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.
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.
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.
You put a nail into a piece of wood to make a top. A round piece of wood. You need it to be a little circle. And then use a piece of thread to kind of… circle… around the wood. Then you twist, and twist and then do this throwing thing [mimes a light toss] so it would unspin and shoot off so it would spin away. I didn’t get to make tops though, boys did that kind of thing.
The informant watched the boys in her poor neighborhood in Taiwan make these tops and play with them. The older boys would teach the younger ones to keep the activity going. The girls would watch or play other games instead.
This story was shared when the informant was asked what they used to do as children by the informant’s grandchildren looking for something to do or play.
This toy reminded me of Beyblades, small, customizable plastic tops that you could attach to a little launcher which, when pulled, would set the top spinning extremely quickly into a “stadium”. I have seen a number of young boys do battle to see who’s tops would keep spinning the longest. The informant’s description of how boys in her childhood town would use string to create the same effect amazes me as it is a much cheaper method!
During celebrations, we eat bah-tzans. The reason we eat bah-tzan is because there was a story. There were two friends, they were very good friends. Normally you stay in your town, but these two friends were in different towns, so they said they would meet by the river. One would wait by the river and the other would come. The story is that the friends are so loyal that even when there was a flood, he waited. But he died in the flood but the friend want to remember him so he made so many bah-tzan sand threw them in the river so that the fish would eat them instead of his friends’ body.
A bah-tzan is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is more commonly called zongi in China. There are many different types of this type of dumpling depending on the region as different foods are mixed in with the rice such as meats, egg, peanuts, and mushrooms.
The informant learned of this story from their mother during a celebration in her childhood. The story was interesting, however when asked about how they felt about it, the informant responded with, “wasteful” and while an entertaining story, not significant to their personal cultural identity.
The family was eating a different kind of bah-tzan than normal and so one member asked about the different types and if there was a story behind bah-tzans.
My initials thoughts were in line with my informant, it seems wasteful to throw so much food into the river. And while I admire the friends’ loyalty to one another, I feel that one must have a certain amount of discernment in dangerous weather and trust that the friendship can stand a missed meeting. This story says a lot about Taiwanese culture which heavily values loyalty, family, and friendships. Self-sacrifice for others is highly praised in Taiwanese culture, thus this story has appeal to them. Furthermore, the story shares the importance of the body when honoring a deceased individual.
It was originally a native tribe holiday. A dragon boat competition. Rowboat? Like rowboats competition, in the beginning of summer and you had lots of special food. After the festival, the weather stays warm.
In the old days, China was always a kingdom. This was before China unified to one kingdom. At that time, there were several kingdoms and there was always war, it was not very peaceful. There was a king, back before… it was called the three kingdom era. There were more than three kingdoms but that must have been the three major ones. There was a test to see who had the most knowledge, every year, and the winner would get to advise the king. The poets were very knowledgeable in literature, and there was one poet, Qu Yuan, who was very loyal to his king, but another king was trying to lure him with his daughter to marry. Qu Yuan was a very good advisor, but his king did not listen to him, so Qu Yuan worried that his kingdom would be swallowed by the others. So at the end, he gives up on the king and was so sad that he jumped into the river and die. The people of the kingdom tried to find his body and that is where the dragon boat competition started. They also made a lot of bout-zons and threw them in the river in hope that the fishes would not eat him.
The informant heard this story from their mother during a childhood celebration. The informant does not practice any of the described activities nor celebrate the holiday as an adult with a family.
This story was shared during a family gathering as it related to another story told that specifically focused on the tradition of throwing bout-zons into a river after a person has died in those waters.
This story highlights a lot of the attributes important to Taiwanese culture: Chiyan is loyal to his king, even when he is not heard. He cares for his people and works for their benefit. And he is honored after his death by the people that he served. He is not tempted away from his duty by the offer of a princess’ hand in marriage, but instead seeks knowledge and to do what is good for the people of his kingdom. This idea of self-sacrifice and the pursuit of knowledge is perpetuated in many Asian cultures even now. While Americans may find his death pointless, the intended audience of Taiwanese people see his death as a statement of his care for the kingdom and its people.
Scholar Huang Zheng wrote that the Dragon Boat Festival was to commemorate two individuals: Qu Yuan and Wu Zixu, and that the festival sought to exorcise evil. This version introduces another character and attempts to explain the dragon figureheads of the boats.
Zheng, Huang. “A Review and the Expectation of the Dragon Boat Festival Culture.” Journal of Hunan Agricultural University, 2010.
“You cannot give time”
In Chinese culture, you cannot give someone a clock, watch, or any other time-keeping device as it is seen as giving the person time or highlighting how much time they have left on earth. It is especially insulting if given to someone older than you. So instead of giving someone a clock or other time-keeping device, you sell it to them. The person you are “gifting” the clock to will then give you a penny (or the lowest form of currency of that region) so that they are instead purchasing it from you.
Death is terrifying for most people and thus their culture will reflect that fear of the uncertainty. This practice shows the desire to ignore the passing time, or at least not acknowledge that there time may be coming to close. It also showcases a level of respect shown to ones elders in Asian culture that is not seen in American culture.
Scholar Annamma Joy writes about this in Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties where on page 250, she reports on a field study where a participant said, “I did buy a clock for a friend, but in Chinese culture clocks are never given as gifts because they are associated with death. But before I gave the gift, I asked her for a small amount of money, so that it appeared as if she had bought it for herself.”
Joy, Annamma. “Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 28, no. 2, 2001, pp. 239–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/322900. Accessed 1 May 2020.