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Popular Chinese Superstitions

Chinese superstitions – lucky fish

Although modern, forward looking city types might not like to admit it, many Chinese are quite superstitious. For many Chinese, superstition is just a question of hedging your bets just in case there’s something to it – rather like the traditional Chinese habit of subscribing to as many religions as possible.

Many Chinese superstitions revolve around Chinese characters and homonyms (words which sound the same but have different meanings). For example the Chinese for surplus – 余 and the Chinese for fish – 鱼, are both pronounced yú, so fish are considered to be lucky. That’s why fish feature so highly in Chinese art, and lots of Chinese people have pictures of fish on their walls.

In the same vein, lotus flowers and boxes are associated with weddings because they’re both pronounced hé – the same as the Chinese word for harmony. Ins some areas it was traditional to empty seeds or fruit onto a newly wed couple’s bed because fruits and nuts contain the character 子 which also means son.

Chinese dates (jujubes) and chesnuts are particularly lucky because they are the homonyms of ‘early – son’ and ‘produce a son’ respectively. Bats are auspicious because the word sounds the same as ‘happiness’ and deer are because they sound the same as ‘wealth’.

One of the most visible Chinese superstitions concerns the character 福 which means happiness. During the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) it’s traditional to put up bright red pieces of paper with the character 福 on all around the house – but they’re invariably stuck upside down. This is because the characters for ‘upside down’ and ‘arrive’ are homonyms, so ‘the fu is upside down’ sounds like ‘happiness has arrived’. If you spot one, point it out by saying ‘fú dàole’ – hopefully you’ll bring the person good luck!

The reason the ‘fú’ is written on red paper is because other Chinese superstitions revolve around colours. Red and gold are both extremely auspicious. Red is always cropping up at weddings, birthdays etc, and is the colour of the national flag, but if you write in red it’s could be seen as rude – as if you’re telling somebody off.

White is the colour of death and is thus avoided. Yellow is the colour of heaven, hence yellow clothing for the Emperor (the Son of Heaven) and yellow roofs on temples.

Chinese people have long been interested in longevity, and hence the character 寿 shòu appears a lot, but especially at old people’s birthdays. It’s traditional to eat chángshòumiàn on your birthday, an entire bowl full of noodles made up of just one single, exceedingly long noodle.

The semi-precious green stone jade is highly valued, and not only for its beauty. According to Chinese superstition, jade can also bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits, hence the popularity of jade pendants and bracelets. Some say that if the colour of the jade darkens then the wearer will get rich, if it pales then they’ll get poorer.

Aside from those mentioned above, other animals are auspicious too. Dragons have been associated with Chinese superstitions for thousands of years. In Chinese culture, the dragon is a divine being capable of bestowing happiness and good fortune, not a fire-breathing monster. Phoenixes are also auspicious and generally represent the female gender. Lions are fierce and powerful – and therefore great animals to have as stone statues guarding your gate. Tortoises are revered for their longevity, something which cranes can also represent, and tigers are symbols of strength and health.

Recommended Chinese culture articles:

Traditional Chinese Architecture: Evolution and History, Chinese Siheyuan Courtyards

Chinese Religion: How To Tell Chinese Temples Apart, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism

Beijing Arts: Chinese Opera, Acrobatics, Tai Chi, Chinese Gardens

Beijing Society: Er Nai, Lucky Numbers, Chinese Etiquette, Drugs in China

Chinese History: Chairman Mao Zedong, Eunuchs, Chinese Emperors, Ancient History Timeline, Concubines, 20th Century Timeline


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