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Chinese Superstitions E-mail
City Life - Culture
Written by Local Ren
Many Chinese sank into absurdity, rushing to wed before the coming of the Rooster Year (2005), a "widow's year" made by an ancient superstition arising from a calendar quirk. Because of the vagaries of the Chinese lunar calendar, that Rooster Year did not contain the traditional Start of Spring. For many here, that means the Chinese year is a bad one in which to marry.

It is true that Chinese New Year is a high time for practicing Chinese superstitions. Regardless of the year you were born, there are certain customs that many Chinese adhere to during the New Year. Shooting off firecrackers on 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. Many people also abstain from eating meat on the first day of the 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. 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 little red envelopes with crisp one dollar 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.

For those most superstitious, the Almanac should be consulted to find the best time to do important things. The Almanac would tell you that 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. The fact: if you follow ALL the "traditions", you will get nowhere!

Here is a list of 40 classic Chinese superstitions:

When having a baby

• If you're pregnant, use of glue will cause a difficult birth.
• If you strike an animal during pregnancy, the newborn child will look like that animal and behave like one.
• You should never praise a newborn baby because it will invite evil spirits and ghosts.
• A concave navel means a prosperous life.
• A baby with more than one hair crown will be mischievous and disobedient.
• A baby with wide and thick ears will live prosperously.

Before you get married

• 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.

Good 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.

Going to 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.

Lucky and unlucky colors

• Red is the color of blood or life and will bring happiness, wealth, fame, and good luck.
• Black is the color of feces and is associated with evil, disaster and bad fortune.
• White is the color of mother's milk. It symbolizes moderation, purity, honesty and life and balances red and black.

Lucky and unlucky numbers

• The luckiest number is eight because its Chinese word also means "prosper".
• The unluckiest number is four as it sounds like the Chinese word for death.
• Seven can also signify death.
• The number one means loneliness.
• The number "9" is good, because nine in Cantonese sounds like the word "sufficient".

About time

• 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.

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.

While many Chinese people today may not believe in these dos and don'ts, these superstitions (by the name of "traditions" and "customs") are still practiced. They are kept because most families realize that it is these "old stuffs", whether believed or not, that provide continuity with the past and provide the family with an identity.

Still, superstitions are an essential part of culture. They give us a peek into the lives of our ancestors and can provide many insights on the practices, attitudes, principles, and religious beliefs of different cultures. A special report on the effect of superstitions on the nation's youth related that 85% of China's middle school students have actually had their fortune told!

Our valuable Editor Local Ren has been with us since Wednesday, 23 January 2013.

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