Author Archives: Ziqi Wang

“死鱼正口,收杆就走” —Chinese Angler’s Superstition

Translation: Grab the rod and go if you got a dead fish.

This is a superstition that Chinese anglers believe in. The informant is an angler, and he learned this saying on the Chinese online forum of fishers. The dead fish is believed to be attached to the fishing rod by the water monsters(水鬼). If the angler keeps fishing, he will be the next water monster. To protect oneself, the angler must burn the paper money and prepare meat for the water monster, a ritual to appease the water monster. Although the informant does not believe in monsters, he still respects and shares this term with others. The informant is also sure that all anglers in China know this term as it’s a general term.

As a well-known term, the saying has some practical meaning, while the ritual is a common way Chinese people deal with creatures that are not human beings. The saying itself, which warns anglers about dead fish, might be a cautionary saying. When one catches a dead fish, it might mean the water is contaminated, which causes the death of the fish. Thus one should stop fishing at that location and avoid eating the fish. The ritual of appeasing the water monster involves the Chinese superstition of offering food and money to things in another world. Burning paper money is a way to provide money to the dead, and it is believed that supernatural creatures can consume the food humans provide them. By “worshiping” the water monster, anglers can avoid being harmed by the water monsters.

Don’t break the Dumplings at New Year’s Eve

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the informant’s family would start to make dumplings in the evening so they could eat the dumping at midnight. It is important to make sure that the dumplings are securely sealed so they won’t break down when boiling the pot. When the dumplings are cooked, the informant’s family will gather and eat the dumplings.

The informant’s family makes eats dumplings every Chinese New Year’s Eve. The informant believes it is an important part of the New Year festival for her family. One important thing that she noted about the dumplings is that they must be made very carefully so the dumplings don’t fall apart in the boiling pot. She laughed at herself a bit and explained that it’s the reason why she doesn’t participate in the dumpling-making, as she sometimes makes dumplings that fall apart. Usually, the family members that are skilled at dumpling making are responsible for folding the dumplings. Also, although dumplings taste better with more fillings, the new year version has fewer fillings to ensure they don’t leak outside when being cooked.

Many Chinese families have the tradition of eating dumplings (Jiaozi) in the new year, but the tradition slightly varies among each family. Some people eat dumplings for New Year’s Eve dinner; some eat them for New Year’s Day breakfast. The informant’s family chooses to eat dumplings at midnight, during the liminal time between the old and the new year. There is because midnight (11 pm to 1 am) is called the time of Zi in ancient China, and the character Jiao means intersecting and meeting. Thus, Jiao plus Zi became Jiaozi, meaning at time Zi the old and the new year intersects. It is also the synonym of Jiaozi or dumpling. Eating dumplings at midnight thus became a tradition. Dumpling means a lot to the Chinese. It is the shape of the Yuanbao, an ancient form of Chinese currency usually made of gold or silver. When making the dumplings, the extended meaning becomes creating wealth and luck. Thus, it is important that the dumplings don’t break, as they contain people’s wishes for the new year.

The Longevity Noodle

Text: The longevity noodle is a traditional part of Chinese birthday celebrations. When celebrating at home, the family would cook noodles that are just like the kind of noodles they normally cook, but it’s called the longevity noodle on birthdays. When celebrating at restaurants, the restaurants would provide the noodle as a gift to the persons celebrating their birthday. It is a simple dish that contains the wishes.

Context: The informant almost had the longevity noodle every year for her birthday. It is also a tradition that is commonly shared among the Chinese. When she went to other Chinese birthdays at Chinese restaurants or in their homes, they usually had noodles. It is especially important if people are celebrating the birthday of an elder. When eating noodles, it is best to swallow the whole strand without breaking it with chopsticks or teeth.

Analysis: The noodle is a symbol of longevity as it is long and thin. It reflects people’s good wishes for the person celebrating the birthday. As a birthday is related to the celebration of life, it is a good time to wish them a long life, especially for elders, who are highly regarded in Chinese culture. Both cooking longevity noodles at home and providing them as a gift at restaurants highlight the cultural importance of sharing food and hospitality in Chinese culture. It also shows how the tradition is passed down from generation to generation, as the informant almost had longevity noodles yearly for her birthday and others’ birthdays. This tradition of eating longevity noodles on birthdays reveals the cultural values and beliefs in Chinese cultures, such as respect for the elderly, hospitality, and longevity.

Vertical Chopsticks

Once at dinner, the informant arranged the table and served rice for everyone’s bowl. The informant’s father-in-law put chopsticks and spoons next to the bowls. As he gave the informant the chopsticks, he stuck the chopsticks vertically in the informant’s rice while everyone else’s chopsticks were next to the bowl. It is later revealed that sticking chopsticks vertically in another’s bowl is a curse, as the chopsticks and the rice look like burning incest sticks, which is something people do to dead people at their funerals and later visits to their tombs.

The informant did not have a very good relationship with her father-in-law, as he often suspected others of not liking him and telling people what to do even though he didn’t know much about things. However, they live together. Thus they would sometimes have small conflicts. The informant said she did not think much about why her father-in-law sticks the chopsticks in her bowl, but she swapped her bowl with her father-in-law’s. The informant described his face as “angry and surprised,” but he didn’t say anything and put the chopsticks down. Not until later did she realize it was a curse when a child stuck her chopsticks in her bowl, and the mother scolded her. The informant looked proud as she returned the bowl even though she didn’t know about the curse until later, and she was still angry about the curse even though she never knew why her father-in-law wanted to curse her.

This text includes elements of superstitions and family dynamics in Chinese culture. The act of sticking chopsticks vertically in someone’s rice bowl resembles the ritual of burning incense sticks for the dead ones. It’s a respectful thing to do to the dead but terrible to someone alive. Although China is not a religious country, the belief in superstitions and curses still exists in Chinese culture.
The problem of the family dynamics is also reflected in the text. As a culture that respects the elders and values family, many Chinese families live together with their elders. Usually, after the couple gets married, they would live with one side of their parents (or their parents would move to live with them.) The high price of housing also contributes to this phenomenon. As the two families stay together, conflicts arise. In this case, the woman lived with her husband’s parents. The young and the old generation are unfamiliar with each other, while the family power dynamics differ from the old times. Thus, conflict arises. In modern days, more and more families choose to live separately from their parents to avoid such conflict.

Dumplings for the Deceased on New Year’s Day

Text: On New Year’s Eve, dumplings are served for the close family members that passed away, such as grandparents or great-grandparents. Each person being commemorated will have an individual plate/bowl with utensils. Then, the family would call the family member and say, “It’s a new year, time to come home,” and then start eating the other portion of the dumplings.

On New Year’s Eve, my informant’s family will make and cook dumplings. Before she and her family eat the dumplings at midnight, they will use small bowls or plates to contain a small portion of the dumplings. She believes it’s a way to connect with the old family members since the new year is the time to gather with family. It is an essential part of her New Year, and she was surprised when I said I never heard of anything like that. According to my informant, she knows a few people who celebrate the New Year, like her family.

Serving dumplings for deceased family members is symbolic of their continued presence and inclusion in the family celebration, even though they are no longer physically present. Inviting them to come home and eat with the living family members shows a belief in an afterlife and the importance of family ties, both in life and in death.
This tradition also reflects the value placed on family in Chinese culture. New Year is a time of reunion and coming together, and this ritual-like act emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and remembering those who have passed away. Continuing to include deceased family members in the celebration reinforces the idea that they are still a part of the family and not forgotten.
This tradition also highlights the importance of food and its role in Chinese culture. Food is not just something to eat but has symbolic meanings and cultural significance to Chinese people. In this case, dumplings are not just a delicious dish but also serve as a connection to the past and a way of honoring their loved ones.