Rice Bowl Macro January 29, 20111

Every culture has its own set of customs, traditions and superstitions. Many of us were told that we shouldn’t break mirrors or walk under ladders, lest we desire to be marred with bad luck for years to come. I suppose some of these superstitions are rooted in safety; shards of glass can be dangerous and you wouldn’t want a ladder collapsing on your head either. And the Chinese superstitions from my childhood are no exception.

Superstitions being what they are, they were never really explained to me by my elders. The superstitions were simply taught to us as a matter of fact, much in the same way that we were taught cows go “moo” and dogs go “woof.” This goes beyond simple etiquette, because it’s not really about having proper manners or keeping face anymore. These superstitions were for my own good, apparently.

I can only speak from my own personal experience, being raised by parents from Taishan and Hong Kong. There are surely some differences among cultures from other parts of China. In any case, if you grew up in a Chinese household, traditional or not, there’s a good chance that you’ve encountered at least a few of these nuggets of ancient wisdom.

  1. Always finish all the rice in your bowl or else your future spouse will have poor complexion; each uneaten grain of rice represents a blemish on his/her face.
  2. Eat like to treat the like. Fish eyes are good for vision, chicken feet are good for running, and so on.
  3. Never give someone a watch or clock as a gift, as you’re basically telling them to die.
  4. Make sure you eat chicken on your birthday, because chickens are particularly lively creatures?
  5. The entire house needs to be thoroughly cleaned on New Year’s Eve.
  6. Washing your hair on New Year’s Day will wash away all your good luck for the year to come.
  7. Pregnant women should never attend funerals or weddings.
  8. Buy a home such that there are mountains behind it and flowing water in front of it.
  9. Young children jumping on the marital bed the day before the wedding encourages fertility for the couple.
  10. No mirror should face the bed, because your soul could enter the mirror world and not return.

All superstitions have to be rooted in something and they rarely make logical sense. I can see how the first one is meant to teach children not to waste their food, but wouldn’t ruining your own complexion be more motivating? And I guess there is something to be said about feng shui, as it could simply be a variation on Pascal’s Wager in a more Chinese context.

What about you? Did you grow up with some odd superstitions that never made all that much sense to you?