Author Archives: Free Guan

Hanging Conan



Backgrounds:

“Gatsby” is a college student at Stony Brook University in New York. He is also a rapper. During the pandemic, he was unable to complete his college courses in-person in New York, and particcipated in a Go-Local program at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), where he is taking several in-person courses, instead.

He shared the following folklore with me during an interview when we were having dinner together.

The Main Piece:
In Chinese universities, a lot of students will hang a poster of Detective Conan on their walls before taking exams. This is like a ritual, and the students are hoping to pass the exam by doing so.

Hanging the poster of Detective Conan is said as “hanging Conan”

in Chinese:挂(hang) 柯南(conan)

                     Gua              Ke Na

The sound “Gua Ke Nan” is also the pronounciation for “it is difficult to fail”

                挂科(fail the exam)   难 (difficult)

                Gua Ke                           Nan

So Chinese students hang posters of Conan to hope that it is going to be super difficult for them to fail, which implies that they will pass.

 

Analysis:

The kids draw connection between two events that are entirely unrelated to one another through their identical pronounciations. 

Exams are in deed a painful thing. Although a poster cannot really help students pass the exam, making fun of it is a good way to relieve pressure. It is being spread rapidly through the internet where college students communicate with each other, and it reflects the students’ anxiety for exams as well as their humorous ways of making fun of exams.

 

 

Calamus Dews Can Improve One’s Vision

Backgrounds:

“Gatsby” is a college student at Stony Brook University in New York. He is also a rapper. During the pandemic, he was unable to complete his college courses in-person in New York, and particcipated in a Go-Local program at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), where he is taking several in-person courses, instead.

He shared the following folklore with me during an interview when we were having dinner together.

The Main Piece:

The dew from the leaves of Calamus is said to be able to improve a person’s vision.

Gatsby says he learned this during a class about archeology and ancient Chinese history. He says the professor of the class, Tang Jigen, invited a guest speaker who is an expert in china (the objects, not the nation), and also in Calamus (calamus is a kind of plant that is loved by many famous poets and authors in ancient China) . The guest speakers tells the students that in ancient times, calamus will be raised in very fine environment, and in early morning, they will be moved outside so that dew will form on the leaves, and the owners will collect the dew and use it as eyedrop because the dew is food for the eye.

Analysis:

This is very interesting. Scientifically, dew is just water, maybe even with small particles of dust in it. I don’t see how mere water can be good for the eye. However, I do find that the tradition Chinese medicine do include dew, and calamus dew is really recorded as being able to improve one’s eyes.

Regardless of whether it really is effective, I’d like to analyze why people believe so. To most people, especially ancient people who didn’t know that much about physics, dew is water that come out of nowhere. Unlike water from the lake or the sea, which is always there and dirty things might fall into it, and there’s mud at the bottom, dew suddenly appears from the air. You know where the water in the river come from: from the river. But you don’t know where dew come from. So, there’s no way dirty things can contaminate it, because it appears out of nowhere and is collected immediately.

Ancient Chinese people also have a strong feeling for plants. They like them, thinking that they smell good. Traditional Chinese medicine also believes that many of the plants and flowers, calamus included, can be taken as medicines. Therefore, whater that comes out of nowhere and sticks on beautiful plants that might be taken as medicine is considered to be the purest thing. That might be why people believe it is good for the eye.

Cutting Hairs in the 1st Lunar Month

Backgrounds:

DerShann is currently a student at USC, majoring in Philoshophy. His family are from Tsingtao, Shandong, China. He likes to play the game League of Legends, and the following folklore is collected during some of the games we played together via the voice chat chanel.

The Main Piece:

DerShann: Let me think of some folklore…… Right! If you cut your hair in the 1st lunar month, your uncle (from the mother’s side) dies.

Me: Yea, I know. Do you really believe that?

DerShann: Well, not really. But I do try not to cut my hair in the first month, to kind of show respect for my uncle, and also, this is like some kind of tradition, and it’s fun to keep it.

Analysis:

This is, of course, a folk belief. That your uncle will die if you cut your hair in THE 1st lunar month. But, personally, I would also want to classify it as a proverb:

the original text is :正月剃头死舅舅

Phonetic:zheng yue ti tou si jiu jiu

Translation: If you cut your hair in the 1st lunar month, your uncle dies.

The key her is that “tou” rhymes with “jiu” in Chinese. And I do believe this sentence is used to warn people, but not really about cutting their hairs or about their uncles.

Zheng yue, the 1st lunar month, is the month that follows the Chinese New Year. Baiscally, the whole month is going to be filled with holiday atmosphere, and everyone’s supposed to have a good rest and prepare for the next year, and, of course, be with their family. Getting your hair cut can be an inconvenient thing: you must leave your home and go to a barber, the barber has to cut your hair, etc. And even if you don’t cut your hair, it’s not that much of a big deal. So I think the act of cutting one’s hair actually represents spending lots of time and efforts on business matters that are not urgent, which in a way ruins the Chinese New Year Experience. So, with my understanding of these words as a proverb, it is warning people to put off unnecessary works during the New Year.



Playing with Fire and Wetting the Bed

Backgrounds:

DerShann is currently a student at USC, majoring in Philoshophy. His family are from Tsingtao, Shandong, China. He likes to play the game League of Legends, and the following folklore is collected during some of the games we played together via the voice chat chanel.

The Main Piece:

DerShann: If you wanna know about folklores, I know a lot. One big folk belief is that if a kid plays with fire, he will wet the bed.

Me: Cool. So, where did you learn that from, and what do you think it means?

Dershann: I just heard it from other people in my hometown. Everyone says that. What it means? I think it is just a way to warn kids so that they don’t do dangerous stuff.

Analysis:

Fire stands for, of course, fire. And wetting the bed is connected to urine, or water. If we look at it in this way, we find that in this folk belief, people draw on two extremes, or two opposing elements. People are using one side to warn against the opposite side.

I found an interesting part in the book Dora, Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria written by Freud. In the book, Freud also connects fire with bedwetting. He draws the links between 1. Dora’s habit of bedwetting, 2. the fire in Dora’s dreams, 3. Dora’s habit of masturbation, or her sexual impulse. Freud first points out the interconnectedness between fire(both the dream and playing with fire) and bedwetting, then expanded the idea of playing with fire, or just “fire,” to the implication of sex, which points to Dora’s masturbation.

I think this kind of Freudian interpretation might also be employed to explain this folk belief, or, maybe it’s the other way around, that this folk belief might be utilized to explain the Freudian analysis.

The Minus One Horse

Backgrounds:

P-M was born in China and finsihed his middle school and high school in LA, California. He is currently studying at USC. P-M shared this piece of folklore with me after I asked him whether he know of any interesting folklore when we were chatting after dinner.

Some Background Knowledge:

三国杀(san guo sha)is a very popular board game in China, which is based on historical events in late Han Dynasty. In this game, there is an equipment called 减一马(jian yi ma), word to word translation, minus one horse. The function doesn’t matter.


The Main Piece:

P-M: Bro, what should I say if someone thinks only kids who cannot make it into good universities in China study abroad?

Me: WTF? I though only people who cannot afford studying abroad go to Chinese universities.

P-M: I’ll give him jian yi ma.

Me: What does that mean?

P-M: Word by word, he’ll have minus one horse. (in chinese, the word “horse”, ma, sounds super similar to the word “mother”, ma) Every San Guo Sha player knows that.

Me: Duuuude!! That’s sooooo cool.

Analysis:

P-M gives the other guy minus one horse, which means minus one mother. In other words, his mother is dead. This is a very offensive curse in the Chinese language. However, by using a card in a game to refer to this curse, it seems a lot more gentle and humorous, and therefore more acceptable. This shows how board games has influenced our everyday life and how curse words can be expressed in humorous ways by refering to games.