Author Archives: Melissa Wang

Yellow String

“The informant wears a yellow string tied around her wrist. It was given by her mom for luck.”

After thoughts: The strings are called blessing cords and used in Buddhism practice. In the traditional practice, the Lama ties a knot in the cord and blows a mantra into it which makes a blessing. This allows you to take your teacher with you wherever you go. This is similar to many other religious traditions where the teacher is associated with spiritual blessings. They are meant to touch your body and purify any negative mantras.

“Zongzi,” a Traditional Chinese food

“During the “Duanwu” Festival, most families get together and eat “zongzi” which is basically sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Sometimes it’s stuffed with meat or red bean.”

The informant was born and raised in Taipei.

After thoughts: “Zongzi” is a traditional Chinese food eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. A popular belief of eating “zongzi” involved Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet from the kingdom of Chu. He was known for his patriotism, and unsuccessfully tried to warn the king against the expansionism of the Qin. In the end, the Qin general took the king and the Chu Capital. Qu Yuan was so upset that he drowned himself in the river. According to the legend, packets of rice were thrown into the river to prevent the fish from eating the poet’s body.

“Gua sha” or “Coining”

“My uncle used to use a coin to scrape his skin whenever he wasn’t feeling well.”

The informant was born in the United States, but her family moved from China and celebrated Chinese holidays.

After thoughts: “Gua sha” is a traditional Chinese medical treatment where the person scrapes their skin to produce light bruising. This is believed to release the elements from injured areas and stimulate blood flow and healing. This can be seen in other societies such as in Vietnamese and Indonesian cultures.

Red Envelope

“One of my favorite holidays growing up was Chinese New Year because I got a lot of red envelopes.”

The informant was born in the United States, but her family moved from China and celebrated Chinese holidays.

After thoughts: In China and other East Asian countries, a red envelope (“hong boa”) is a gift given during any special occasions. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is also a symbol to chase off evil spirits. Red envelopes are usually given out by married couples to single people regardless of age. The amount of money in the envelope usually ends with an even digit because according to Chinese beliefs, odd numbered money gifts are usually associated with funerals. The origins of the red envelope started during the Qin Dynasty, where the elderly would thread coins with a red string. The money was referred to as “money warding off evil spirits” and was also believed to protect the younger generation from sickness and death.


“When I was young, whenever I had a stomach ache, my mom would always press on different areas on my stomach and tell me it will feel better because of “qigong.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: “Qigong” which means “Life Energy Cultivation” is a holistic system of breathing, and body posture used for health and spirituality. It has roots in Chinese medicine and philosophy and is viewed as a practice to balance the energy in the body. It dates back to ancient Chinese culture, especially in traditional Chinese medicine for preventative and curative functions.