Tag Archives: Chinese

Jin Chan

In the mornings, you turn the Jin Chan statue towards the door and chant while stroking his back
金蟾金蟾上外叼钱, 金蟾金蟾上外叼钱
Jin Chan Jin Chan Shang wai diao qian, *repeats*
Jin Chan Jin Chan go out and fetch money

Then towards the night, you turn him back towards the inside of the house and say while stroking his back
金蟾金蟾回家吐钱, 金蟾金蟾回家吐钱
Jin chan, Jin chan, hui jia tu qian, *repeats*
JIn Chan, Jin chan, come home to drop the money

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

Context: I interviewed C about Chinese cultural customs and beliefs. A Jin Chan, or 金蟾 in Chinese, is a mythical three legged frog monster represented in statues as a three legged frog with red eyes an standing a pile of coins.

This is particularly interesting to me because according to online sources, the Jin chan should not be facing the door at all as it will cause the money to flow out. My family’s tradition differs in that we see the frog going out as a good thing, something to desire as when he goes out, he is on the hunt for luck and money. He is working his nine to five. When he comes back, he is bringing the wealth and luck he has gathered into the house and sleeps for the night.

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.

Onions in Your Socks to Cure Your Cold


The folk tradition is one of ancient Chinese reflexology. It was present before the germ theory of illness which is widely accepted today by scientists. The informant is a 79-year-old woman of Chinese and Latin descent who recalled hearing and practicing this by the instruction of her grandmother when she was young. She said that she used to believe that it worked very well when she was younger, but now feels that it was most likely a placebo effect from confirmation bias by those around her.

Main Piece:

This medicinal folk practice states that if a person develops a cold, they should stuff their socks with onions. It is believed that the onions will help cure the illness and the person that is suffering from the cold will regain health very quickly after the treatment.


Onions have been known today to have numerous health benefits that are backed by science. However, curing a cold is not one of them. Chinese reflexology believed that disease spread through “noxious air”. Based on this, putting a powerful smelling agent such as onions next to someone’s feet, it was believed that since the onions removed the bad smell from the feet that it was curing the person of the cold or illness that they were suffering from.


This folk tradition is a great example of correlation versus causation. Chinese reflexology noticed that people with illness tended to have poorly smelling feet. They also noticed that onions had a strong scent and the ability to remove this foul smell from a person’s feet who was suffering from illness. Therefore, they believed that the onions removing the smell meant that they were curing the subject of their illness. As a passive bearer with an etic perspective on this medicinal folk tradition, it was interesting to hear the informant discuss how common this practice was among her family when she was growing up. This practice was something that her grandmother learned from her mother and had been passed down in their family as a cold remedy for generations.

For another version, see Rose Wilson Ph.D., November 28. 2017, Does an onion in the sock work for a cold?

Hot Foods vs Cold Foods

Background: My informant, CL, grew up in Taiwan, and speaks Mandarin, Hakka, English, Japanese, and Cantonese. Interview conducted in English over FaceTime.

Me: “Aren’t hot foods and cold foods a thing in Taiwan?”

CL: “Yes. Chinese people don’t like cold foods or cold water, because we believe hot things give you more energy. Deep-fried things make you feel more energy. We drink hot water because we drink tea. During old time, there were lots of bacteria inside water, made you sick. So you had to brew water, make it hot, to not get sick.”

Me: “Is that why you don’t like iced water?”

CL: “Yes, ice water is too cold, make your throat hurt. Hot water is better.”

Me: “Are there any exceptions to mostly eating hot foods? Like what about during the summer?”

CL: “We have ice cream and cold foods too. Taiwan is a hot place. Appetizers are usually cold because it’s a light thing before the hot food. But hot food gives more energy–during the winter my grandma always made spicy food so we would sweat, warm up when it was cold.”

Analysis: I find the concept of energy transfer here to be lingeringly medicinal while also practical. Eating hot foods would naturally lower the risk of disease, if it was cooked, and I doubt that ice-cold drinks were particularly easy to come by in olden times either. But reinforcing a logical practice like that with the added belief that energy and healing (implicitly) could also go alongside that practice adds layers to the intentionality and history of practices like this and diet more broadly. It quite literally denotes an in-group of people who experience less illness because they eat hot foods, compared to those who don’t and run a greater risk of potential disease with uncooked foods.

The Story of Mulian

Background: My informant, CL, grew up in Taiwan, and speaks Mandarin, Hakka, English, Japanese, and Cantonese. Interview conducted in English over FaceTime.

Me: Do you know why Taiwan celebrates Ghost Month?

CL: “There’s a famous story in China regarding ghost month. The story of Mulian. He sees that his mom did a lot of bad things when she was still alive. So after she died she became a starving ghost. Mulian tried to use his powers because he’s a Buddhist, just tries to bring food to his mom because she’s a starving ghost. But whatever he served to her became burning…ashes right away. There was no way for his mom to eat it. He cries out, sees that his mom is tortured, and asks for a blessing from the Buddha. Buddha told him that because his mom did bad things, she has to suffer. Buddha told him that to reduce his mom’s suffering, the only way is to do good things, which is why they started Ghost Month: to worship ghosts, pray, and hopefully they can go to heaven. And finally the mom got released from the devil because Mulian did a lot of good things.

Me: So is Ghost Month just a thing for Buddhists then?

CL: No. Most people in Taiwan are Buddhist, but the Mulian story is famous–when I was a kid, a lot of TV shows talk about it because we didn’t know why we had Ghost Month. It’s about doing good things so your ancestors won’t be punished. In the old times less people could read, most people were farmers. So using drama or live shows let people in the countryside understand the purpose of the story: to do good things so your ancestors won’t be punished.

Me: Are ancestors just for Buddhists?

CL: No, we all have ancestors. Buddhists go to the temple to pray for them, but we still respect ancestors.

Analysis: Although the Mulian story is seemingly grounded in a more institutional presence like Buddhism, from my knowledge Ghost Month is widely celebrated throughout Taiwan regardless of its religious implications, much like Christmas in the US. Ancestor worship goes back to Confucian and perhaps Daoist ideology as well, so there’s a convergence of beliefs and practices at play here. Its structure is very much the classic cautionary tale, that shapes an idea of what “good” behavior would look like, particularly conveyed in an oral retelling to illiterate villagers. It’s clear to see why the story has stuck around, because its narrative progression is logical and points to a fairly universal moral message–respect your elders and ancestors, or else face karmic retribution.