Tag Archives: China

Handkerchief Game

Everyone, children for this game, sits within a circle, someone goes around holding a handkerchief and everyone chants,
丢,丢,丢手绢. 小小的朋友请你不要打电话快点快点抓住他

Diū, diū, diū shǒujuàn. Xiǎo xiǎo de péngyǒu qǐng nǐ bùyào dǎ diànhuà kuài diǎn kuài diǎn zhuā zhù tā

“Throw throw throw the handkerchief. Little little friends, please can you not call the phone, hurry hurry catch him”

After this, the person outside changes with the person who they were at when the song ended and the new person is handed the handkerchief and the cycle begins anew.

S is an older Chinese immigrant who migrated to the US over 20 years ago. He still has very close contact with relatives in China and regularly participates in Chinese cultural practices.

Context: I interviewed S about Chinese cultural customs and beliefs. This is a children’s game. As such, is typically played by children.

This is a children’s game. Similar children’s games are played in the US as well. Duck duck goose is a very similar concept where children are in a circle and one person must choose who in the circle must get out. The main difference is the power to choose is held within the chooser in duck duck goose while the power is held within the song, making it equal. This is interesting to me because S was born after the Chinese Communist Party rose to power in China. This was during the Cultural Revolution, so many themes of equality were present throughout society. This more equal power sharing could be a result of the Communist Revolution.

The sorcerer of the white lotus lounge

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Chinese American

Age: 27

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Mandarin

(Notes-The informant will GT be referred to as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: GT is a Chinese American student who was born and raised in California. Both his parents were born and raised in a small town in China, which is where he knows this story from. He told me this story in his home during the daylight.

K: So uh same questions. Name of the story, context of the performance, and uh…where did you hear it?

GT: Yeah, I remember. Its called 白莲山庄的巫师 or like…sorcerer of the white lotus lounge if I make it make sense in English. Uh so its another like fairytale I heard from my mom or like books and stuff

K: Ok neat, whenever youre ready

GT: Yeah ok uh so like…Uh, it starts with there was a very powerful sorcerer, who could use dark magic. He had pupils as he like taught them dark magic I guess. Anyways, he asked them to watch a covered bowl and to not uncover it but of course, the students did, and all that was in it was a little straw boat in clear water. They like messed with the uh boat, and it tipped over. The sorcerer came back and said he knew what they had did, even if they denied it. The next night he left them with an uh..a candle and told them to watch it so it doesn’t go out. They all fell asleep and it went out, and again they denied it but the sorcerer knew, and that like…scared the students. Later uh, one of them insulted him, so he turned him into a pig and sold him to a butcher who killed him like a butcher does to an uh pig. Anyways, that student’s dad found out so the Emporer arrested him and his family. As they were going up an uh…a mountain all of them, the soldiers and such, saw this huge tree with a giant mouth and eyes. The sorcerer said his wife could handle it, and she got eaten. He said his son could handle it and then he got eaten, then he begged to handle it, and then HE got eaten. The thing is, it was all a trick and the three of them got away scot-free. The end

K: Is there like…a moral to this story

GT: *laughter* you’d think huh? No, just don’t fuck with sorcerers I guess.

Interpretation:
This was an odd one. The fact that there’s no real moral, in fact, the “bad guy” got away with his deeds, was super interesting. Most other folklore and/or fairytales at least have the good guy succeeding, if not rife with moral teachings. I later asked for further clarification from the informant, and he told me that the sorcerer was part of the lounge of white lotus, as seen in the title. This lounge was, at least according to my research, a revolutionary society in China, so it makes sense that they’d go against the grain in who “won” in a fairytale. I also thought it was interesting that the sorcerer was meant be scary. The story did not shy away from making him the very obvious bad guy, at least by today’s standards. He turns one of his students into a pig and sells him to a butcher!

Chinese Fire-cupping

Text:

HG: “I remember one time, I came home from school and in the living room, I see my grandmother on her back while this random stranger is there. And he has these cups, it’s fire-cupping. It’s a pretty common thing, but at the time I did not know what was going on. The thing with fire-cupping is that you light a fire in the cup and then you immediately pat it on the person’s back and you let it sit there and then you take it off. I think it’s supposed to do some balancing, some sucking out something.”

Context:

The informant is a 20-year-old Chinese-American college student from Baltimore, Maryland. They lived with their grandparents in China for a period when they were around six, which is when they saw her doing fire-cupping. HG does not think that their grandmother “goes and sees a doctor in the Western sense,” and described how she tends to her body using traditional Chinese medicine. “She’ll always have a lot of herbs or whatever that are supposed to help you with this, or this, or this. You eat it rather than taking pills or something,” they said.

Fire-cupping has recently become a popular practice for treating pain in Western countries, but when HG first saw their grandmother doing it, they did not understand what it was. The process involves lighting a fire inside a cup to create suction and then placing the cup onto a person’s skin for a few minutes. The process often leaves bruises on a person’s skin. HG recalled that their grandmother told them that fire-cupping did not hurt.

Analysis:

Though practices such as fire-cupping and using herbal remedies could strike people who are used to Western medicine as strange, I understand why their long history of use, natural composition, and transparent impacts make them trustworthy in the eyes of people who use them.With fire-cupping, like many forms of traditional medicine, the person undergoing treatment knows exactly what is happening to their body. Unlike many Western medicinal practices, the effects of fire-cupping on the body are direct and immediately sensory. One feels the cups on their back and sees the marks they leave behind. This may be more comforting than ingesting factory-produced pill comprised of unknown chemicals and waiting to see if and how the body responds. 

I think that a major reason why people trust traditional medicine is that it has been given credibility through generations of practice. People trust the wisdom and practices of their ancestors. Thus, it can be used not only to alleviate ailments, but also as a mode of connecting with one’s familial or cultural past.

柳暗花明又一村

Text:

Chinese Characters (Simplified and Traditional): 柳暗花明又一村
Romanization: Liǔ’ànhuāmíng yòu yī cūn
Transliteration: Willow – Dark – Flower – Bright – Another – Village
Smoother Transliteration: past dark willows and flowers in bloom lies another village [via Source 1 listed at the bottom]
Free Translation: A solution lies at the end of the tunnel.

Context:

Me: When would you hear this or when would you say it?

Informant: so usually when we have a difficult time, and but somehow all of sudden, you have a hard moment, is all of sudden you have a solution for it. so uh so and uh that’s pretty much it. I-i-i like it is just because um there are no problems or no difficulties cannot be like cannot be solved, but sometime there is a time period you are searching and you are just not find it, right? but you keep searching, and then at a moment, you find a solution. So that’s we say 柳暗花明又一村. 

Uhh so liu means the trees, I think liu shu, how to say in English. Is uh, is willow. Willow so have like long strips of those things, willow. An is just dark, but then you’ll see flowers. Hua is flowers, ming is just bright, uhh so then you you yi cun is another I mean, basically you see the flowers in another village. Something like that. So you discover things.

Q: Where did you first hear this? Who first said this to you?

A: Can be my teacher. or, could be friends, they are naturally very optimism people, they are just very positive people, so so when we are searching and in the dark and find something, sometimes they they also encourage you, say 柳暗花明又一村 you’re going to find something

Q: Who usually says this?

A: People who are working together trying to find a problem, usually I’m just I just get excited 柳暗花明又一村 say something like that. 

Me: Do you know the origin?

Informant: Yeah, it is, so there is, this is from a Poem from Song dai (Song dynasty) a poem. And uh, so, in his poem, that’s one sentence. Just said when you have a difficult time, if this method does not work, you try different method, and you through trial and error search to find the solution.

Personal Thoughts:

This particular proverb is interesting because it finds its origins in authored literature. It is important to note, however, that many sayings and proverbs in Chinese have written origins, or at least accompanying stories. Alas, having a written origin is not necessarily enough to disqualify something from being folklore. The fact that this one line is being used in every day situations centuries later, separate from its original work or even the name of the poet, has shifted this work from purely written to more folkloric. This saying is also interesting because its literal meaning is drastically different than its free translation.

Additional Notes:

For translations of this one particular saying:

[1] 山穷水尽疑无路,柳暗花明又一村的英文. 查查在线翻译. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from http://www.ichacha.net/%E5%B1%B1%E7%A9%B7%E6%B0%B4%E5%B0%BD%E7%96%91%E6%97%A0%E8%B7%AF%EF%BC%8C%E6%9F%B3%E6%9A%97%E8%8A%B1%E6%98%8E%E5%8F%88%E4%B8%80%E6%9D%91.html 

For the full poem referenced:

山重水复疑无路,柳暗花明又一村_百度百科. 百度百科. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://wapbaike.baidu.com/item/%E5%B1%B1%E9%87%8D%E6%B0%B4%E5%A4%8D%E7%96%91%E6%97%A0%E8%B7%AF%EF%BC%8C%E6%9F%B3%E6%9A%97%E8%8A%B1%E6%98%8E%E5%8F%88%E4%B8%80%E6%9D%91/3576938 

Nuwa repairs Heaven

Context:

H is a parental figure of mine who grew up in China and is currently living in California. 

This conversation took place over a weekly phone call with my parents after I asked them about stories that they knew from China. 

Text: 

H: So basically, Nüwa is the goddess in China, well not China but in heaven. She’s a goddess in heaven but she was supposed to keep an eye on Earth. But in very old ancient times, somehow the heaven collapsed because the four pillars that hold heaven collapsed and the Earth was not covered because heaven collapsed. And fire went out of control and water flooded the earth and in order to patch the heaven, Nüwa had to do something. So she melted five different colored stones to patch up the sky and she also cut off the legs of a great turtle. I guess the turtle is also a god, you know, and set those legs as pillars to support the sky. And she also helped to put out the fire and drain the flood, you know the water, and basically she helped save the Earth.

Me: Hmm Okay.

Reflection: 

I think this story is really interesting because it is about a feminine figure who has a lot of power in the world of gods, which is not something very typical in Western culture. It is also interesting because I do not remember this specific goddess, but I do remember that these pillars are part of other tales in Chinese mythology that surround Sun Wukong, a character in Chinese mythology that I learned a lot about as a child. This story also seems to build on the myths that have turtles in which a city or island is on the turtle’s back, although this story is using the turtle’s legs rather than its back. According to other sources, Nuwa also created humans which is why she is so protective of them and rushes to patch up heaven in order to prevent the fall out onto Earth. In some versions of this story, the five different colored stones that were used to patch the heavens explain why the clouds can be multicolored in our sky. 

Greenberg, ByMike. “Who Is the Chinese Goddess Nuwa?” MythologySource, 5 July 2021, https://mythologysource.com/nuwa-chinese-goddess/.