“Where’s floor number 4?”
Every country has its own superstitions, often closely related to cultural events and holidays. In many western countries, the superstitions stem from folklore, and are not specific to any country. We all know that breaking a mirror gives 7 years of bad luck, or a black cat crossing the street means bad luck. In China there are a lot of funny superstitions, some of them you might already have noticed, some you’ll learn about.
China is one of the oldest countries in the world, and with a very proud cultural history, at times spiritually. It is bound to have some superstitions. In this blog post we’ll be digging down into the ancient Chinese roots, and discover some of the funniest, most common, and craziest superstitions in Chinese culture.
Luckily, Chinese culture pays a lot of attention to superstitions, and you might end up in a funny situation if you don’t know some of the most common ones. For example, never ever buy your Chinese girlfriend a pair of new shoes, or a watch for that sake!
On the contrary, if you’re looking for a cheap place to live, look for apartments that have or start with the number 4 in the address. Below we’ve gathered some of the most common Chinese superstitions for your amusement.
If you’ve ever taken an elevator in China, you might have wondered where the 4th floor has gone, don’t worry there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation behind it.
The reason lies within the pronunciation of the word 4. The word 4 pronounced (四 – sì) sounds very similar to the Chinese word for death (死 – sǐ). It is not confined to elevators. Chinese people go through a great ordeal to avoid the number 4 in any context. Whether it is when getting a phone number, a number plate, an address, or even when conceiving a child. (Don’t want your child to be born on the 4th. Who is going to marry that poor child…)
On the other hand, if you want prosperity and wealth. Number 8 is your number. As unlucky as the number four is, number 8 is considered to be the luckiest number out there. The reason behind it is again the sound, eight (八 – bā) sounds sort of similar to the word prosperity/wealth (发 – fā). Why do you think the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics were held on August 8? (08/08/2008).
You might have heard about the popular TV-show Storage Wars, or maybe you’ve just been to one yourself. No big deal, just people selling some of their old stuff right? Not in China. You’d think that a country that produces so much, might sell some of the stuff again. (Or maybe it’s just cheaper to buy new stuff on Taobao). Nonetheless, buying, or using second-hand stuff is considered degrading, and might make you lose face. That’s the obvious reason, but it is also believed that if you buy used stuff, you might inherit whatever bad luck or misfortune the previous owner had.
Colours have different symbolic values in every country, while green/ yellow often relate to jealousy/ envy and blue symbolises change. In many western countries, black has always been associated with death and bad luck in general, thus the name “The black death” referring to the plague.
In China however, the colour black is associated with dark feelings, but white was and for most people still is the colour of death.
Since ancient times people would wear white to funerals, this making the colour a symbol of sorrow/ mourning. To this day, seeing people dressed in white at a funeral is still considered normal, and for some, especially among the older generations, getting married as a white bride is outrageous.
On the other hand, red is considered the colour of happiness and is a big part of Chinese culture. The colour red especially shows its importance during Chinese holidays, where children receive red envelopes – hóng bāo. The red envelopes contain money, usually given from grandparents to bring luck. Red is also often the go-to colour for brides in China, since red is associated with blood, and life.
Paying attention to superstitions during Chinese holidays is not just for the older generation. There are numerous superstitions that are well kept, and brought down from generation to generation. The main superstitions are: not getting a haircut during the first month of the New Year, doing so, might result in your uncle dying and cleaning the house, or opening the windows, because this will “clean out” the luck, or blow it out the window. Also, the fireworks are not all looks, but it’s used to scare away the famous beast “Nian” that feeds on children,
Ever thought about which direction your new terrace should face, or if the sun will blind you on those lazy Sunday mornings? In China there’s an old tradition stemming from a fear of the barbaric Mongolians invading: the direction represents darkness, evil, and bad luck. While the Mongolians might not invade any time soon, buying a house facing north is still avoided in China.
Chopsticks, the clock, and new shoes
Now we’ll introduce some of the smaller ones, but just as important. We’ll start with ruining your gift idea for your girlfriend. Do not buy new shoes as a present, for some that means that you’re providing them with a reason to leave. On another note, another linguistic superstition revolves around giving someone a clock. This is a big no-go! “Giving a clock” (送钟 – sòng zhōng) sounds similar to “bid farewell to someone on their deathbed” (送终 – sòng zhōng).
The last one, and maybe one you’ve already done (not on purpose of course), is leaving your chopsticks in your bowl of rice. This resembles the sight of incense (香 – xiāng) at a tomb, which is associated with death.
Animals play a big part in Chinese culture as well. Dragons symbolise happiness and bring good fortune, while turtles are revered for their longevity.
From missing floors to death bringing haircuts and clocks. Chinese culture can be traced back all the way to ancient times, thus leaving us with a wide range of crazy superstitions. We hope you’ve gotten a little wiser from these Chinese superstitions and maybe it’ll stop you from forgetting your chopsticks in the rice…