Chinese Superstition: Eyelid Twitch

Context: The informant, a 19-year-old Chinese-American college student, shared this proverb with me on the Lunar New Year. We were discussing how her parents raised her to embrace her Chinese-American identity. She began describing several cultural superstitions that she was taught as a child and continues to practice today


Informant: Alright, so I’m not sure if it’s all Chinese people or just my family, but… so basically… you know when your eyelid twitches? I’m sure it happens to everybody, but whenever my right eyelid would twitch… like whenever I was younger, I would run to my mom and go, “Look! My eyelid is twitching!” And she would be like, “Is it your right eyelid?” And I would be like, “Yeah.” And then she’d be like, “That’s bad luck.” But then if it’s my left eyelid, apparently that’s good luck. So now every time my left eyelid twitches, I get really excited about nothing and when my right eyelid twitches, I get really nervous in case something bad happens.

Interviewer: Do you know where your mom learned the superstition?

Informant: I actually don’t. I’m sure it’s just been passed down through our family forever, but it might also just be like a wider Chinese thing because Chinese people are weirdly superstitious about a lot of things. But yeah, I still practice it, and I’m sure I’ll pass it on to my children.

 Informant’s relationship to the item: Though the informant does not know the origin of the superstition, or why it is practiced by her family members, she has believed in the superstition since she was young and continues to believe it today. She mentioned that, depending on which eye it is, her eyelid twitching will either fill her with excitement or dread, due to the folk belief associated with it. Because it is a lesson that her mother taught her as a child, she also plans on passing the superstition on to her children.

Interpretation: The cultural superstition shared by the informant is an example of a sign superstition. Sign superstitions involve the belief that certain random happenings are signs that either good or bad luck is imminent for the viewer. Magic superstitions differ from sign superstitions in that the person who desires the good luck/fortune usually has to deliberately complete a specific task in order to acquire the good luck. Sign superstitions occur randomly and without warning, to either the pleasant surprise or the chagrin of the viewer. Additionally, sign superstitions usually have some sort of historical or psychological element associated with them. For instance, a black cat crossing one’s path is widely considered to be a bad omen because black cats were associated with witches in medieval times.