Author Archives: Audrey Huang

FengShui: Two Houses Facing the Same Direction

Clarification:

Chinese (Simplified): 风水
Chinese (Traditional): 風水
Romanization/Pingyin: fēngshuǐ
Literal Translation: wind water
Free Translation: “Chinese geomancy” (Wikipedia), essentially harmonizing with the natural world

Text:

Informant: Yeah you have anything, when I grew up I obviously my parents my grandparents talk a lot that stuff. But I don’t quite understand you know. They say a certain thing make a lot of sense like saying if you you have a house in front of your house, basically facing the same direction, generally you don’t want the front of the house taller than your back your your your house. Because that way all the fortune, block all the fortune you’re going to have. If we face the same direction, generally you don’t want the house in front of you taller than you are. 

Context:

Q: How did you learn about FengShui?

Informant: I mean, the thing is I, I didn’t get as much knowledge as I should because when I, when the high school already away from my parents grandparents. […] Yeah, but, even then they aren’t experts. They always found somebody pointing a certain thing to them.

Q: Did a lot of people believe in FengShui?

Informant: Well… more and more now. I think the, in China, when Cultural Revolution came, they kinda destroyed a lot of those believes. But like, people in HongKong, Taiwan, they believe a lot more than mainland China. But in mainland China now, they have more and more people believe. Especially uh in my side of the area, those people.

Q: As in like in the country side or in your province?

Informant: Well in the province, but well I think now more and more people believe. In the whole China. Because they they, I mean, this is traditional culture so. So even though Cultural Revolution interrupt for a period of time, they those things coming back. Yeah, they have all kind of stuff, but as I say I don’t do a lot of study for this kind of stuff. 

Q: Do you know when it originated? Like what Dynasty? 

Informant: I’m not quite sure, I, I obviously I mean follow the tradition I don’t know when it started. I’m not quite sure.

Q: How did the Cultural Revolution affect FengShui?

Informant: Well cultural revolution, Chairman Mao basically want to break all of the traditions, right. This this fengshui is tradition, I mean they they go through all this Well basically Chairman Mao break everything that is tradition. basically want a brand new culture, everything brand new. So it last for 10 years, obviously affect uhhh some people. I mean when I came to U.S., I found out a lot Taiwanese family, HongKong family, a lot more tradition. I mean they you go to their house, or even I work for a restaurant they always have some food put aside to to try to what you call, to feed your ancestors that kind of stuff. But in my time, in China, Cultural Revolution those things stopped. So we haven’t practiced for until a little bit later on, when Chairman Mao died, Cultural Revolution end. So maybe another 10 years people slowly slowly bring back the practice.

Personal Thoughts:

With this particular piece of folklore, I find an interesting combination between practical logic and folk belief. If two houses are facing the same direction (the front of one house faces the back of another), it makes sense to not want the house in front of you to be taller. That would not only make your house difficult to find/see, but also block out sunlight, wind, etc. Perhaps people wouldn’t be able to find your house. What I find interesting is how these blocking of natural things has been equated with the blocking out of fortune. Perhaps having an accessible house or having your house be exposed to sunlight/wind are important things in Chinese culture.

Additional Notes:

For a similar discussion of the oppression of culture under Communism and Post-Communist revival, read:
Valk, Ulo. 2006. Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore. Journal of Folklore Research 43: 31-51

ZhongQiuJie: Mooncakes

References:

Chinese Characters (Simplified): 中秋节
Chinese Characters (Traditional): 中秋節
Romanization: zhōngqiūjiě
Transliteration: Middle – Autumn – Holiday
Free Translation: Mid-Autumn Festival

Text + Context:

Q: Was there a point as a kid where you first started celebrating or learned about it?

A: Oh ever since I can remember things, it’s always every year that way. We go to relatives homes they come to our home we eat mooncake. And in China there are many different type of mooncake, like made by fresh ground pork, and uh and you know they have different style, cantonese style, SuShe I don’t know how they call in English, is basically the uh the place near Shanghai they have some kind of special SuZhou is the city close to Shanghai, small one. They have a particular way to make mooncake.

Q: Would you usually eat a particular type of mooncake? Is there a particular one in Shanghai?

A: We have both, either they call sushe guangshe, I mean it’s Shanghai so they have everything. shushe is a little less expensive, guangshe is a little cheaper. But when people come to our home, as guests, they bring a gift? Usually they bring Guangshe gift, just because it’s uh it looks a little nicer and costs a little bit more. But I remember my uncle, because uh, come to our home, since our mom is his older sister. He would always come and um bring gifts um bring moon cake. bring mooncakes. And my aunt, my mom’s older sister, 3 sons they would go to they would bring the mooncake to my mom. Up to now, even last year they give to bring the mooncake. 

Q: Is it expected to bring mooncakes to relatives, and is it older relatives? 

A: It’s uh kind of expected if you go to relatives you always bring some small gift, but if it’s moon cake I mean mid fall festival, then it’s just, people just naturally bring mooncake as a gift.

A: I have never done that because I left the country very early. I just never got the chance to do that.

Context of performance: collected from an in-person conversation.

Personal Thoughts:

In Chinese culture, it’s expected for a guest to always bring a small gift when they visit. In turn, it’s expected for a host to play some 客气 (kèqì, literally means polite), which is a game of the host pseudo refusing the gift by calling the guest too generous. It’s interesting that for this particular day about reuniting with relatives, people just tend to bring mooncakes. For one thing, 中秋节 is always on the Harvest Moon, so being called a mooncake makes sense. In addition, the moon has a particular meaning linked with reunion. Overall, it’s fascinating to see a specific food with a specific intention for a specific festival.

ZhongQiuJie: Chang’E

References:

Chinese Characters (Simplified): 中秋节
Chinese Characters (Traditional): 中秋節
Romanization: zhōngqiūjiě
Transliteration: Middle – Autumn – Holiday
Free Translation: Mid-Autumn Festival

Text:

Informant: Chang e feng yue [嫦娥?月 (Chang’e Fengyue)] is uh, so there is – I, so I was reading this today, but somehow story is a little different from what I know. So what I know is that Chang’e is the lady, and her husband is a man. They don’t see each other until the moon day, so that is the day they can see each other. Chang’e is the name of this lady. Fengyue Feng yue means uh running with the moon. So when you In China, sometimes they have a drawing of the moon, bright moon, then have this lady, beautiful have beautiful clothes and kind of like.. next to the moon, and also have a small rabbit next to her. That’s a kind of a traditional character and picture, we call it Chang’e Fengyue. Chang’e that’s her name. Feng means run, yue means moon. Basically fly to the moon, and she will has the ancient clothes. Which is like beautiful long dress, 是唐代 Tang Dynasty clothes. All those really really long sleeves, you can’t see your hand, or if you do a like Tang Dynasty clothes thing you’ll probably see.

So it’s kind of interesting, uh besides all the serious part, right – eat mooncake, stuff like that. Also have, this kind of like, tale.

Her husband has a name, say they are 10 sun in the earth, so he shooting down 9, only left 1. One we are having now. 

Me: Oh! like the Chinese Archer man? [Houyi]

Informant: Right right, his wife is Chang E. And so he has a, some kind of medicine, that if you eat it you will live forever. But his wife steal it and ate it. Now, she’s going to live forever, and he wouldn’t. So somehow, I don’t remember the story exactly, and then she is now living in the other side not on the Earth, with the moon and with the rabbit and so they began to see each other once a year at 中秋节。

Informant: Since it’s a story, so it varies. That’s the part, they tell the story to foreigners. I mean, because sometimes the foreigners will ask, I mean, foreigners to Chinese. Will ask, hey what is ZhongQiuJie mean, what do you do. And sometimes they just tell this story. 

Me: Wait they made this story for foreigners?

Informant: Uhh they have this whole story even before the foreigners. but uh, since, in the past, nobody cares about Chinese ZhongQiuJie, but now with the more open to Western, more communication, everything, uhh so from time to time the foreigner will ask about this. So they say ok, we’ll just tell them this.

Context:

Q: Was there a point as a kid where you first started celebrating or learned about it?

A: Oh ever since I can remember things, it’s always every year that way.

Context of Performance: Collected from an in-person conversation. 

Personal Thoughts:

This particular story is very interesting to me because it displays a relationship between women and the moon. In many cultures across the world, women are associated with the moon. However, the typical associations are about witchcraft, menstrual cycles, or perhaps goddess representing the moon. So it was a great shock to see a story about a woman LIVING ON THE MOON. In addition, this legend displays a sort of blaming of women typically found in other stories. Chang’e is sort of exiled to the moon because she stole an elixir of immortality from her husband. This story choice likely reflects society’s greater blame towards women.

ZhongQiuJie

References

Chinese Characters (Simplified): 中秋节
Chinese Characters (Traditional): 中秋節
Romanization: zhōngqiūjiě
Transliteration: Middle – Autumn – Holiday
Free Translation: Mid-Autumn Festival

Text:

Me: 中秋节的时候,你做什么?(What do you do during Mid-Autumn Festival?)

Informant: 我去买中秋月饼 (I go to buy Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes),吃中秋月饼 (eat them),然后晚上来我就出去看bright moon (and then in the evening I go out to see the bright moon)。然后了(after that), 我打电话给我的爸爸因为中秋节就是 (I call my dad because Mid-Autumn Festival is) it’s a rounded moon so want to means kind of uh united with your relatives, your parents.

So at the time, sometime, make me a little homesick. Sometime I also go to a party like in your community. you know Chinese association sometime in the past before COVID will have uh uh uh mid-fall festival party, potluck. And then, there are, they distribute like uh moon cake. 

Me: 你小时候 (When you were younger),like, did you do other things or different things when you were at home with your family?

Informant: Back at home, uh so in you know in Shanghai, uhhh so the uh we will go visit relatives. So they come to our home bring a box of moon cake and some other stuff and we go to their home and brought a box of moon cake so you kind of like visit each other it’s a time, kind of connect to each other.

Me: You mentioned, like, how, like the full moon means like connecting to other people and stuff like that. Could you tell me more about that?

Informant: So full moon, in Chinese means 圆yuǎn . So Chinese has a phrase called tuányuǎn团圆. it means united [means reunion via Google Translate], so uh so the moon is rounded right, so pronounced yuǎn [圆] so people get together all the people get together is called tuǎnyuǎn is the same yuǎn. so so so so it’s the time uh people look at the moon and uh miss their family, and miss the people that already passed, their ancestors or something. And some people will think their hometown if they’re not at home. Just a lot of when we enjoy the beautiful moon, celebrate it, is also the time to connected as a family, gather together tuǎnyuǎn means gather together. So it would be good if we could, on that day, all be together. Sometime we cannot, then we look at the moon and think oh we all share the same moon, and we kind of like, breathing (??) to each other through the bright moon.

Context:

Me: Was there a point as a kid where you first started celebrating or learned about it?

Informant: Oh ever since I can remember things, it’s always every year that way. 

Me: Did they ever try to kill ZhongQiuJie during Communism?

Informant: Oh no no no, that’s a very tradition holiday for the people. So, Chinese government actually is uh support that. That’s a good uh you know way to connect the people, and Chinese is pretty good in family, right. So, you know, they didn’t.

Me: What’s the significance of ZhongQiuJie to you?

Informant: Ummm I’m more connected to, think about my mom, and think about you guys, when you guys when you were not home. And I just feel like oh we all look at the same moon, and we are all connected that way. It’s that time that I will sit there and look at the moon and also I take pictures y’know. I like bright moon, it’s beautiful, it’s kind of like I want to go out take pictures. And I also just you know think the people close to me. You know, my mom, my dad, you guys

Context of Performance: Collected from an in-person conversation.

Personal Thoughts:

To me, ZhongQiuJie was always just an excuse to eat mooncakes. However, it’s not surprising to hear that this festival is about family. China is incredibly old, and for the longest time people did not have much physical mobility. People would stay in a particular place for centuries. In addition, add Confucianism’s intense focus on family, and you have a society devoted to family. It is interesting, however, to learn that this festival has a ton of linguistic ties. Why is the character for round in reunion? Why did people in the past see the moon and think “oh that’s round”?

柳暗花明又一村

Text:

Chinese Characters (Simplified and Traditional): 柳暗花明又一村
Romanization: Liǔ’ànhuāmíng yòu yī cūn
Transliteration: Willow – Dark – Flower – Bright – Another – Village
Smoother Transliteration: past dark willows and flowers in bloom lies another village [via Source 1 listed at the bottom]
Free Translation: A solution lies at the end of the tunnel.

Context:

Me: When would you hear this or when would you say it?

Informant: so usually when we have a difficult time, and but somehow all of sudden, you have a hard moment, is all of sudden you have a solution for it. so uh so and uh that’s pretty much it. I-i-i like it is just because um there are no problems or no difficulties cannot be like cannot be solved, but sometime there is a time period you are searching and you are just not find it, right? but you keep searching, and then at a moment, you find a solution. So that’s we say 柳暗花明又一村. 

Uhh so liu means the trees, I think liu shu, how to say in English. Is uh, is willow. Willow so have like long strips of those things, willow. An is just dark, but then you’ll see flowers. Hua is flowers, ming is just bright, uhh so then you you yi cun is another I mean, basically you see the flowers in another village. Something like that. So you discover things.

Q: Where did you first hear this? Who first said this to you?

A: Can be my teacher. or, could be friends, they are naturally very optimism people, they are just very positive people, so so when we are searching and in the dark and find something, sometimes they they also encourage you, say 柳暗花明又一村 you’re going to find something

Q: Who usually says this?

A: People who are working together trying to find a problem, usually I’m just I just get excited 柳暗花明又一村 say something like that. 

Me: Do you know the origin?

Informant: Yeah, it is, so there is, this is from a Poem from Song dai (Song dynasty) a poem. And uh, so, in his poem, that’s one sentence. Just said when you have a difficult time, if this method does not work, you try different method, and you through trial and error search to find the solution.

Personal Thoughts:

This particular proverb is interesting because it finds its origins in authored literature. It is important to note, however, that many sayings and proverbs in Chinese have written origins, or at least accompanying stories. Alas, having a written origin is not necessarily enough to disqualify something from being folklore. The fact that this one line is being used in every day situations centuries later, separate from its original work or even the name of the poet, has shifted this work from purely written to more folkloric. This saying is also interesting because its literal meaning is drastically different than its free translation.

Additional Notes:

For translations of this one particular saying:

[1] 山穷水尽疑无路,柳暗花明又一村的英文. 查查在线翻译. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from http://www.ichacha.net/%E5%B1%B1%E7%A9%B7%E6%B0%B4%E5%B0%BD%E7%96%91%E6%97%A0%E8%B7%AF%EF%BC%8C%E6%9F%B3%E6%9A%97%E8%8A%B1%E6%98%8E%E5%8F%88%E4%B8%80%E6%9D%91.html 

For the full poem referenced:

山重水复疑无路,柳暗花明又一村_百度百科. 百度百科. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://wapbaike.baidu.com/item/%E5%B1%B1%E9%87%8D%E6%B0%B4%E5%A4%8D%E7%96%91%E6%97%A0%E8%B7%AF%EF%BC%8C%E6%9F%B3%E6%9A%97%E8%8A%B1%E6%98%8E%E5%8F%88%E4%B8%80%E6%9D%91/3576938