Chinese Superstitions

Despite the advance of education, many cultures are still deep in superstitions. Though Western also have their part of ominous psyche with their number thirteen, Chinese as a whole are far steep in such practices. The number eight (8) is considered the most fortuitous of numbers, making it much coveted for addresses, phone numbers and bank accounts, as the Mandarin’s and Cantonese’s articulation and pronunciation for eight (ba for Mandarin and paat for Cantonese) sounds similar to the word that signifies ‘prosperity’ (fa for Mandarin and faat for Cantonese). The Beijing Olympics were scheduled to commence on 08.08.2008, at eight o’clock in the evening, which would certainly guarantee that the Games will be carried out under the most auspicious of circumstances.

Conversely, four (4) is a very unlucky number as in Chinese it sounds like the phonetic sound of ‘death’. Thus Chinese adhering to the customs try to avoid the number four in, for example, car number plates, house addresses, etc.

The year two thousand and eight (2008) was supposed to be a prosperous year, since it ended with a fa or a faat, but it went bust with a stock market crash. Horror of losses upon another; the Shanghai Composite soared to a high of 6,036 in October 2007, but plummeted down to 1,706 by November 2008, yet the demigod of the number eight continues. If there is a Sovereign in Heaven, he must have chosen this special year to test their alertness; much like scientists testing lab rats to see how intelligent or dumb they are. But sheer futility and superstitions run too deep in the Chinese psyche for the event to be an eye-opener.

Although the number eight doesn’t have the same appeal to the Japanese or Koreans, their cultures were still influenced by the Chinese. All three cultures are united in their avoidance of the number four. Because of this, many buildings in Asia do not have a fourth floor. The developer deliberately names the second storey of the building as the first floor, so the fourth storey of the building will be called the third floor. The fifth storey onwards will then be correct as it will be known as fifth floor, and so on. The ground storey will not be called first floor but rather, ground floor. The fourteen floor is also missing, and perhaps even the twenty-fourth. So the numbering system is muddled up.

Another Chinese superstition is that 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, which if you think about it does make some sense.

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 parlour, 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. But lots remain, for to clean out the filth would also clear out their fortunes. This might explained why Chinese restaurants are the dirtiest among all restaurants in the West, lol.

Still, on a positive note, superstitions are an essential part of culture. They give us a peek into the lives of our ancestors and can provide insights on the practices, attitudes, principles, and religious psyches of different cultures. In the same breath, they give us an insight why some cultures lag behind in development, others ahead; they explain why the Chinese were behind for the last five hundred years. And with this, one could also predict comfortably that they would still be muddling in backwardness for the next five hundred years.

Joel Huan, researcher and author (Over Mount Fuji in Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

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~ by Joel on August 6, 2009.

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