Superstition – Irvine, California

“If I didn’t go to bed early, the ‘tiger witch’ would come get me.”

My friend Marilyn told me that as a young child, her parents would coax her into going to sleep early by frightening her with stories of the tiger witch.  She said that it’s an old Chinese belief that if children did not go to bed early and stayed up late, the tiger witch would appear and bite one of their fingers off.  After hearing of this scary figure, Marilyn would always sleep early and did not start to disregard it until she was almost entering middle school.  She mentioned that there is even a song about the tiger witch, but she cannot remember it.  Just as children in America are often told to sleep early to avoid being taken by the ghostly bogeyman, Marilyn grew up with a Chinese version—even though she grew up in New York and California.  As a result, this is evidence that heritage plays a key role in the development of identity.  When I asked Marilyn what she considers her nationality to be, she responded, “Chinese” and gave this superstition as an example of how she did not grow up with the exact same ideas and values as did the other children around her.  Since she only came to fear the tiger witch because of stories passed on to her from her parents and not because of her own experiences, she feels like she has truly inherited her identity and cultural links.

Again, the idea of folklore’s multiplicity and variation comes up with this example.  Whether it is a bogeyman or a tiger witch, it is interesting to note that parents often utilize a kind of ghost story or image of a scary figure to get their children to listen to them.  This says that generally most cultures grant a great deal of power to the parents, but also that a great deal of expectations are imposed on children.  In order to shape children to becoming obedient and respectful followers of their parents’ wishes, sometimes the only way is to frighten them into doing so.