USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Taiwanese’

Quiet Night Thoughts Poem

“Do I have a poem… This is a classic, man. I learned this in Chinese school when I was younger. [Recites the poem in Chinese]

I’ll go line by line. Poems usually are like, same number of words each time, and only the last word rhymes, you know, you know, poetry.

And it’s umm… ‘I sit in front of the bed, looking at the moon,’ So it’s already a morose kind of tone. It’s night time, you’re sitting on your bed, no one else around you, it’s like praying, but they don’t do that in China. ‘Looking at the moon…’ I don’t remember what the second line means, forget the second line! [laughs]

And then he raises his head, looks at the moon, and then he lowers his head in sadness. And at some point, some of these words are about, like, he’s thinking of his family. I’m not sure which ones. So the fourth line, end of the fourth line or the second line is about thinking of his family.

And this poem was taught to me to teach me that, uhh… when you get into real life, you’ll be lonely [laughs], and you’ll think of your parents, and you’ll think of your home, and you’ll be like, ‘Man, I had it great!’

So this was a poem [laughs] to teach a spoiled brat to appreciate what he has. [laughs]

At least, that’s how it was presented to me when I was younger.


This is like the classic Chinese, like everyone knows this one. If people memorize one poem, it’s like this poem, usually.”

Note: For a published version of this poem, see “Quiet Night Thoughts” by Li Bai, found easily on many online webpages and in: John Milford and Joseph Lau, Classical Chinese Literature – Volume 1, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

Analysis: This poem is a memorized version of a very famous piece of Chinese authored literature from over a millennium ago. However, like the informant’s Chinese Zodiac performance, this somewhat original performance was also delivered with active animation, emphasis on humor, and mental translation into English. As such, some of the detail of the poem is lost, but the meaning conveyed by the poem remains, since that is what stuck with the informant over everything else. Versions of this poem are often used in  order to instill traditional values in Chinese schoolchildren at an early age, and it seems to have done that job very well with this informant in particular (who could not recall the whole poem, but definitely remembered its purpose, origin, and spread).

Folk speech

Pair of Chinese Number Riddles

“A riddle… This one, this one’s uhh, a good riddle, because it also translates to English. So it’s umm, there’s a fisherman, oh, umm…

So you know how there’s Chinese New Year, right? And fifteen days after Chinese New Year, because Chinese New Year is a two-week celebration, fifteen day celebration, and the last day is the lantern festival. And at a traditional lantern festival, you uhh, you have a parade with a bunch of lanterns, you eat, like, a specific food, which is called like… Literal translation is, like, ‘soup balls,’ but it’s like, uhh, kinda like mochi kinda thing, it’s rice, rice balls, and like, sugar water… and then, umm, you also do riddles, that’s like also part of the festival.

So I learned this riddle when I was participating in that holiday, we had like… something… umm… and the riddle is:

‘A fisherman went out one day, and, umm… so first he caught… 6 fish without the head, then 9 fish without the tail, then 8 fish except these fish were only half a fish each. How many fish did he catch in total?’ ”

Like… whole fish?

“It’s a riddle! [laughs]

Okay, the answer is zero. And you’re like, ‘What the, what the heck?’ Because umm, if you take the number 6, and write it in Arabic numerals, and you take off the top half, it becomes 0. Same with the 9, if you take the bottom half it becomes 0. If you take 8 and you cut it in half, then it’s 0. So you have 0+0+0! [laughs]

It’s some trickery! Yeah!”

Why Arabic numerals?

“Umm, well, this isn’t, this isn’t like a really old one, but like, I just learned this one in the context of this Chinese event. And like, Chinese people like numbers, too, you know? [laughs]

It’s part of it, So like, I dunno if this part is a trick. There’s a version where… Is there a version? No, I don’t remember any other specific riddles, but I know there were a lot that had to deal with, like, what the actual Chinese numbers were written as in Chinese. I don’t remember any of those riddles. But I remember there was like a series of them…

Oh! There’s one… umm… it’s uhh… what is… you take half of six and round down, what is it. And you need to know how six is written in Chinese. It’s written like… dot on top, straight line, and then two dashes that are like kinda sloped into each other on the bottom. And you take half of six and round down, the actual meaning of the riddle is: You look at the bottom half of six, and that’s what eight is written as.

So then the question would be like half of six, round down. And all the little kids would be like ‘three!’ And you’d be like ‘no!!! It’s eight!’ And then they circle it on the board, and you go ‘wooooooow!’ [laughs]

Yeah, so that was like, basic level riddles.

Folk speech

Taiwanese Idiom– Eating Tofu

“I’ve never heard a mainlander say it. And the phrase is, ‘Sou doufu.’ Literally translated that is, ‘eat tofu.’ And then, umm, this is something said when… if you say ‘I’m gonna go eat tofu,’ that means ‘I’m gonna go out and try to find some girls.’ ”


So that’s like, uhh, hunting, uhh not hunting tail, uhh, ‘chasing tail’ in the United States.


“Yeah, it’s like chasing tail. But it also, but if you say someone ‘eats tofu,’ that could also mean he’s very promiscuous, so, but it, it’s not, its definitely not like positively connotated. It’s more negative, cuz’ promiscuity is negatively connotated. Yeah.


And the reason is it’s ‘eat tofu,’ is because tofu’s like, white, silky smooth, very nice, fragile, gentle, and in Chinese culture, girls are often viewed in this way, traditionally, like pale skin is a very idealized thing and girls are very fragile. Like they weren’t allowed to have their own opinions and all that stuff back in the day. So I think that’s why it is ‘eat tofu.’ Because girls are basically tofu. [laughs]”


Where’d you learn that from?


“Umm… This was like… you just hang out with your friends and they say these things. Yeah, I have Taiwanese friends, and then like, cuz all, in Chinese school, all my friends had Taiwanese parents too, so, like, they had Taiwanese friends and it just like, propagates. I dunno when I picked it up, but I did. Culture. [laughs]”

Analysis: This idiom is quite interesting, despite its brevity, because of the cultural values that it exposes. The informant implied that this was a phrase used only to refer to the activities of men. Therefore, at once, Taiwanese culture is revealed to somewhat objectify women, but also to commodify them. As the informant notes, the idiom harkens back to a time when women were expected to be docile and pretty to look at rather than the equality present in modern society. It is interesting to note that this phrase is being spread amongst Taiwanese youth in the United States, despite its applicability to Taiwan and Taiwanese values.


The Story of Mulan


The topic of Disney’s Mulan came up in a conversation between the informant and me, and the informant told me that she knew the story the movie was based on. We later met to talk about it and other Chinese stories, and I recorded the conversation for collection purposes.


Informant: The setting is a very very long time ago, in the dynasty of which the name I do not know. There was, um, this family, Mulan’s family, and she doesn’t have a brother, or, um, an older brother or a younger brother. The only man in her family was her father. And… The dynasty went to war with another country. So the emperor gave out a draft for all the laymen to come to the army. And since Mulan’s family did not have any, uh, males other than her father, her father was kind of like required to go to the army. But, um, Mulan’s father was very old, and Mulan was worried that if her father went, he wouldn’t be able to, like, he would never come back. So instead, she disguised as a man and went into the army by herself. And this is actually a very, uh, rare act in ancient China, because women at that time were expected to be gentle and soft and weak. But, um, she did this, and then, um, joined the army, and I don’t think anybody discovered that she was actually a woman. And she fought the war, and reputedly she got safely back home. So that was nice. And you would think that in ancient China, those who worshiped gentleness and kindness would criticize her actions, but she actually wasn’t criticized. And that’s because this brave act of hers displayed, um, filial piety and a lot of love for her father, and that was like a more important value for women, to be loyal and pious to their family. So, that’s the end of the story.


“The Story of Mulan” upholds loyalty to one’s family as a more important priority than staying consistent with societal expectations regarding one’s behavior. The story also focuses on a female character who defies gender roles and portrays her positively. It also includes elements of identity concealment and deception through Mulan’s disguising herself as a man. The poem Ballad of Mulan is regarded as the first instance the character appeared in print. Mulan also appears in modern works such as the 1998 film Mulan by Walt Disney Pictures and the television show Once Upon a Time, which airs on ABC. Mulan’s character has remained popular for centuries, and knowledge of her story has spread far beyond its origins in China.

Folk Beliefs

Dining Etiquette


The informant, who is Buddhist, gave a presentation at a recent retreat on spirituality that I had gone on. I asked to meet with him to talk about other Buddhist principles and lore that he had not gone over at the retreat.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: So, again, I was raised Buddhist. So my parents are Taiwanese Buddhist, which is a very specific like type of Buddhism. It’s a kind of pure land Buddhism, where it’s like, borderline spiritual, like religious Buddhism. Like a savior type of Buddhism, as opposed to, like the origin of Buddhism in India, which was more about self cultivation. One of the things that they espouse, or like, one way of practicing that Buddhist practice, is not eating meat. Because, you know, obviously if you eat meat, you are then thereby, you know, perpetuating the suffering of animals, or other living beings. So that makes sense. So there’s no beef, no chicken, no pork, no fish, no eggs… Actually they do eat eggs. Um, but then they go a step further, actually, and there’s a rule where you don’t eat garlic. Or you don’t eat anything that would like, smell bad. Which is so interesting. And like, my dad would always like, “Oh, make it vegetarian, but no onions.” And I was like, “What? Onions aren’t meat.” And he would be like, “But it’s the Buddhist thing to do.” And I’ve heard various, like, folklore as to why that is. Um, one of it is, like, so silly, like “Oh, you know. You don’t want to offend someone with the smell, so you don’t do it.” Because other people would be offended by the smell of onions, apparently. That’s one story. And then I recently heard, recently being like a year ago, where I heard a whole different story that was fascinating to me. Which, now, reflecting on it it doesn’t make any sense. But, the whole premise is, like, those types of foods tend to be like roots, so you would need to, like, harm the Earth by physically digging at it, like opening up the Earth, to get these, like, vegetables. Or like these very pungent, um, foods. So that’s like, ginger, garlic, onions. But then I’m thinking like, doesn’t that include like, carrots?

Me: And potatoes?

Informant: And potatoes! [Laughter] So, um, but that was something somebody told me. And again, it comes from the place of like, mitigating suffering and not causing harm, even to the Earth. And like, I can see how someone would espouse that folklore, and just be like, “Yeah, makes total legitimate sense.” But, for me I was a practicing vegetarian, but I didn’t buy the whole onion thing ’cause I didn’t get it.


This dining custom embodies the Buddhist principle of not causing others unneeded suffering, similar to the practice of vegetarianism. The extra explanation about preventing harm to the Earth also espouses this principle, though the informant pointed out a flaw in that explanation. The informant did not subscribe to this practice himself, though he learned it from his family.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

The Golden Rule


The informant, who is Buddhist, gave a presentation at a recent retreat on spirituality that I had gone on. I asked to meet with him to talk about other Buddhist principles and lore that he had not gone over at the retreat.


Informant: So I’ve heard this in various forms. It’s the Golden Rule. Uh, which is to, “Do unto others what you would like done to you.” And this is the kind of, uh, general rule of thumb. And that’s something that like I think my parents espoused on me. And I grew up as a Buddhist, so a lot about, you know, the passion, kindness, love, in that form, was always definitely valued. What was interesting is, I’ve heard it in a different form, one time at a Buddhist summer camp. Um, it was flipped around to say, “Do not do unto others what you would not like done to you.” Um, the whole premise being, like, don’t, you know, don’t project your beliefs or values onto another person, um, because the previous iteration of that would have you projecting, like, “Oh, I like this thing. So thereby you must like this thing as well.” But that’s flipped to be the other way, where you don’t assume you know what they would like, but recognize what you would not like, and then respect those boundaries in other people as well. And I think, I think that’s a good way of flipping it. And I think it’s also a very Buddhist way of flipping it, in that like… Oh, you know, to mitigate suffering for other people, recognize where suffering comes from and like, just don’t do it. But definitely the first time I saw it, I think was like a poster in the middle school, a really like, tacky, general quote that people have. Like inspirational things. And then like, I read it and I was like, yeah, that’s a pretty good proverb.


The Golden Rule is a teaching from the Christian Bible that concerns how to treat other people. The informant shared with me the Buddhist version of the Golden Rule. The teachings between the two versions are similar, but the Buddhist version focuses on how to not treat others rather than on how to treat others. The Christian version of the Golden Rule is popularly known and used, and, like the informant mentioned, many people learn it at a young age. Versions of it appear in various places, from Bible verse Matthew 7:12 to Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies to the song “3-Way (The Golden Rule)” by The Lonely Island. Versions of this principle taught by other religions, however, are lesser known.


The Origin of Chinese Valentine’s Day


The topic of Disney’s Mulan came up in a conversation between the informant and me, and the informant said that she knew the story that inspired the movie. I asked her to share that story as well as other Chinese or Taiwanese stories she knew and recorded the conversation for collection purposes.


Informant: Okay, so in ancient China they believed, um, that stars are actually gods, just like, um, ancient Greek people. So there are, I think, these two stars that are especially bright. One is from the constellation of Altair, and in Chinese they call it like the “cow star,” “the coy boy.” Like the “boy who farms cows.” Okay, I’m going to call it “cow boy,” but it’s not that type of cowboy. The “cow boy star.”  And there’s this other star that’s called the “weaver star.” The “weaver girl star.” And that star’s from the constellation of Vega. A very bright star too. But these two stars are located across from the milky way. There’s this vertical milky way, and then the stars are on the two sides. Yeah, and so there was this story that the cow boy and the weaver girl, they fell in love with each other, but love is not allowed in the holy court of the Chinese gods. Like the highest god mother. So the highest god mother discovered that her granddaughter, the weaver girl, actually fell in love with another god, like a boy. And then she was angry, so she like kind of put the cow boy into exile, and she like abandoned, made him become a human, so instead of a god. So he reincarnated or something, he became a human, and his job was farming cows, so he’s still a cow boy. Um, but he had a friend who was also a god. And then this friend… Okay, his friend was Taurus, which is like the “golden cow” or something in Chinese. His friend golden cow spoke for him and then the god mother got angry with the golden cow as well, so she abandoned, she exiles Taurus as well. So Taurus became cow boy’s cow in the, in the human world. But Taurus knew what was going on, but the cow boy forgot everything that happened when he was a god. And then, um, so one day the weaver girl was very unhappy, so she tried to work very hard in her job in the hopes that her grandmother would let the cow boy come back again, and her job was to weave clouds. So she weaved some very beautiful clouds. Um… And then one day, I think the goddesses wanted to come down to the world of the humans to take a shower because apparently there was this really beautiful pool that they wanted to take a shower in. Or river. I don’t know. So they came down and took a shower. And when they came down, the Taurus who morphed into a cow spoke to the cow boy and said, “If  you go now to this poolside you will find a lot of women’s clothes, and you should go and take the one that is red. And if you take that one you will find a wife.” And then so the cow boy listened to his cow and went to the poolside and took the red clothes. So when the goddesses, or like fairies… Yeah. Maybe fairies is a more apt, uh, description. So when the fairies were done taking showers, they went back, but because the weaver girl, because she didn’t have her clothes on, she wasn’t able to return. And then the cow boy appeared with her clothes and asked if she would marry him. And, um, she was actually… She was at first very angry with him. But when she looked at the cow boy again, she discovered this was her… her lover from the past. She was really happy, so she agreed, and so they married, and then lived as a family in the human world and her job was to weave. His job was to farm cows. And then they were really happy together. Until the god mother discovers that her, the god mother’s granddaughter, the weaver girl, was with this guy again in the human world! So she was utterly angry. And then she came down and wanted to take, um, the weaver girl back to the world of the gods. And then the cow boy and their two children were very sad. They were horrified to be separated from the weaver girl. And so they were crying, and they were like begging. And um… Apparently the god mother was a little moved by this, so she allowed the cow boy and their two children to return. But she manually separated the cow boy and the weaver girl with like a river. I think she tore up the sky or something, and that’s how apparently the milky way formed. The milky way was there to separate these, the pair of lovers. And um… And said the cow boy and the weaver girl could only meet for one day in a whole year, and I believe that’s on July the 7th? I don’t know if the two stars actually converge on July the 7th. Maybe they do. Maybe they do like go into the milky way on July the 7th. I don’t know. But um, so reputedly, on July the 7th a bunch of birds, um… holy birds. Let’s see… Cranes! Okay. Cranes that signify happiness and love, right? A bunch of cranes would come and form a bridge so that the weaver girl and her husband and their two children can meet on the bridge for one day in a whole year. And… yeah. So that became the origin of the Chinese Valentine’s Day. And then these two stars would be just on the night sky.


This story provides an explanation for the Chinese celebration of Valentine’s Day. It has an elaborate exposition, and the actual basis for the holiday does not get revealed until the very end of the story. It tells the story of two lovers who a divine entity tried to separate and their eventual being allowed to have a relationship, but only on one day out of the entire year. The story sends the message that love cannot be mitigated by distance and by the efforts of outside parties if the couple’s feelings are strong enough.

Tales /märchen

The Story of the White Snake and Her Lover


The topic of Disney’s Mulan came up in a conversation between the informant and me, and the informant said that she knew the story that inspired the movie. I asked her to share that story as well as other Chinese or Taiwanese stories she knew and recorded the conversation for collection purposes.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: A long time ago, there was this monk that was really proficient in his Buddhist studies. So, people who are proficient in the Buddhist studies, in Chinese culture they believe these people will reincarnate carrying the knowledge of the previous life with them. So this monk, one day he went to the market and saw that a butcher was about to kill a white snake. And white snakes in Chinese culture usually symbolize, I’m not sure, but they symbolize something… not bad. Maybe luck. So he saved the white snake from the butcher and released the snake. And in traditional Chinese folklore, they believed that if something lived for a long time, like even a tree or a grass or an animal, if they lived for a long time, they eventually developed intelligence, like a human. So this white snake lived a long time and, um, was able to, like… It became intelligent. And so she wanted to, it was a female, she wanted to return the kindness that this monk bestowed on her in saving her life. So she followed the monk, and the monk had a student. And she fell in love with the monk’s student. So she morphed into a human, a woman, and the student fell in love with her. And she also loved the student. So they married, but they married after the monk died. So the monk already died when they married. And they had a child, and they were really happy, until the monk reincarnated. Um, so he came back to find his student, only to find out that his student was married to, um, the white snake, the human form of the white snake. So, um… We can call it a phantom, though “phantom” usually implies that there isn’t a material form. So um… The actual term is “yaoguai,” which is like a phantom, but with actual form, physical. So he found out that his student married this phantom, and he was worried that the phantom might be a bad phantom, because there are bad and good phantoms. And so he told his student that his wife was actually not a human, but a huge white snake. And so, and then he told him… I think he gave him a tool, that if he used the tool to look at his wife at night, he would see that his wife was… He would see the girl’s original form. So the guy went back and saw that his wife was actually a huge white snake, and he was like terrified! So I think he went back with his son, and he abandoned his wife and his child and went back with his teacher, with the monk. But I think they were still in love with each other. And then, um, the white snake wanted to save… Well… She wanted to retrieve her husband, so she kind of flooded the temple where the monk was, and so the monk thought she was a really bad phantom. And the monk was stronger than the white snake, so in the end he defeated her and kind of entrapped her under a tower, um, and said that she couldn’t ever come out again unless this tree before her tower bloomed with flowers. But, um, that tree never bloomed, so it’s like impossible. You’ll never come out again. But! Time passed, and, um, their child went… He studied really hard, and he went to take this national test, in which he got number one. And then if you scored the top, then you get a flower, like a fake flower, from the emperor. So this child got the fake flower and then went back to the tower to visit his mom and hung the fake flower on the tree. And, um, and then this was kind of like the tree bloomed with a flower. And so his mom got released, and the family reunited happily ever after.

Me: So where did you hear this story for the first time?

Informant: I don’t know. I think this was just a really old folklore that, like, people just generally tell each other. Like maybe in kindergarten story time. Or maybe my parents told me as a bed time story, or something like that.

Me: And what, like, do you think is like the message behind the story?

Informant: Message?

Me: Or is there one?

Informant: Maybe be good. There are good phantoms who try to save people’s lives. Or it might be that like, um, life living as a monk without a wife might not be, uh, the happiest thing to do. Like you maybe want a wife or a child or a family, instead of keeping on studying, studying, studying for lives after lives after lives.


Me: Oh my god… Studying for lives after lives after lives…


In this story, the pair of lovers, the snake and the monk’s student, only meet accidentally when the snake tries to find the monk for saving her life. The monk, who earlier saves the snake, later opposes her when she enters a relationship with his student. The story shows interesting changes in relations between people through this case. The phantom’s getting released from the area under the tower despite its improbability demonstrates the futility of trying to keep lovers apart when their feelings for one another are strong. Her release also furthers the theme of chance, as she had to depend on her son receiving a flower as a gift and hanging it on the tree to be released.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Taiwanese Lantern Festival


“I’m not sure about the history behind it, but there’s a lantern festival that happens in Taiwan. People write wishes on a paper lantern, light a candle in it, and let it go. Nowadays it happens all throughout the year, but historically it was a specific season, but I don’t remember exactly which day. A specific township in Taiwan is known for this, so now tourists come to do it. Tangled shows it… a lot of cultures may have lantern festivals but I think that’s what Tangled was based on. Lanterns can be pretty big, as tall as my torso, and multiple people may share a lantern” Represents belief in greater being, writing wish and sending it to the sky will make it come true. Never done it herself. But heard about it visiting Taiwan. Multiple people per lantern, can be pretty big. Size of torso.


My informant believed that it represents belief in greater being, so writing a wish and sending it to the sky will make it come true. She’s never done it herself, but she’s heard about it while visiting Taiwan.


This festival happens in Taiwan, annually.

Personal Thoughts:

I believe the lantern festival happens in various countries in Asia, and that is indeed what the Tangled lantern scene is based on. It’s an interesting part of Asian culture that has been globalized through movies, and tourism.

You can see more about the festivals here:

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

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.


“‘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.’


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.”


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

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