Tag Archives: Chinese superstition

The Number Four

四   死
Sì   Sǐ
Four Death 
The usage of these two words together is considered bad luck, additionally one should not use the number four during celebration if possible.

So I’m Chinese, so the number four sounds like death, Sì, and the number four, Sǐwáng, the two words sound very similar, so it’s a little taboo for the number four to appear during celebrations. For example, if I were hypothetically to get married, I would probably not pick the fourth, I wouldn’t give, I don’t know, four dollars to anyone on a celebration (laughs), you know, just avoid the number. [Will someone actively use four if they want to wish ill intent on someone, or no?] No, but my mom avoids it. She’ll just tell me not to, so if it comes up that I accidentally use it she’ll just be like “ha, ha don’t do that, boo” (laughs) [So was your mom where you first heard it?] Yeah. It doesn’t really play a role in my everyday life, it’s more so something I take into consideration if I’m trying to celebrate my heritage specifically. So that’s only something I would like keep in mind if, say, my friends and I want to go out for dinner for, say, Chinese new year, and they sit us at the number four (the number four table) it might not be very lucky. If I were to be a little nit-picky and I was in the mood to fight, (laughs) I could tell the waitress I don’t want to sit here. [Laughs] [Do you feel actively not using it will bring people good luck, or is it just preventing bad luck?] It’s preventing bad luck, and it’s not something I think about very much, it’s more of a fun way to connect to my culture but I know people who take it seriously. My parents (laughs) being the people.

-Interview with Informant

The informant’s parents are both Chinese, but the informant was born in San Fransisco, and although they live in Hong Kong, they intend to live in the states after college. Although their parents both strongly believe that the number four can bring bad luck and they were raised not to use the two words together and that four was bad luck, the informant does not hold those same beliefs. This most likely is a result of their international schooling and their everyday life requiring English instead of Cantonese. The words four and death are very different in English, so the superstitious association doesn’t exist in English. The four leaf clover is considered good luck in Ireland, England and the United States. Additionally in the United States one of the most important holidays, Independence Day, is celebrated on the Fourth of July. People often believe what their peers believe, and the informants peers are mostly US students who don’t place any stock in four being bad luck. Not only does the word association not exist in English, there are multiple instances in which the number four brings good luck or is associated with joy or celebration. With the informant pays respect to their heritage and the beliefs of their parents, they much more closely resemble their American peers when it comes to this superstition.

Chinese New Year Traditions

Text: “On Chinese New Year, we wish for good luck for the rest of the year as well as health and mental health. Something considered bad luck is cutting your hair before the new year and cleaning before the new year. In terms of food for Chinese New Year, something that my family likes to do is make handmade dumplings. We wear qipaos, which is a traditional form of dress.”

Context: The informant is Chinese-American. Her parents immigrated from China but the informant grew up in the United States in Southern California. The informant is 20 years old and she currently attends the University of Southern California. The informant celebrates Chinese New Year every year with her family. The informant also discussed that she gets a lot of money during this holiday because all of the older family members give the younger people money. Since the entire extended family celebrates this holiday together, the informant usually gets a lot of money. The informant described that she only wears qipaos on this occasion. She also stated that they only make handmade dumplings on this holiday to preserve this tradition. Chinese New Year is based on the Lunar Calendar but it usually starts in late January or early February. 

Analysis: Chinese New Year seems to be similar to the traditional American New Year in the sense that people wish for good luck for the rest of the year. I think the Chinese New Year has more of an emphasis on wishing for good health. We don’t have the superstitions of cutting hair or cleaning before the new year as my friend described. I appreciated the informant telling me about both her family’s individual culture such as making handmade dumplings as well as her telling me about the broader culture associated with the holiday such as the qipaos and the focus on wishing for good health.

Chants for Good Luck


H is a spring admin freshman at USC, studying Music Industry. H grew up in Taiwan, but moved when she was 8 to San Jose. 


H: “Whenever I encounter something bad, I basically chant like something from Buddhism. It goes like ‘大慈大悲, 救苦救难, 管旭音菩萨’ (Pinying: da ci da bei, jiu ku jiu nan, guan yin pu sa; Translation: great mercy and great compassion, save the suffering, guan xu yin bodhisattva). It’s basically what I chant so they can give me power, something like that. I think it’s just telling them I’m in trouble, it’s not asking them to come to me, but I feel like they’re going to do something about it and that’s why I do it.”


H’s chant is something along the lines of a conversion, a superstitious charm that negates or balances out an event. In H’s case, the chant is religious, referring to a god in Buddhism, but meant to offset something bad in her life using her god’s power. Her chanting is ritualistic, in the sense that H will do it on the principle or possibility that her god may be listening, while not knowing if anything will change. Just the act of chanting, the practice of a charm that’s believed to give good fortune, makes her believe that good will come, which is a faith nearly more powerful than the tangible confirmation that there really is a god up there, in my opinion. H creates a sense of order for herself in the midst of a crisis or hardship through this learned chant, and always repeating it to herself, she maintains faith that her chant comes true. Essentially, her ritual chant is believed to bring good luck for her, therefore it does bring good luck.  

The ”third-eye”


Some children can see things that adults can’t see. They have their “sky eye,” a third eye, open, so they can see ghosts and spirits that wonders around us. When my daughter was little, not even one-year old, she would cry every night between 7pm and 8pm. It’s more like screaming rather than crying, and I think she was terrified by something. Ther’s only one thing that could calm her down, which is her aunt. If her aunt hugs her, she would become quieter. When our family visits a master that studies supernatural things (someone that can “calculate fate”), he said that my daughter has a third eye open, and she sees her ancestors who came to see her between 7pm and 8pm. Her aunt has the positive energy that repels the spirits, which is why she can calm her nephew down.

My daughter stopped crying as she grows up, and I guess that’s because her third eye closed as she grew up. Little child always have some special connections with the other world.


This is the personal anecdote of my informant. The informant would tell the story to her daughter when looking at family photos. When telling the story, the informant didn’t look scared. Rather, she thought it was surprising and interesting. When my informant’s friends and family experience similar things, such as small children crying for no reason, she would tell the story and recommend them to find someone that can “calculate fate,” a direct translation from Chinese. Thus, many of my informant’s family and friends know this story. Although my informant does not have a religion, she tend to believe in supernatural things involving spirits and ghosts. She believed that ghosts exist in some form, despite if we could see it or not, and little children can connect with them somehow.


This story came from a member of Chinese family that touches on the theme of supernatural beliefs and the connection between the living and the dead. The idea of the “third eye” or the ability to see spirits is a common belief in Chinese culture. In traditional Chinese culture, ancestry is important, and heritage is also important. This belief is rooted in the concept of ancestor worship, where ancestors are believed to watch over their descendants.

The story also highlights the importance of family and the role that family members can play in calming and protecting each other. The fact that the daughter was only able to calm down when her aunt hugged her suggests that there may be a special bond between them or that the aunt has a unique ability to soothe her. This emphasis on the importance of family reflect that in Chinese culture, family is viewed as the most important social unit.

The story also reflected the belief in fate and destiny, as the family visits a “master that studies supernatural things” who is able to provide an explanation for the daughter’s behavior. This belief in fate and destiny is also a significant cultural value in Chinese culture, where it is believed that one’s actions and decisions can have a profound impact on their future.

Chinese Green Hat Superstition


A, 18, is a student at USC. He is a French citizen of Chinese descent; he told me about how his mother would act when she found A wearing a green hat.


They say don’t ever wear a green hat because that means your partner cheats on you. One time I went home wearing a green hat and my mom was like “Take that off!” and she threw it in the trash. I asked her why and she said “If you wear that [a green hat] it means your partner or wife is going to cheat on you”; there are a bunch of beliefs like that in China.

Analysis:I did some research and found out that the reason for this superstition is that the phrase “wearing a green hat” sounds the same as the word “cuckold” in Chinese. Another apparent reason for this superstition is that during the Yuan dynasty, the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear a green hat. In China, language and symbolism are connected, and superstitions formed around homophone words are very common.