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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Superstitions in China

By Johna Ferguson

Better to be safe than sorry; thus many Chinese still are very superstitious about many things.

Superstitions usually abound during Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year, starting Jan 23rd this year and ending with the Lantern Festival 15 days later. This is the Year of the Dragon, the Fifth sign in the Chinese zodiac.

During the festival holiday, a whole fish on the table is a must as the Chinese word for fish is a homophone of the word for surplus which means “having abundance in the new year.” But in coastal areas, the fish should never be turned over, for that act symbolizes the capsizing of a boat.

People should eat long noodles for longevity on one’s birthday. Many small gifts are exchanged at various times but one should never give a clock as the word sounds the same as “burying the dead.”

Chinese also like auspicious colors. Red is the color to bring happiness and good luck. Chinese brides always used to wear red but following foreign fashions, they now wear white. But white is worn at funerals along with white flowers given to everyone who attends and then placed on the grave.

At weddings, and many are preformed during the festival as families are home for the holiday, the bride gives those attending a mixture of jujubes, peanuts, lotus seeds and candy for the phrase zao sheng gui zi sounds like “having a son soon afterwards.” The best day to get married in 2011 was November 11, 2011, but any double number except four is okay.

Fireworks are shot off at the Lunar New Year to ward off evil spirits. The skies are lit up for hours and hours from shooting fireworks by every family and city and the noise of firecrackers is enough to almost drive one insane.

When moving, many older peasants put burning charcoal and a lump of dough in a brazier and carry it to their new home to ensure good fortune in the future.

Also, many people believe in fortune tellers. Many of these tellers have a paper drawing of the things they can predict lying on the sidewalk trying to get people to stop and have their fortunes told. And then, many believe in their horoscopes read in the daily papers.

Numbers are very involved in superstitious beliefs. Eight is the luckiest number and therefore the most wanted when one applies for a telephone number or a license plate. One business man paid $262,000 for the plate number C8888 for his BMW. The number three is also magical and in Beijing, a man paid $284,000 for the phone number, 133-3333-3333.

When we stayed at Zhou’s daughter’s apartment in Beijing in a modern high-rise Marriott Hotel, I was not surprised at their being no 13th floor for many people worldwide are afraid of that number. But I was amazed there also was no floor 4 or 14. That’s because the number four sound like the word for death.

Chinese Elevator Panel

When I visited the Forbidden City, I was surprised that I had to step up and over a board across the entrances to buildings. These were to protect the people within from ghosts which might slip under the door.

No one wants a ghost at their wedding so outside the bride’s house on that grand day all nearby sewer covers are covered with bright pink paper painted with the symbol for happiness so no ghost can slip out accidentally and cause problems.

Even my lovely magpies are auspicious. If you see or hear one on your wedding day you will be blessed with good luck and a happy marriage.


Lastly are Kitchen Gods. A paper picture of the God is hung in a prominent place in mostly old peasant’s kitchen. Each year during Chinese New Year, this God returns to heaven to report on what the family has done during the year.

The family serves sticky rice at a special dinner for the God before he goes so he can’t open his mouth and report on the family. After the meal the picture is burned and a new one hung up.

Therefore, to hedge your bets, best go to a fortune teller and follow what he says and also be sure to give the Kitchen God plenty of sticky rice. And a Happy Chinese New Year to you all.

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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


"When moving, many older peasants put burning charcoal and a lump of dough in a brazier and carry it to their new home to ensure good fortune in the future."

Hi Johna,

This tradition must have been carried to the East Coast of America because twice in my long Real Estate career I have been involved in this ceremony.

It was interesting and fun because it was a happy event and I was both proud and more than willing to participate.

I love when you tell us about China....

Another interesting aspect of China. As I read the different beliefs, I was reminded of a few superstitions in this country.
Every once in a while I see someone "knock on wood" or throw salt over the left shoulder for good luck.
I have seen children carefully walking beside an older person moving back and forth between cracks chanting, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back."
I often look out at the sky at night to see what tomorrow will bring based on the old saying of sailors, "Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky in the morning sailor's take warning."
It is always so much fun to read your essays about China.
Michigan Grandma in Arizona

Fascinating information. Thank you!

I,too, always enjoy reading about your life in China. I printed this story so that I can remember the superstitions you described.

I,too, always enjoy reading about your life in China. I printed this story so that I can remember the superstitions you described.

I love hearing about your life in China, too, Johna. What will we do when you no longer live there? Maybe you can keep digging into your memory bag for stories?

So that was it! I didn't cover the sewer cover.

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