Tag Archives: Chinese

Cutting Hair for Chinese Lunar New Year 

Informant Details

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

Folklore Genre: Holiday Ritual/Superstition

  1. Text

The informant explained a ritual done for the Chinese Lunar New Year. She said that people are supposed to cut their hair before the new year, and then not cut it for a while after the new year. It doesn’t matter how much is cut off – it can be just a trim. Sometimes she will go to a salon, but other times she cuts her hair herself. She has done this every year for as long as she can remember. Both women and men partake in this tradition. If you don’t cut your hair, the superstition is that you are carrying all of the bad things that happened to you in the past year into the new year. So, if you don’t cut your hair then you bring bad energy and bad luck into your future.

2. Context

The informant’s understanding of this ritual is that it signifies “out with the old, in with the new” because you cut off your dead ends to make room for the new growth in the new year. The informant was taught this ritual as a young child. She learned this from her Grandmother, who is from Guangzhou, China.

3. Analysis

This ritual embodies the principles of contact magic. The hair is believed to carry the energy of the past because it grew during that time period. By cutting off the ends of this older hair, the individual is able to move forwards without the weight of the past. In International Folkloristics, Dundes says “With Contact or Contagious magic, one can carry out an action on an element that was once touched by or connected to the designated target of a magical act.” (186) In this example, the hair was connected to the individual’s past. Therefore, cutting the hair is analogous to cutting energetic ties to the past.

The Dragon Boat and Zongzi Festival

‘Growing up in China, my family and I always celebrated the Dragon Boat and Zongzi Festival. Basically we would go into town and watch dragon boat races, which involved teams rowing decorated boats to music, while eating sticky rice dumplings which are called zongzi. This is a really big souther Chinese tradition with lots of festivities, praying, and it’s all about good luck. The festival celebrates Qu Yuan who was a prime minister in China centuries and centuries ago. I remember every year we would go to the river and dump the zongzi in to feed Qu yuan as a superstition. We also would hang a type of plant on our door called Chinese Mugwort to avoid mosquitos and bad luck as this is the hottest time of year.” – AS

AS grew up celebrating this holiday with her family each year as long as she can remember. It always signified a very fun time of year for her, even though it was the hottest days ever! AS emphasized that the biggest role it had, and still has, in her life, was not the history of the festival, but rather how delicious the zongzi is. While she no longer celebrates it, as she has moved to the US, she still makes and eats zongzi often, even for breakfast. Additionally, during the summer in the US, she hangs a fake plant on her door, that looks similar to Chinese Mugwort, to commemorate the Dragon Boat festival and keep her tradition as best she can in a new environment.

Zongzi: sticky rice dumplings
Chinese Mugwort hung on a door

The Dragon Boat Festival is a very important festival in the region of China AS grew up in, as it highlights the cultural significance of Qu Yuan, and the traditions that grew because of it. The festival also incorporates multiple superstitions, as much folklore does, as many of the rituals they perform are to avoid bad luck and bring in success for themselves and their family during the hottest time of year. Additionally, the dragon boat races are a tradition of Chinese folklore and mythology, as they correspond to a legend that dragon boats were used to save Qu Yuan from drowning in the river, hence throwing in dumplings to feed him. Also, the zongzi are a form of folk food, as they are many times offered as a tribute and also to ward off any evil spirits and bad luck. Many prayers and traditions are also important to this festival. With the huge celebrations the Dragon Boat festival brings, the Chinese culture and heritage of this southern region of China is shared and spread to all. AS, who recently had a baby, also shares these traditions of zongzi and mugwort with him when they days get hot! There is rich folklore characteristics all throughout this festival that allow the culture and traditions to continue.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Myth

Nationality: Chinese-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Barista/Student
Residence: Mercer Island, WA


A very long time ago, there were 10 suns in the sky. Crops and people were dying because of the excess heat from too many suns. One day, a really good archer named Houyi decided he’d solve the problem by shooting down the suns. He succeeded, shooting down nine out of ten of them. The people were happy, and afterwards, Houyi married a girl name Chang’e. He was rewarded for his feat with a special medicine ball, but told only to eat it when he was about to die. Later, Houyi went hunting, leaving his wife at home. Thieves broke into their house and demanded that Chang’e give them the medicine ball. Chang’e refused, but when the thieves insisted, she ate it rather than risk it falling into their hands. As a result, she floated all the way up to the moon. Houyi was extremely sad. Chang’e is said to still be there today. There are other versions of this story where Chang’e chooses to eat the ball without the intervention of thieves or where Houyi grows evil and Chang’e eats the ball to prevent Houyi from using it.


AZ was between 4 and 5 when she first heard this legend. She can’t remember where she first first it, but recalls that it’s generally told during the Mid-Autumn Festival or in school. This celebration is all about the moon at its brightest and roundest, and the legend is shared to honor Chang’e for eating the ball to protect it from being used for bad things. AZ says this story is the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The story is very nostalgic for her. AZ told me that she prefers the version she told over the alternate versions. She doesn’t know what the story might mean or represent.


There’s a lot to this myth, which seems to have many variations and hold lots of value in Chinese culture. I designate this as a myth because it is not only a creation story, but also appears to be sacred. It’s the origin of a large, annual celebration, denoting its importance in China. I think that this myth expresses the importance of the Sun and moon in Chinese culture, as well as their intrinsic connection to human beings. This is because both bodies have major importance in the story: Houyi is reason there’s only one sun, and his shooting down of the other nine leads to his to his ownership of the ball; and Chang’e’s choice to eat the ball takes her to the moon, where she remains to this day. Chang’e’s and Houyi’s decisions to take action in order to protect the world around them highlights the importance of strength, virtue, and courage in Chinese culture. This is further emphasized by alternate versions of the tale mentioned by AZ. In the one in which Houyi turns evil, Chang’e’s choice to eat the ball is still courageous, strong, and virtuous. In the one in which Chang’e chooses to eat the ball, being stranded on the moon is her punishment, warning others to choose virtue over desire. Since this myth still shapes an important celebration in China and continues to be told, I believe that these values are still important to the culture in the modern day.

The Ghosts of July

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Performance Date: 03/31/2024


“During the month of July, the gates between the afterlife and this world open, and ghosts come to the roam in our world at night. You have to close your windows and blinds, or they’ll come into your room.”


The informant heard this story from her roommate, who grew up in China. The informant was told this story one night when they were trading various cultural stories and legends, and recalls that this was a legend believes deeply in. She also recalls that her roommate felt a ghost in her room when she was a kid and didn’t close her window. The informant doesn’t necessarily believe in the story, but thinks that all ghost stories could be possible.


The context of this legend being from China adds a level of cultural significance as it is tied to the lunar calendar. This means that the story has been canonized in cultural lore, but continues to shift. For example, the informant was told a “quick” version of the lore, that holds deeper cultural significance, demonstrating the popularity and easy ability to spread ghost stories. This story spreads easily both as it as a ghost stories, but because families are likely to tell their kids this story in the culture out of caution and true belief in the story. I think that ghost stories are most certainly plausible, but the notion of a singular month of “ghosts” holds less plausibility for me.

Silky Black Skinned Chicken Soup

Nationality: Chinese/Vietnamese
Primary Language: English
Other language(s): Mandarin, Cheo Chow (Chinese Dialect)
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: LA, California
Performance Date: 3/12/2024


My informant, AC, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Los Angeles, California. I talked with her about food one day in second semester freshman year after getting some soup for myself while out at lunch. On that topic of food, we touched on soup, as this is what I was planning to eat. As we discussed soup at this point, all different types of it, she mentioned that at home, she would have this chicken soup with the skin of the cooked chicken still in it, but the skin was burnt black. I questioned her further about this and she said it was a natural homemade remedy and all around good soup that was apparently, as discussed with her parents, supposed to cure her asthma and other illnesses, as a sort of magic.


“So basically, this soup would help me feel better whenever I was sick or whenever I had asthma attacks or problems. I could never figure it out, but whenever I had it, my sicknesses would just seemingly disappear the next day. And with asthma, if I ever had wheezed or anything worse, I would have this soup and then my breathing issues would just dissipate. But, I don’t know how it works, though I know it does. Again, it’s pretty strange, magical almost.”


Well I did a bunch of research on this topic and ended up finding out that black skin chicken soup, also known as Black Bone Soup, is a popular Chinese dish which is said to have exceptional medicinal properties. Based on my research, apparently, dark meat of black chicken breeds like the Kadaknath or cooked black skin chicken provides a rich source of carnosine, which is a protein-building compound that has antioxidant properties. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this black chicken soup recipe tonifies (balances, stabilizes, or unblocks) qi (chi)/energy in the body. It is also believed to strengthen the liver and kidneys, nourish the blood, and improve immunity and overall energy. So, in turn black chicken soup can indeed somewhat help stabilize breathing issues due to asthma and act as an aid to sickness symptoms. Apparently, black chicken has been known since the 7th century, and it is believed that eating these chickens, known in China as gu chi, ‘chicken with black bones,’ has a beneficial effect on human health. This has been a recurring theme in Chinese culture for centuries, and based on multiple human health articles I’ve read so far, its benefits are seemingly scientifically accurate. It’s extremely interesting for me to see this form of folk medicine and near magic to be used and be historically proven to work as well. I’ve dealt with my fair share of folk medicine personally, but this one, not only have I never heard of it, it blows my mind to see how beneficial it is in the field of science when dealing with its positive effects on the human immune system.