Tag Archives: Chinese

The Doll’s Revenge, A Chinese Urban Legend


When Aunty Mei entered her hotel room, she saw a pretty doll lying on the ground. Without telling anyone, Aunty Mei planned to secretly take the doll back home as a present for her 10-year-old daughter. That night, a girl in her dream told Aunty Mei that she couldn’t find her shoes, and she insisted that Aunty Mei let her wear Aunty Mei’s shoes instead. Unable to think it through due to a long day’s travel, Aunty Mei said yes and fell back to sleep.

Aunty Mei woke up the next morning and found her shoes disappeared, as she looked closely, she saw the doll was wearing a pair of shoes just like hers, but smaller in size. The more she thought about it the more it dreaded her, so Aunty Mei checked out of the hotel at once, leaving the doll behind.

Having been tired both physically and mentally, Aunty Mei fell asleep again on the train. She dreamed of a child’s voice whispering to her: “Aunty Mei, why wouldn’t you take me home? I love your clothes, I must wear them.” The moment the voice finished talking, Aunty Mei felt something crawling up her knees. Aunty Mei tried to get rid of it but this thing would not let go. Aunty Mei woke up in horror and could still hear a child giggling. To her surprise, that doll from the hotel rested on her knees. Aunty Mei checked her suitcase and found that the pink dress she bought yesterday was now gone. Apparently, the doll’s pink dress was Aunty Mei’s originally. Aunty Mei furiously threw the doll out of the train’s window and locked the window up.

After a short while of relief, a business partner rang her for an emergent meeting in the city she just left. Aunty Mei had to get off at the nearest station and wait for the next train heading back. Out of nowhere, a weeping girl bumped into her and asked if Aunty Mei could take her to her mom.

Aunty Mei searched the area but couldn’t see a woman looking for her daughter. Aunty Mei then decided to stay for the night and brought the girl with her to a local hotel. The girl kissed on Aunty Mei’s cheek, but the lips were cold.

That night Aunty Mei dreamed of a girl in her arms. She tried to get rid of her but the girl’s arms were around her neck, and the harder she tried, the tighter the girl held onto her. On the next morning when the hotel’s staff checked on her, Aunty Mei was already strangled to death. But instead of a girl, a doll in pink dress was found in her arms.

When investigating the case, the police examined Aunty Mei’s personal belongings and found a notebook that listed all the children Aunty Mei trafficked for the past two years. As for why Aunty Mei mysteriously died in a hotel room, the police couldn’t answer.


The informant is a 26-year-old female who was born and raised in China. The informant first heard the story of the doll from her lower school classmates, and the story was extraordinarily horrifying to her because every girl in her friend circle kept a doll then. In retrospect, she focuses more on the story’s mention of child trafficking instead of its horrifying plots and motifs.


For the past few decades, child trafficking has been a serious social crisis in China and the story of the revengeful doll possibly circulated among the informants’ age group as a cautionary tale to warn them of child trafficking. It made sense that the majority of the narrative focuses on horrifying motifs such as a mysterious doll, dreams influencing reality, and a giggling girl coming out of nowhere. These motifs help create an emotionally impactful, dreadful ambiance only to foreshadow a plot twist by the end of the story, where the intended message finally unveils itself. Besides aiming towards and warning its targeted audience, young girls (who are the most likely victims of child trafficking), the story also provides reassurance featuring karma, as the villain being punished by the revengeful doll satisfies its audience’s need for justice. Despite the revenge is not procedurally just, the end of the story reflects what the folk believes to be the villain’s deserved fate asserting the concept of karma, which is culturally significant to many Chinese people.

Tangyuan (Sticky Rice Ball), Chinese Dessert Served at Dongzhi Festival


“I remember my mom staying up on the eve of Dongzhi to make Tangyuan without filling, so everyone of our family could get up the next morning with a bowl of hot Tangyuan boiled with brown sugar and water. Our Dongzhi day started with soup Tangyuan. And that night when our family celebrated reunion, everyone joined in molding Tangyuan into balls as a family event. The ball shape, or round shape in China, is usually associated with the wish for ‘团圆’, which literally means reunion. The Tangyuan we made during Dongzhi dinner actually didn’t matter as a food, you could eat them whenever you wanted, because what actually mattered was the process of our family making Tangyuan together.”


The informant is a 22-year-old female who currently studies in Singapore and grew up in Swabue, a coastal city in Guangdong, China. The informant spent every Dongzhi festival (Winter Solstice dated in the Chinese solar calendar) with her family before attending college. Tangyuan is a Chinese dessert made of sticky rice containing filling such as sesame paste, molded into balls. Whereas Tangyuan is usually associated with the Yuanxiao festival, the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the informant remembers Tangyuan as a signature dish for Dongzhi. The Dongzhi dinner is an annual reunion commonly seen in Chinese families, and the informant’s family is from Swabue specifically, where people traditionally favor Tangyuan without filling.


Dongzhi is a special day of the year according to most Chinese families. Historically in ancient agricultural practice, Chinese farmers planned their years working in the fields according to the Chinese solar calendar. As a marker for the beginning of winter when farmers usually ceased agricultural work, hence Dongzhi is traditionally a time for family members to gather and start spending the rest of the winter together. To celebrate a year’s hard work and the family’s reunion, Dongzhi dinner is an identifying Chinese folk experience, but the experience can vary among different locales. In the informant’s case, her signature Dongzhi food is Tangyuan without filling, whereas people from different parts of China may have Tangyuan with sweet filling, or savory, meat filling, or even enjoy other food at Dongzhi such as dumplings. 

In addition to her filling-less Tangyuan, the informant found her Dongzhi experience special because Tangyuan was enjoyed twice with nuanced intentions. On the morning of Dongzhi, the family enjoyed soup Tangyuan prepared last night by her mother, and this was when the food itself mattered the most. During or sometimes after the Dongzhi dinner, the family made Tangyuan together again, but this time the process mattered more. The round shape of Tangyuan is usually associated with the Mandarin word “Tuán Yuán” (“团圆”, both characters mean roundness separately, when joined together they usually suggest family reunion). Consequently, starting the day with Tangyuan symbolized when the best wishes for “Tuán Yuán” began, and this is when “团圆” was reflected symbolically through consuming Tangyuan. Whereas, in the latter case, family members joining each other to work towards the same goal reflected “Tuán Yuán” factually. As a result, the informant remembers Tangyuan with the theme of “Tuán Yuán” in mind ever since she was little, making Tangyuan the central part of the Dongzhi festival experience.

Poon Choi, One-Pot Cantonese Festival Dish


“Since I can remember, my family has been ordering Poon Choi from local Cantonese restaurants on the eve of Chinese New Year, and I’ve always considered Poon Choi as the centerpiece of the dinner we had on New Year’s Eve. Poon Choi is this one-pot Cantonese dish made up of ingredients such as chicken, fish maw, crab, dried fungi, and other expensive proteins and seafood. I believe each ingredient was usually cooked in a way that symbolized something, or the name itself was a pun for a wish, such as ‘may you be prosperous’. I can’t remember every wish in Poon Choi, and the ingredients can differ, but the point is Poon Choi is a luxury that is usually enjoyed on New Year’s Eve only.”


The informant is a 22-year-old female who was born and raised in Foshan (a city in Guangdong province, China) and currently studies at USC. Before attending USC, the informant spend every Chinese New Year with her family, and as a typical Cantonese family, her family considered Poon Choi as a New Year’s Eve “must-have”. According to the informant, Poon Choi (“盆菜”, “盆” refers to the pot containing the dish, “菜” means dish literally) is usually not delicious because when cooked in one pot, the ingredients’ taste mixed up. However, Poon Choi assembles a variety of expensive ingredients and has traditionally been the most significant Cantonese dish to wrap up a year.


Though the name Poon Choi was literal, the ingredients in Poon Choi are usually puns referring to different New Year’s wishes. The informant listed a few ingredients she remembered seeing in the Poon Choi she had, and each of them was there for a reason. For instance, in Poon Choi there usually was this dish called “Pig Trotter Brewed with Fat Choy”, and Fat Choy is a dried vegetable named “发菜”, traditionally used in the pun for “发财” (pronounced as “Fā Cái”, which is similar to the pronunciation of Fat Choy and means becoming rich). The combination of pig trotter and Fat Choy symbolically represents the wish for “wealth in the grip”, with “grip” reflected in the pig trotter and “wealth” suggested in the pun. 

Besides symbolism, the expensive ingredients in Poon Choi were included to highlight the luxury theme, including dried fungi, fish maw, shark fin, and dried abalone. Ending the past year with a luxurious meal involving Poon Choi was considered a reward for a year’s hard work and the best way to celebrate the coming year. Surprisingly, none of the informant’s family actually enjoyed Poon Choi’s flavor, but they never spend one New Year’s Eve’s dinner without Poon Choi. Self-identified as a typical Cantonese family, the informant thought her family prepared Poon Choi to uphold a renowned Cantonese tradition fully intentionally because Poon Choi must be ordered weeks in advance.

Welcoming the God of Wealth on the 5th Day of the Chinese New Year


“On the 5th day of the Chinese New Year, my family used to have this ritual to welcome the God of Wealth into our home because the 5th day of the New Year is believed to be the birthday of the God of Wealth. We set off fireworks before they were banned, had a feast, and worshipped a portrait of the God of Wealth on this Buddha altar we had in our home which usually closeted a Buddha statue. Our worshipping usually involved burning incense and pouring him a cup of Chinese liquor. Though I believe the God of Wealth was not actually a Buddhist god, my family didn’t believe in either and it was rather a casual superstition to wish for prosperity in the following year.”


The informant is a 23-year-old female who was born and raised in Guangzhou (the capital city of Guangdong province in China), and is currently a graduate student at USC. Her family is a typical Cantonese family that values tradition and according to her, is a little superstitious. Due to fire hazards, fireworks are now not allowed in cities like Guangzhou, so her most vivid memory of welcoming the God of Wealth dates back to when she was a child. The informant openly expressed her nostalgia for a grand celebration as a remnant of the past.


Though most Chinese families are atheists, worshiping the God of Wealth is more of a casual superstition and is often considered a part of the Chinese New Year celebration. This was reflected in the informant’s case, given how the family had a Buddha altar and placed the portrait of the God of Wealth there, yet they believed in neither Buddhism nor Taoism (the God of Wealth is considered a Taoist god). Wishing upon Buddha and the God of Wealth was a superstitious ritual carried out lightheartedly to wish for good fortune and prosperity, the typical wishes for a new year. 

On a personal level, this memory mattered to the informant because it reminded her childhood, her time spent with her family, and the many celebrations that had been lost as she grew up including fireworks. Today’s public discourse on Chinese mainstream media frequently complains about why the celebration of traditional festivals, most notably Chinese New Year, doesn’t feel as grand and enjoyable as it used to be. The informant acknowledged and agreed that the past was already lost, and spoke of this specific experience she used to have once a year nostalgically.

Food and Clothing Traditions for Chinese Lunar New Year

Informant Details

  1. Gender: Female
  2. Occupation: Student
  3. Nationality: Chinese-American

Folklore Genre: Holiday Rituals and Superstitions, Calendar Year

  1. Text

The informant explained some traditions and superstitions associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year. During the Lunar New Year, it is traditional to place oranges around different rooms in your house for good luck and prosperity. On New Year’s Eve, you eat a vegetarian diet so that you don’t bring bad energy from hurting other forms of life going into the new year. On New Year’s Day, there is a big feast with a lot of specific lucky dishes. It is best to eat as a family because this brings good fortune and togetherness, but it isn’t considered bad luck if you are eating alone. During this feast, you have to eat some of each dish to ensure you are lucky in all parts of your life. Noodles are eaten to represent longevity. It is bad luck to cut these noodles because this implies that you will shorten your life. Chicken is eaten to ‘fly’ into a year of good fortune, fish is eaten for prosperity and good luck, and green vegetables are eaten for financial wealth and good fortune. Similarly, you are meant to wear colors that represent certain aspects of your life. Wearing red brings good luck, wearing green brings wealth, wearing gold brings success, and wearing yellow brings good health. You can wear more than one color to cover all these areas of life. It is considered very bad luck to wear black on New Year’s Day because this color represents death. The superstition is that if you wear black, you or someone in your life will die. 

2. Context

These traditions and superstitions are done during the Lunar New Year, which usually occurs around the end of January. The informant learned these rituals from her mother and grandmother. Her mother is Chinese-American and her grandmother is Chinese.

3. Analysis

Cultural values are reflected in the specific areas of life represented through the dishes and colors. Many of the traditions are meant to bring financial prosperity. This suggests that striving for wealth is viewed as admirable in this culture and wealth is viewed positively. Health and longevity are also highly prioritized. This suggests that growing old is seen as a blessing in this culture. Additionally, togetherness is valued, which indicates that family relationships are a priority. Overall, these rituals focus on bringing blessings into the new year, instead of reflecting on the past year, which suggests that this culture has a future-oriented viewpoint. These rituals also connect to the idea of homeopathic magic because you are meant to eat and wear things that symbolize the future you want.