Tag Archives: Taiwanese folklore

Hou Yi and Chang’e Legend

Context: The informant is a 21 year old USC student and the daughter of two Taiwanese immigrants. She told me that she was definitely missing some details, but this is the story she learned growing up about the origins of the Mid-Autumn festival. The following are her exact words.

“So, there’s a couple, right, and the guy has like superhero strength – warrior vibes. At the time, there were 10 suns in the sky, and they were so hot that they were burning everything up, so he shot 9 of them out of the sky, leaving only one behind. As a reward, some higher power gave him this magic potion to make him stronger, but in the middle of the night, the day before he was meant to take it, his enemy poisoned it. For some reason, he still wanted to take it, so before he could, his wife drank the whole thing to save him. She ended up floating up into the moon, and so during the Mid-Autumn festival, because the moon is full, people say you can still see her silhouette up there.”

After doing some research, I found out that this is known as the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e, an immortal archer and his wife, the moon goddess before the latter becomes the moon goddess; this seems as if it would count as a mythic narrative. Not only is this the origin story of the sun, but it’s also the origin of the designs present on the moon. There’s a pretty common history of humans seeing faces where there are none (tree trunks) and looking at the moon would reasonably yield the same result. It’s not a story that anyone thinks could have happened, but also not a story that one would disagree with, considering the nature of it. Interestingly, there’s multiple different versions of this story online, including ones where Hou Yi goes mad with power rather than having his elixir poisoned and instead Chang’e must protect others by acting against him. It would be interesting to see if these differences revealed anything about typical historical conflicts that a certain region might have faced or a regional variation in values that might have caused this oicotypical difference.

Traditional Taiwanese Engagement and Wedding Customs – Folk Ritual

1. Text

Interview transcription:

When asked to share a traditional Taiwanese custom, the informant shared the following Taiwanese wedding tradition.

The interview was conducted in a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese. It has been translated below into English and organized in the order performed into categories for ease of comprehension.

Pt 1. Engagement Customs

a) Intro:

“In Taiwanese culture, weddings happen like this. The parents of the bride and the groom meet, they usually have a meal together in a hotel. They then decide that the bride and groom shall get engaged. The engagement celebration, or *訂婚 (*phonetics “Ding Hun”; transliterated as “set marriage”), is hosted by the bride’s family. The bride’s family determines how many tables need to be set up, who to invite, which are usually the parents of the bride and groom, as well as the elders of both families such as the grandparents or other older relatives.”

b) Crackers:

“There is a saying that goes “*甲查某子 換大餅” (*a rhythmic phrase in Taiwanese which is translated to “marry off your daughter, get a big cracker”). This is because the groom’s family orders big round traditional Chinese/Taiwanese crackers called *喜餅 (*Mandarin word read as “Xi Bing”; transliterated as “Happiness Cake”) that is given to the bride’s family and relatives. There are also *小餅 (*small crackers that are usually Western cookies in a tin box).

c) Gifts:

“In the old days, there is a tradition of the bride’s family preparing *擺下 (*transliterating what I heard as a Taiwanese phrase to Mandarin, should mean a “gift set” in English) where 12 or 24 items are carefully selected and given to the groom’s family along with the bride. Some examples of things that can be in the set are pig feet meat tied with a red ribbon, cooked abalone, and a Western suit set for the groom, including pants, socks and shoes. Although people now simplified the suit giving tradition to giving the groom money to pick his own suit.”

“From the groom’s mother, called *婆婆 (*phonetics “po po”; translation “mother-in-law”), traditionally *品禮 (*Taiwanese word transliterated to Mandarin, means “proper gift”) is given to the bride. It is a box that contains a set of gold jewelry passed down from the mother-in-law to the bride.”

Pt 2. Wedding Customs

a) Intro

“Yes while the engagement is hosted by the bride’s family, the wedding is hosted by the groom’s family. The celebration is called a *喜宴 (*Mandarin word read as “Xi Yian”; transliterated as “Happiness Banquet”; translated as “wedding banquet”). It is usually held in hotels.”

“Recently because of Covid there has been very few wedding banquets. But after Covid restrictions are gone, people will hold their banquets like before.”

b) Traditional Wedding

When asked to recount the informant’s own wedding, the informant responded with the following:

“In the old days weddings were very traditional and over-the-top. When the bride is wed into the groom’s family, there would be a truck that carries all of the bride’s furniture, such as her dressing table, to the groom’s house.”

“There would be someone called the *媒人 (*Mandarin word read as “Mei Ren”), which is someone who holds the bride’s hand as she walks from her home to the groom’s home. There would also be another person who is usually someone that is higher aged, and is known to have a lot of *福氣(*Taiwanese word transliterated to Mandarin, read in Taiwanese as “Hou Ki”, means “luck/fortune”) to hold the bride’s hand and walk her to the groom’s house.”

c) Registering Marriage

When asked about how registering worked, the informant responded:

“Registering marriage is a separate thing from the engagement and wedding tradition. Couples can register whenever they want and it is very easy to do so at the local government building.”

2. Context

Informant relation to the piece:

The informant is a Taiwanese person of the more elderly generation who has lived in Taiwan their whole life. They recounted the piece from their memory having experienced many Taiwanese weddings in Taiwan.

Informant interpretation of the piece:

They interpret the rituals as a tradition that has been passed down through generations in Taiwan but is also changing due to modernization. They look back at old rituals with nostalgia and a sense of humor. They feel proud sharing Taiwanese traditional customs.

3. Analysis

In traditional Taiwanese culture, parents and the older generation members of the family play a huge role in the engagements and marriages of their sons and daughters. This tradition could have developed from ancient Chinese society where marriage decided whether a family prospered or not, therefore a great amount of care and control is exercised over the marriable children of the family. In addition, families also used marriage as a tool to gain status or riches, whereas royal families would use marriage to make peace with other nations as tools of warfare. Therefore, there is this longstanding tradition of the parents deciding spouses and planning marriage for the children. This is reflected in the Taiwanese engagement and wedding ritual collected above as the parents are present throughout the ritual and hold a great amount of power in the rituals, preparing gifts and hosting banquets. This ritual has a profound impact on how Taiwanese people view marriage. Young people may find themselves feeling suppressed by the marriage expectations of their parents or elders who hold such an important role in the marriage rituals, therefore when considering potential spouses the preference of the parents or elders in the family is often a huge factor that influences their decisions. If young people do choose to engage and marry someone without the blessing of the older generations, it would be difficult for them to perform the Taiwanese engagement and wedding ritual as they would be missing important people who are part of the ceremony. This is not to say that marriages are all traditional in Taiwan, in fact, Taiwan is the very first Asian country to legalize gay marriage. Therefore the ritual is able to be performed in non-traditional contexts. This suggests that it is not the ritual that is creating the rigid framework for marriage but rather the perspective of the parents and older generations, which if changed, can make this marriage ritual a celebratory one rather than controlling.

虎姑婆 Grandaunt Tiger: A Taiwanese Bedtime Story

Context: Informant is a mother with two daughters. She was telling this story as a bedtime story to the younger daughter. This is a traditional bedtime story for Taiwanese people. The story is normally told when the child is refusing to go to bed. Since it’s a has a scary plot in it, the child will usually get scared and then complied.

Informant: Once upon a time, there was a tiger who wished to become human through magical practices, which involves eating human children. One day, the tiger heard that a mom left the home to visit the sick grandma, leaving the house with only two kids. Before she left, the mom reminded the kids that they should not open the door for anyone other than her. The tiger saw this as an opportunity, but he needed to figure out a plan to trick the children to open the door for him. He used his magic power to transform into an old woman. He knocked the door and yelled, “Open the door. Your mom asked me to come take care of your guys.” The kids responded through the door, “Mom said not to open the door for anyone.” “But I’m old and walked so far to come here. Please let me in to rest and drink some water.” The kids opened the door for the old woman. As the old woman was resting in a chair, the kids asked more about who she is and where she is more. The old woman, played by the tiger, answered with her hoarse voice, “I’m your distance relative. Your mom told me to come take care of you two while she is away to visit your grandma.” Hearing what she said, the kids let down their guard; they thought no stranger would know about their grandma being sick. They invited the old woman to stay the night. At night, when everyone was asleep, one of the kid heard an unusual noise. Crackling noise coming from the other side of the bedroom. Through the shadow projected on the wall, the kid discovered the scariest thing. The old woman was eating the other kid. She ran out of the bedroom and climb all the way up on the nearby tree. The tiger noticed the kid was gone, hurrying out to chase her down. The kid was stuck in the tree with a tiger pacing around underneath; fortunately, the tiger don’t know how to climb a tree. The kid came up with a plan to get herself out of danger. She said to the tiger, “Eat me raw is too plain. How about you heat up a pot of hot oil and carry it here? I will jump in the pot and you can enjoy the tasty fried meat afterwards. I promise I won’t runaway while you are heating the oil” The tiger couldn’t resist the idea of the delicious food he could get, so he went in the kitchen and brought out a big pot of hot oil. The kid was still on the tree. She asked the tiger to use a rope and hang the pot all the way up where she was so that she could jump in the pot herself. The tiger found a rope and hung the pot up onto the tree. The kid said,”Now close your eyes and imagine the delicious meat while I get into the pot.” The tiger close his eyes. The kid dumped the whole pot of hot oil onto the tiger. The tiger screamed in pain and died beneath the tree. The kid slowly climbed down the tree, walked out the front yard, and found her mom who just got back home.

The story can also be found in Southeast China where most of the Taiwanese came from. The story is classified as AT333, same as Little Red Riding Hood. There are numerous variations of the story. In some, the kid was offered a piece of her siblings to eat. Sometimes the older kid was eaten, and other times the younger one. The genders of the two children also vary from version to version. The gender of the tiger is unknown, but usually portrayed with deeper voice and more male-like manner. The tale was meant to terrorize the kid to go to bed, but many times it causes the kid to be too scared to full asleep. The parent usually would say something along the line with “If you don’t sleep right now, Grandaunt Tiger will come and eat you.” However, that is exactly why the kid got eaten in the story: they went to bed and the tiger ate one of them. The contradiction is interesting and seemingly illogical. One possible explanation is that because the parent is present in these situation, they will protect the kid. It is more like “I will let bad things happen to you if you don’t do what I say.” The story of Grandaunt Tiger is adapted into traditional Taiwanese puppet show and there is a lullaby evolved from the story also named Grandaunt Tiger. The lyric attached below:

好久好久的故事 是媽媽告訴我
在好深好深的夜裡 會有虎姑婆
愛哭的孩子不要哭 他會咬你的小耳朵
不睡的孩子趕快睡 他會咬你小指頭
還記得還記得 瞇著眼睛說
虎姑婆別咬我 乖乖的孩子睡著囉

The story from long, long time ago. My mom told me
In the deep deep night, there will be Grandaunt Tiger/
Baby who cries do not cry. He will bite your little ear
Baby who don’t sleep quickly goes to sleep. He will bite your little pinky.
Still remember. Still remember. Squinting my eyes and say
“Grandaunt Tiger don’t bite me. This good kid is already falling asleep.”

好久好久的故事 是媽媽告訴我
在好深好深的夜裡 會有虎姑婆
愛哭的孩子不要哭 他會咬你的小耳朵
不睡的孩子趕快睡 他會咬你小指頭
還記得還記得 瞇著眼睛說
虎姑婆別咬我 乖乖的孩子睡著囉

Don’t shower after giving birth – Taiwanese Folk Superstition

1. Text

When asked to share a superstition, the informant responded with the following Taiwanese superstition:

“A woman is not supposed to shower after giving birth, so while they are in the care center for a month after giving birth they do not shower. The belief is that you might catch a cold if you shower after giving birth. Similarly you are not supposed to eat anything that is cold or is categorized as “cold” foods (in Chinese medicine philosophy there are two kinds of foods, “cold” and “hot” foods that influence the body’s temperature).”

2. Context

The informant believes that there is some scientific basis for this superstition so they were not very sure if it counts as a superstition. The informant learned this superstition from her grandma and other elders of older generations. The informant does not follow the superstition as she did bathe after giving birth.

3. Analysis

The superstition collected above from the informant is a folk belief that is related to Taiwanese folk medicine. There are a plethora of superstitions about health, body temperature, and womanhood. For instance, if someone eats what is considered as “hot” foods on a hot summer day they are more likely to get a heat-stroke or nose-bleed. In addition, there is a folk belief that women should not eat or drink cold food or liquids during their period since it would worsen period cramps and be bad for their health. This folk belief is very similar to the one collected from the informant above, as the “coldness” of water is believed to be harmful to the health of a woman who just gave birth. Therefore this folk belief is also a form of contagious magic as through contact with water the coldness is transferred to the person. This superstition may have begun in a time where water was not sterilized which would cause harmful germs to enter the body which is dangerous for mothers who just gave birth as they have a weakened immune system. With the improvements of modern medicine and healthcare however women do not have to worry as much about taking a bath after giving birth since the water and environment are clean and safe. This explains why the informant does not follow the superstition that is suggested by older generations. This result suggests that through technological advances, some folk beliefs are rendered obsolete and not as useful as they used to be.

Don’t Cut Things When You Are Pregnant – Taiwanese Folk Superstition

1. Text

When asked to share a superstition, the informant responded with the following Taiwanese folk superstition:

“There is a superstition where you are not supposed to cut things when you are pregnant. The belief is that you would be risking cutting your own child. Therefore pregnant women would avoid using scissors or knives to cut anything.”

2. Context

The informant learned this superstition from being told by their grandma. The informant is Taiwanese and grew up in Taiwan. The informant does not believe that this superstition has any real basis since it is impossible to harm the baby in the womb by cutting something outside.

3. Analysis

The superstition collected above is a folk belief that is related to homeopathic magic since it is impossible to cut the child in the womb, however cutting something is similar to cutting the baby in the womb. This belief may have been created so that women do not perform dangerous tasks during pregnancy. Since pregnant women are carrying a new developing life in their body, it is best not to get injured during pregnancy as it would affect the health of the mother which would influence the baby. Perhaps this folk belief is also a prayer for a healthy and natural birth for the infant, since the act of cutting is similar to the procedure of C-section, or may symbolize cutting away the child. There are many superstitions in Taiwanese culture, especially surrounding child birth, since it is a difficult and at times dangerous undertaking for the mother. Children are important in traditional Taiwanese culture due to the emphasis on traditional family structures and the idea that children are the future of the family who carry on the parents’ name and legacy. Therefore, child bearing and birth are very important, causing people to rely on any sort of knowledge, even superstitions with no scientific evidence, to ensure the health of the mother and child.