Folk Belief on Red Ears

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My parents and I are from Central China, but I grew up in Kentucky.


My mom would say… sometimes my ears would get really hot and red and uncomfortable. I think that’s a normal thing for people for whatever reason. When I would tell my mom, she’d tell me that it just meant somebody was missing me.

Piece Background Information:

I think it was just a way of making me feel good in an uncomfortable situation. I think her mom told her that, and she passed it down to me. I don’t know if it’s like a Chinese culture thing or something passed down within my family, but that’s just something she would tell me.


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day at Ground Zero, a milkshake shop and cafe on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

The folk belief that itching, ringing, or burning (red) ears means someone is talking about you or thinking about you dates back very, very far and is definitely not limited to Chinese folk belief. Some further variations claim that ringing in your right ear means someone is thinking or saying something good about you, while ringing in your left ear means someone is thinking or saying something bad about you. While this of course is not based in scientific fact, it is most likely a sentiment that parents pass along to their children in order to explain an unknown phenomena of ear pain (and possibly even tinnitus) or feelings of embarrassment or overheating.