Chinese superstitions have been a part of life for many generations of Chinese families, but how they are viewed now had potentially drastically changed from how they were once viewed in the early years of Chinese history. Many aspects of Chinese life were once built around superstition, and some still are today. Such things as never having a house built facing North, as it was seen as bad luck, and always having a step before your front door, as ghosts cannot climb steps, are only two ideas of how superstitions have affected Chinas architecture. However, superstitions were also integrated into daily tasks and events throughout the year.
‘Superstition’ is defined in the English Thesaurus as being a belief in things that are yet to come, and is often described as an irrational or unfounded fear of the unknown causing anxiety. These ‘unfounded fears’ can be found all over the world, each country having their own specific, or perhaps, not so specific set of beliefs that have been carried through from one generation to the next. However, how new generations choose to view these superstitious beliefs is often variable with each person you ask and generally depends on how they have been brought up. The same can be said for Chinese superstitions, whereas they were once incredibly common, now they are said to be less important, with many of the old superstitions and traditions being lost with each passing generation.
However opinions regarding superstitions vary from person to person, so I asked Danielle, a student that attends Duncan Of Jordanstone a few questions regarding superstitions in China.
Me: ‘Are you superstitious?’
Danielle: ‘No, I am an atheist.’
Me: ‘Are there any superstitions that family members believe in?’
Danielle: ‘Yes, My granny likes to pay attention to little things. Like the things you wear, what color is not right for certain occasions, etc.’
The idea that certain colors are lucky versus those that are unlucky is very popular in China. Just as we wear black to a funeral and white to a wedding, it is believed that red is the color of life, and will bring luck and prosperity, yellow is also seen as a lucky color and is often used in conjunction with red for a variety of different things, from crafts to clothes, for this very reason.
Me: ‘Do you have any funny or interesting stories surrounding superstitious beliefs?’
Danielle: ‘Not really, In fact even my family members are aware of certain superstitions, they don’t really insist.’
Me: ‘What do you feel is the most common superstitious belief?’
Danielle: ‘A lot to do with Chinese Zodiac. Most people believed a thing called Tai Sui and try a lot of things to avoid it.’
The Chinese zodiac was used as a method of telling the time in ancient china where each of the twelve animals were associated with an hour of the day. It is also used to label years, the current year being the year of the dragon. It is believed that depending on what year you are born in, for example I am the year of the horse, will tell you things about your character. These traits are predicated because of the animal that you were born under. So because I am the horse I am said to have a warm personality, be independent and cheerful. However the horses’ great downfall is its impatience and hot-blooded nature that can lead to quick confrontations.
Me: ‘Do you personally feel that superstitions are less important now than they were in the past? If so, why?’
Danielle: ‘Yes I think they are less important now, I don’t know what the reason is, maybe because the education we received at an early age at school specifically put a lot of importance on “be scientific and say no to superstitions.”’
The same can be said for any generation from anywhere in the world on the subject of superstitious belief. Just because we might have once been scolded for walking under a ladder does not mean to say that we will go through our entire lives continuing to avoid doing so.
However, there are still those that believe in certain superstitions enough to even delay their wedding day. In China it is said to be bad luck to marry on a ‘springless’ year, in years gone by many would avoid marrying on such years and there would be a huge rush for couples to marry before a ‘springless’ year was due, however it would appear that now many young couples don’t care about this old superstition and marry regardless. However some have delayed their weddings until 2014, the year of the horse, which has two “springs” in order to assure the best luck for the new marriage.
There are still the ‘popular’ superstitions that have carried on throughout the generations. Superstitions that remain are often those that are associated with the New Year. Every New Year in China is celebrated with fireworks, firecrackers and rockets. This is to ward off any evil spirits and to welcome in the New Year. This is also synonymous with windows and doors of a household being opened on the stroke of midnight of New Year to let the old year out and to bring in the new. Just recently my neighbours celebrated Chinese New Year, and their celebration was no different from any traditional celebration in China itself. The year of the Dragon was welcomed with lots of food and fireworks, and generously brought through dumplings for our house to also share and celebrate.
Ever since Chinese New Year I have been keenly interested in superstitions, and not those just from China, but from all over the world. It appears though that the general consensus on this topic in relation to how it is viewed now to how it was viewed in the past is that superstitions have been overpowered by modernisation and science.