China: Superstitions

While many Chinese people today may not believe, these Chinese superstitions (by the name of “traditions” and “customs”) are still practiced. They are kept because most families realize that these traditions, whether believed or not, provide continuity with the past and provide the family with an identity.

Superstitions are an essential part of Chinese culture. They provide many insights on the practices, attitudes, principles, and religious beliefs of Chinese culture. A report on the effect of superstitions on the nation’s youth confirmed that 85% of China’s middle school students have actually had their fortune told. More than 1 in 3 Chinese people today believe in fortune telling.

if you follow ALL these “traditions”, you will get nowhere!

COLORS

RED Red is the color of blood or life and will bring happiness, wealth, fame, and good luck.
BLACK Black is the color of feces and is associated with evil, disaster and bad fortune.
WHITE White is the color of mother’s milk. It symbolizes moderation, purity, honesty & life, balancing red & black.
BLUE Wearing blue will bring bad luck to a marriage.
GREY Wearing gray will also bring bad luck to a marriage.
GREEN Green symbolizes money. Buildings, banks and restaurants are often painted in green and red.
YELLOW Yellow symbolizes royalty & power of the throne. The first Emperor of China was known as the Yellow Emperor.

NUMBERS

Like in Western culture, each number has their unique meaning in Chinese culture, where numbers can bring good luck and fortune to their life. Some are thought to be lucky and some are unlucky according to the pronunciation of the number and the similarity of it with another word.

Lucky Unlucky
0 Means everything or nothing. It is limitless. Chinese people think everything begins with 0.
1 (yī) is used to name the winner. It also has the meaning of beginning, loneliness & single.
2 means ‘double’, ‘twinned’ and ‘again’. (all good things come in pairs) can also describe someone as stupid and reckless.
3 3 is lucky as it sounds similar to the character of ‘birth’ (生 shēng). In 2004, a Beijing man paid US$215,000 for his lucky cell phone number: 133-3333-3333
4 4 also has a good meaning as it has the same pronunciation with the word 发 (fortune) in Chinese. The 4 number is four as it sounds like the Chinese word for death (死). Many buildings in China don’t have a 4th floor. Called “tetra-phobia,” or fear of the number 4, means most building skip any floors with the number, such as 14, 24, 34 and all 40–49 floors.
5 Sometimes lucky since there are 5 blessings in China – wealth, happiness, longevity, luck and prosperity. 5 (wŭ), can be seen as also meaning wŏ, “me,” or wú, “not,” “nothing.” This gives 5 a slightly negative connotation.
6 6 (liù) may be regarded as both, a lucky and unlucky.
7 7 which has the meaning of “gone: and can signify 欺 (cheat) .
8 The luckiest number is 8 because its Chinese word also means “prosper”.
9 9 (jiŭ) is lucky, since it represents “long-lasting.” (in Cantonese sounds like the word “sufficient”), 9 is reserved for the Emperor’s use in the north.
10
14 By far the most feared number. The combination of the words, shí = 10 and sì = 4, mean “accidents” or, when both numbers are read separately, yāo sì, “will die.”
88 88 is considered particularly lucky because it symbolized the “double happiness” characters.
514 A terrible number in personal use, 514 is pronounced the same way as “I will die,” wŭ yāo sì.
666 “666” is lucky as it sounds close to the words meaning “things are going smoothly.”
8888 At a 2010 government auction, a car license plate featuring the lucky number 8 was sold for RMB 1.314 million (US$ 200k). The plate”A8888Q” was worth more than the luxury car.
~ Basically, the more times a number is repeated one after another, the more potent its effect will be.
! Even numbers are lucky Odd numbers are unlucky

Number sequences composed of different numbers may also have positive or negative connotations, for example, 168, yāo liù bā, can be translated as “want smooth prosperity,” or “road to prosperity.” 518 can be read as “I will prosper.” Other variations using the same numbers include: 5189, “I will prosper for a long time” and 516289, “I will get on a long, smooth prosperous road.”

DATES & TIMES

For many Chinese, the almanac should be consulted to find the best time to do important things. The almanac will tell if the day is a good day or bad day to have a funeral, sweep the graves of ancestors, worship the dead or move an ancestor’s grave; start construction, move into a new house, visit friends or even travel north; get a haircut or cultivate plants and so on.

  • Clipping toenails or fingernails at night is bad luck; the person will be visited by a ghost.
  • If a dog howls continuously at night, this means death.
  • Hearing a crow cawing between 3 and 7 am means the hearer will receive gifts; hearing a crow caw between 7 and 11am means rain and wind; and between 11am and 1pm means quarrels.
  • If a man’s ears burn between 11pm and 1pm, there will be harmony between him and his wife; if they burn between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, a guest will soon arrive.
  • The Beijing Olympic opening ceremony started exactly at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8pm on August 8, 2008. (8:8:8, on 8.8.2008) This guaranteed that the Games would be carried out under the most auspicious of circumstances.
  • 9,000 Chinese couples got married on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, more than doubling the previous single-day marriage record.
  • November 11th (11.11) is the singles day in China, as the date has four ‘1’ which stand for single.

GIFTS

Faux pas derived from Mandarin pronunciation

  • Giving someone a timepiece, such as a clock or watch, as a gift is a very unlucky faux pas. Traditional superstitions regard this as counting the seconds to the recipient’s death. Another common interpretation of this is that the phrase “to gift a clock” (送钟) is pronounced “sòng zhōng”, which is a homophone of a phrase for “terminating” or “attending a funeral” (送终). Cantonese people consider such gift as a curse.
  • Giving someone a fan or in some older customs, an umbrella as a gift is frequently unfriendly. The words fan “shàn” (扇) and umbrella “sǎn” (伞) sounds like the word “sàn” (散), meaning scatter or to loose. “sàn kāi” (散开) means to split up. Traditionally, the bride gives her parents a fan, symbolizing that she is leaving them for her husband. (Chinese society is traditionally paternal.)
  • Sharing a pear with your loved ones is unlucky. “Sharing a pear” (分梨) is a homophone of “separate” (分离), both pronounced “fēnlí”. Sharing with distant friends is okay.
  • Giving a married man a green colored hat as a gift is unfriendly. The Chinese saying “wearing a green hat” (戴绿帽) means that someone’s wife is unfaithful. The gift would be an insult to the couple.
  • Books would not be welcome in places like Hong Kong or Macau because the pronunciation of ‘book’ in Cantonese resembles the sound of ‘loss’. Especially for those people who are frequent players in race course or Mark six, they would definitely not welcome this idea.

Chinese people have their own culture when it comes to giving friends or relatives gifts.

  • When it is a new-born baby, usually jade or silver bracelet or necklace would be good, particularly ones which can make the clinging sound so it will make some noise when the baby moves. Alternatively, some children’s clothes, shoes or gloves would be good too. When it is an older child, some toys or stationary would be good.
  • When it comes to some old people, something practical should be considered. A walking-stick, some valuable food such as bird’s nests or Chinese mushrooms would be highly welcome.
  • For those who go to visit their prospective parents-in-law, something more valuable would be an option, such as some good wine or something meaningful.
  • If it is a family, a vase or pictures would be ideal.
  • It is not easy to think of something special for every occasion. So for not very special visits, some fruit such as apples or oranges would be good enough. If you want to give your friends some fruit, remember to buy an even number of them because odd numbers would bring bad luck. So buy 10 apples instead of 9.
  • It is important to know that giving someone gifts should not be a one-way business. The person who receives the gift should find a chance in the future to return the same favor by returning a gift of similar value the next time you meet. You can do so simply by either paying a visit with a similar value gift or by inviting the friend out for a meal with you paying the meal.
  • Foreigners find it awkward when your friend says ‘You don’t need to buy anything when you come here’, or ‘Keep it to yourself. I have a lot of these’. They may not mean it. What you need to do is to insist on them receiving the gift since Chinese people do not tend to receive the gift immediately.
  • Don’t mind the receiver doesn’t open your present immediately. Chinese people would think opening the present in front of you would be impolite and so they would tend to put it aside and only open it after you have left.

NEW YEAR

Regardless of the year you were born, there are certain customs and superstitions that many Chinese adhere to during the New Year.

  • Shooting off firecrackers on Chinese New Year’s Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the new.
  • On the stroke of midnight, every door and window in the house has to be opened to allow the old year to go out is one of the Chinese superstition they adhere to.
  • Many people also abstain from eating meat on the first day of Chinese New Year because it is believed that this will ensure a long and happy life. Some may eat a whole fish, that represents togetherness and abundance, or a chicken with its head and feet intact, which symbolizes prosperity.
  • Any noodles in your bowl should be left uncut, as a sign of long life.
  • Plants and flowers also play a significant role in symbolizing rebirth and new growth. A home is thought to be lucky if a plant blooms on New Year’s Day, as this foretells the start of a prosperous year.
  • The entire house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day.
  • On New Year’s Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year’s Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away, which if you think about it does make some sense. After New Year’s Day, the floors may be swept.
    • Beginning at the door, the dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the parlor, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day.
    • At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold, you will sweep one of the family members away.
    • Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no harm will follow.
    • All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back door.
  • All debts had to be paid by this time. Nothing should be lent on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year.
  • Everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky words. Negative terms and the word “four”, sounding like the word for death, are not to be uttered. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo.
  • References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning.
  • If you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry all through the year. Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked, even though they are mischievous.
  • On New Year’s Day, we are not supposed to wash our hair because it would mean we would have washed away good luck for the New Year.
  • Red clothing is preferred during this festive occasion. Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year’s sets the tone for the rest of the year.
  • Children and unmarried friends, as well as close relatives are given red envelopes with crisp one money bills inserted, for good fortune.
  • The first person one meets and the first words heard are significant as to what the fortunes would be for the entire year. It is a lucky sign to see or hear songbirds or red-colored birds or swallows.
  • It is considered unlucky to greet anyone in their bedroom so that is why everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in the living room.
  • Do not use knives or scissors on New Year’s Day as this may cut off fortune.

MARRIAGE

  • Wedding clothes should be red, yellow and/or white.
  • Wearing black, blue or gray will bring bad luck to the marriage.
  • Couples with the same surname cannot marry; even if they are not related, they still belong to the same ancestry.
  • A boy, preferably born a Dragon, must roll over the newlywed’s matrimonial bed to ensure good luck and a baby boy.
  • Never marry someone who is older or younger by 3 or 6 years.

FENG SHUI

  • The number of steps in a staircase should be even-numbered.
  • It is bad luck to have two room doors face each other.
  • It is bad luck if your door or gate directly faces a road.
  • Don’t build your house facing the north.
  • The master’s bedroom should not be situated right above the garage.
  • The dining area should not be under a second-floor toilet.
  • Picking a floor number based on a combination of your zodiac sign and element is critical.

FUNERALS

  • An improper funeral will bring ill fortune and disaster.
  • Statues of deities must be covered with red cloth of paper.
  • Mirrors must be hidden; a person who sees the reflection of the coffin will have a death in his/her family.
  • White cloth must be hung across the doorway of the house.
  • The deceased’s children and grandchildren should not cut their hair for 49 days.
  • After leaving a wake, do not go straight home lest the ghost of the dead follows you.

CHILDBIRTH

Did you know that eating certain types of food can have an effect on pregnancy? Or that a month after childbirth, mothers are encouraged to stay in bed to give their bodies time to recover?

During pregnancy

  • In the early months of pregnancy, women should not do any heavy work or have sexual intercourse to avoid a miscarriage.
  • Putting sharp objects on the bed (such as knives or scissors) can result in the baby being born with a cleft lip or palate.
  • Touching anything with glue or adhesive can cause the baby to have birthmarks.
  • If a pregnant woman criticizes someone, the baby will look and act like the person criticized.
  • Since pregnancy is considered a “hot” condition, a pregnant woman should eat “cold” food to keep yin and yang balanced.
  • Eating shellfish could give the baby rashes while pineapple could cause miscarriages.
  • The shape and size of the belly could tell you if the baby is a boy or a girl. If the belly is “pointed,” it will be a boy; if “rounded,” a girl.
  • A Chinese gender chart claims to predict the baby’s gender with over 90 percent accuracy. The chart was allegedly found buried in a royal tomb in Beijing over 700 years ago. The prediction is based on the age of the mother at the moment of the baby’s conception.

During labor and delivery

  • The pregnant woman’s mother is present at the first delivery but not for subsequent ones.
  • The woman should try to be quiet during labor, as crying out will attract evil spirits to the new child.
  • A necklace is placed around the baby’s neck before the umbilical cord is cut. This ensures that the baby’s life is tied to the necklace, not to the cord.
  • The ideal position for labor is squatting. The baby will not have enough energy to come out if the mother is lying on her back.
  • The father is not present during delivery, although he is expected to give the baby its first bath.

Zuo yuezi: the sitting month

  • For thirty days after childbirth, the woman is expected to stay in bed and not do any heavy work, including housework.
  • The woman has to stay warm, putting on many layers of clothing to make sure she doesn’t catch a cold.
  • During the sitting month, she should not comb or wash her hair so as not to get a headache.
  • Taking a shower during the month is not allowed. Traditional belief holds that after childbirth, the woman’s skin is loose and water can enter through holes in the skin. This could cause a cold which the baby could also catch.
  • Brushing the teeth during the post-partum month could loosen the teeth and make gums bleed.
  • Eating protein-rich soup (considered “hot”) would increase breast milk and balance the “coldness” of the post-partum period.
  • Avoid fruits and other “cold” foods.
  • Sexual activity is not encouraged during this month.

GENERAL

Things you should never do

  • Beating a person with a broom will rain bad luck upon that person for years.
  • Wearing a moustache is considered bad luck.
  • Never point at the moon or your ears might get chopped off.
  • Don’t sweep the floor on New Year’s Day lest you sweep away the good fortune.
  • Don’t keep a pet turtle or it will slow down your business.
May 19th, 2008|

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