China as an old country has many ancient superstitions, very often people know nothing about the original sources from which they derived.
Born in 1970s in Northern China I was brought up in a very traditional Chinese way. Chinese Spring Festival is a very special occasion when we have many taboos and traditions observed by almost the whole nation. Here are some of the widely known ones:
Firecrackers: Every house must light firecrackers on New Year’s eve to celebrate New Year and drive away evil things and ghosts.
Don’t wear white, because it is related to funerals.
Wear brand new clothes during Chinese New Year- preferably in red. Children should wear new clothes and new shoes. 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 sets the tone for the rest of the year.
You are not allowed to say anything unlucky nor any word carries the similar sound as SI, meaning death.
On New Year’s eve, there must be a dish of fish indicating prosperity, because fish in Chinese is yú, sounds exactly the same in the Chinese phrase “niánniányǒuyú”’ meaning every year we have a “surplus” of prosperity.
In the early morning of the first day, men of the family must go to the tombs of the ancestors with yellow papers as they are the money in another world and burn them for the dead relatives.
The night of Spring Festival eve parents will burn the yellow papers at home in front of the shrine and kneel down to pray for blessings. It is a holy thing that my parents do all the time every year.
Other than Spring Festival, there are many other superstitions. If you suddenly sneeze for no reason, we interpret that as someone is missing you or talking about you behind your back. This is groundless where it is from.
The Chinese believe people with wide and thick ears are more blessed and will live prosperously. I think this is because it resembles Buddha’s appearance.
It might sound funny to Westerners that we must eat longevity noodles indicating long life and the noodles must not be cut short otherwise it will affect your life span. In the countryside, you still see people hanging a mirror outside the window or the gate in order to ward off evil. While in Southern China people put moxa grass outside the main gate during and after the Dragonboat Festival to drive away ghosts and evil spirits. All these superstitions have developed in the course of history and have lasted hundreds of years.
The following superstitions are also very common in everyday Chinese life. They are all related with The famous Eight Diagrams and Yinyang (阴阳八卦) that are widely practiced by Taoists and traditional Chinese medicine.
For funerals, weddings, moving into a new flat, opening a new business, and other celebrations, always choose an auspicious day on the lunar calendar.
One’s birth date and time of the birth is important: it not only decides this person’s fortune all his life, but also regarded as very important reference to choosing a spouse.
If this year is your Zodiac year of birth you should wear red strings, red socks and red underwear, because in this year, there is big chance of disasters and unlucky things will happen to you.
So all in all there are mainly three reasons for Chinese superstitions. One is ancient Chinese culture, Yin Yang and the lunar calendar. Two, Buddhism. The last one is just from the fear of nature and life. From birth to death, it is full of change and uncertainty so helplessness in the face of disease and suffering made people turn to superstition for comfort.
Article by Emma Wang, Miracle Mandarin co-founder.
Want to know more about traditional Chinese culture? Come visit us and we will tell you more.
21F, 319 Changde Road (corner of West Beijing Road)
Closest metro: Line 2/7 Jing’an Temple, Exit 3/10, A 5 min walk away
Learn Chinese in Shanghai. Learn Chinese at Miracle Mandarin