laughs] They were so scared that they hurriedly packed up and quickly ran away from that part! And when he got back, he told us this ghost story.”

Analysis

This is an interesting piece for me as the story strongly resembles a variant of the Western “Vanishing Hitchhiker story. In the Western version, a driver picks up a hitchhiker and, because it is cold, the hitchhiker borrows a piece of clothing, usually a jacket or a coat, from the driver. The driver drops the hitchhiker off at his or her destination, which is usually a cemetery. One way or another, the driver will meet with someone who knew the hitchhiker after this incident and the person will reveal that the hitchhiker has been dead for years. In the variant that this account by my informant reminds me of, the driver then goes to the cemetery and finds the gravestone bearing the name of the hitchhiker, with the borrowed piece of clothing draped over it. I was surprised that, in this case that my informant told me about, there was no ending where the borrowed socks made a reappearance in a cemetery or some area associated with the deceased, but then as the ending of this purportedly real experience had all those involved run away in fear, that would not have been possible if they never returned to the site. It is interesting the resemblance this bears to the Western hitchhiker story though, so much so that I am almost inclined to suspect some tampering, either someone setting up the situation deliberately such that it was similar or some changing of details after the fact. But if true, then this would be a strong case of a memorate, where someone’s actual experience becomes part of an established folkloric culture.

For more about “The Vanishing Hitchhiker,” visit:

Brunvand, Jan Harold. “The Vanishing Hitchhiker.” Uploader. Bernd Weschner. 1981. <http://bernd.wechner.info/Hitchhiking/vanish.html>.

Original Chinese

Continue reading Jade Mountain Ghost

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Pointing at the Moon

If you point your finger at the moon, you would anger the moon, and the deity living on the moon will slice off your ear when you sleep.

The informant is not sure why this is so or who the deity living on the moon is. However, this superstition may be rooted in respecting the deities, and could possibly be linked to the myth of Cháng’é (嫦娥), the Chinese goddess of the moon. She lives on the moon because she had swallowed the elixir of life and became light, floating away from the earth. Her husband Hòu Yì (后羿) was a mortal archer known for shooting down nine of ten suns that were scorching the earth. Cháng’é lives on the moon with a jade rabbit.

It is interesting to note that pointing is disrespectful in cultures all around the world.

Folk Beliefs

The Sitting Ghost

Informant was teaching and boarding at a high school in the mountains, a three-hour bus ride away from the city. The dorm was a foreign environment that frightened her. When she finally fell asleep, she was awoken by a strange presence that she sensed at the foot of her bed. She was unable to move, feeling as though something were pressing down on her, though nothing was above her. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she noticed a man standing at the foot of her bed, fully clad in an ancient Chinese military costume. Since he was watching her peacefully, she assumed that it was an acquaintance from a past life or simply a passing spirit and fell back to sleep in peace, believing that he was there to protect her.

In Western cultures this phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis, and psychologists have come up with scientific explanations. In Taiwan, however, the cause is attributed to ghosts. The phenomenon is known as “鬼壓床” (gǔi yā chuáng), which literally means “ghost pressing the bed,” and the symptoms are strikingly similar. Author Maxine Hong Kingston describes this phenomenon as the “sitting ghost” in her memoir The Woman Warrior.

Due to the prevalence of Taoism and Buddhism in Taiwan, the vast majority of the population—regardless of religion—believes in ghosts. Ghosts are not necessarily evil, as anyone could potentially become a ghost after they die. 

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