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Keeping Ghosts out of Houses

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“So when I was younger, my mom told me stories about why Chinese people decorate their houses in a certain way. Chinese people believe in ghosts, so some people will put mirrors above the doorway of their house because the mirror will reflect ghosts from coming in. Also, they would have a step in front of the doorway because ghosts walk in a very flat-footed manner, so it would prevent them from stepping into the house. The last thing was that some houses were built with two walls that were not perfectly parallel with the front door because that would mean that the ghost would have to walk and then turn and then walk into the doorway, so I guess the ghosts were confused and couldn’t get in that way.”

The informant’s mother is Taiwanese. According to what I’ve heard from Professor Thompson and my Taiwanese parents, almost everyone in Taiwan believes in ghosts, so dealing with ghosts is very important. Knowing that the dead roam your house is eerie and uncomfortable. This discomfort apparently transcends cultures as “haunted houses” are not desirable in the United States and many other cultures.

It seems like the Taiwanese see ghosts as very similar to us. Perhaps even a little less capable than we are as ghosts are repelled by simple mirrors and misaligned walls. There is an element of trickery in these house design traditions, which illustrates the different attitude held by the Taiwanese and a lot of the western world. In lore from United States, ghosts are often tricksters, causing mischief in the houses they haunt. In contrast, it seems as though there is a role reversal with Taiwanese lore. Ghosts are easily fooled and the living are the tricksters, giving us power over the dead. Perhaps the Taiwanese that believe strongly in ghosts find comfort in the thought of being able to thwart the dead.

It seems like a core concept or an inspiration for these traditions is “feng shui”, which is practice of placing of objects to redirect chi, which many Taoist and traditional Chinese call the life-force of the universe. Feng shui for houses is very popular among Asian Americans. I’ve heard of a friend of a friend that spent a considerable sum getting his room redesigned to optimize his chances of getting into an Ivy League. I have not heard of the practice of putting a mirror above the doorway or adding a step, but I have heard of a variation of having non-parallel walls. The idea is that by skewing the walls a bit, good luck enters through the front door, but doesn’t have a direct path to leave and ends up being reflected around the household. It is more than likely that the tradition my informant told me was an oicotype of the tradition I heard about.