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Chinese Superstitions: All Around the House

written by: davidmakofsky • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 6/26/2014

Teachers presenting a unit on China will find that superstitions are an interesting way to introduce cultural insight. The principle Chinese "family" holiday is the Spring Festival. Rituals concerning all aspects of family life, especially home cleaning, are incorporated into this holiday.

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    The Cultural Basis of Superstion in China

    迷信 mí xìn (i as in yield, x as in short) superstition China 

    不走运bù (u as in wood) zǒu (ou as in go) yùn (u as in wood). bù zǒu yùn

    The American Heritage Dictionary states that superstitions represent a “belief or practice irrationally maintained by ignorance or faith in magic or chance." From the point of view of language and culture, Chinese superstitions related to the home and family do not meet this definition at all. Rather, they are supported by longstanding belief in right and proper behavior. Two sources of these Chinese home and family traditions are the Spring Festival and the practice of Feng Shui. The first is often associated with the working class, and the second with the educated elite.

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    Spring Festival As a Family Holiday in China

    A number of religions have important festivals that are essentially celebrated within the family. The Jewish festival of Passover is one of them, and the Chinese festival of the Lunar New Year, called 春节 Chūn Jié is another. The period around Chinese New Year, often about 40 days, is chūn yùn 春运, : chūn yùn (choon yoon, oo as in wood). This . has become the time of an enormous migration. More interurban trips are taken in mainland China in this 40-day period than the total population of China. Migrant workers in China, as well as overseas Chinese around the world travel home to have reunion dinners with their families on Chinese New Year's Eve. As we will see, one of the primary functions of holiday ritual is to set standards of behavior that should be maintained throughout the yea


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    Origins of the New Year Legend

    In legend, the beginning of the Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian. In Chinese this is 年;, or nián. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people.

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    Rituals Associated With Sweeping and Cleaning

    Wash away the dirt on nián niàn bā 年廿八 (a as in father) the 28th day of the final month of the old year

    干净 gān jìng to make ‘clean’

    Attention to detail very much resembles the religious rituals of Jews associated with dietary laws, with Chinese bad fortune the equivalent of Jewish violation of God’s law.

    House cleaning occurs on the 28th day of the last month of the old year, just prior to the Chinese New Year. Red trimmings are placed on doorways and windows to scare away the monster Nian as it is afraid of the color red. This practice diverted from hanging peach-wood charms on doors, since tradition has it that this is considered effective to keep away ghosts and evil spirits and enhance immortality.

    Bamboo leaves are used to clean the house, as bamboo is believed to drive out evil spirits. Cleaning the house symbolizes sweeping out any misfortune or traces of bad luck.

    During the Chinese New Year, sweeping the house should be avoided--especially during the first three days--since otherwise upcoming good luck would be swept out. If one ought to sweep during the first three days of the New Year celebration, it is important to collect the dust in a corner to keep the newly arrived good luck inside the house.

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    Family Behavior Around the Home

    . 家庭 jiātíng (a as in father, i as in yield) means both family and home.

    Attitude towards the present and future is also part of the family new year ritual.

    Nothing should be lent on New Years Dy, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. Everyone should refrain from using bad or unlucky words. 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. On New Year's Day, people are not supposed to wash their hair because it would mean they would have washed away good luck for the New Year. 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. 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


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