Chinese Superstitions

For the past few thousand years, the culture of China has been very specific and constant with the traditions and customs that it has. Many of these traditions can be seen by some as superstitions. Several of the superstitions in China are predominantly based on the luck and the fortune that it can bring or take away from someone. Some of these superstitions can help to bring success to a person, family, or business, while other superstitions have associations with death, devastation, and ruin. Many of the most widely recognized Chinese superstitions involve the supernatural, colors, or numbers. Many superstitions in China are related to supernatural beings. Most people in China believe in the spirit world which is filled with the ghosts of past ancestors (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”).

The Chinese also believe in many gods and deities, such as the Jade Emperor and the kitchen god who control different aspects of the lives of the people (Donn). They believe in pleasing these gods and spirits to give themselves a prosperous life of fortune (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions). One specific way that they do this is by leaving gifts of candy for their kitchen god so that he will tell the Jade Emperor to give the family good luck and prosperity because of their good deeds (Donn). Additionally, the Chinese people work to not anger the spirits and gods. (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”). A very important superstition warns against clipping finger or toenails at night, otherwise the spirits of dead ancestors will return to haunt the living (Veljkovic). Additionally, the nail clippings should be disposed of in secret so that no one can put a curse on the owner of the nail clippings (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”). Lastly, the Chinese believe that dogs have the capability of seeing supernatural beings, such as spirits and ghosts, and the dogs start to howl whenever they see one (Veljkovic). In addition, if someone smears the fluid tears of a dog onto their own eye, then they too will be able to see the supernatural world (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”). However, this is very dangerous because the shock of seeing such a world is likely to cause death (Veljkovic).

Another kind of Chinese superstition relates to the colors. In China, the majority of people observe the colors black, red, and white as important symbols, each with their own unique meaning (Gehrmann). The color black in China is well-known as being a symbol of darkness, evil, and the color of bruises and pain, so it is very unpopular (Hang). Additionally, black is a color of sin and misfortune and is therefore thought to be an unlucky color to decorate a home with or to wear to a Chinese festival, party, or wedding (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”). Red is another significant color which is said to bring great luck and fortune (Gehrmann). Red is typically featured in weddings and in celebrations, such as Chinese New Year, where the people hand out red envelopes full of money as signs of good luck (Hang). Additionally, the color red in architecture is solely reserved for the Emperor and his closest family because the Chinese Emperor has the most luck and fortune compared all other people (Gehrmann). A third significant color is white, which has a mixture of good and bad meaning (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”). White can be a color of confidence and purity, while also being a color of mourning and death (Gehrmann). Traditionally, the color white is worn to funerals to mourn for the dead (Hang). It is also superstitiously worn at funerals as it is said to bring harmony, between a celebration of past life and of mourning for what was lost (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”).

A final class of superstitions is about numbers. In China, good luck or bad luck is associated with different numbers because of the way each word sounds in Chinese (Makofsky). For example, the number 8 has a pronunciation of 八 (bā), in Chinese. This sounds very similar to the word “发 (Fā), which means to make a fortune” (Pergament). Also, the number eight is the most favorable number to have in China during everyday life, such as in phone numbers, license plates, or the date of a wedding (Li). In China, a common superstition is that if there is more of a presence of the number eight in a business, then it will make the business increasingly more fortunate and profitable (Pergament). Contrastly, the number four is prominent in Chinese superstition as the most unlucky number (Skurie). This also originates from the pronunciation because “in Chinese 死 sǐ (‘i’ as in thunder) means ‘to die’ while 四 sì, a completely different character, means ‘4’ (‘i’ as in thunder)” (Makofsky).

For this reason, many large apartment complexes and hotels will skip the fourth floor to avoid any misfortune that it could bring (Skurie). Also, a car company named Alfa Romeo made a new model of car named the 144, but later it had to omit the four’s and change the model number due to a great lack of sales (Makofsky). Some people will even pay money to avoid the number four in common objects such as phone numbers and house addresses (“Chinese Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions”). Wedding gifts like kitchenware in sets of four or amounts of money containing the number four in them are considered to be very unlucky and Chinese superstition says that this should be avoided (Makofsky). The supernatural, colors, and numbers are the main subjects of superstitions in China. Some of these superstitions are said to bring good luck and success, such as the number 8 and the color red. Other superstitions can bring bad luck, like the number 4, the color black, or clipping one’s toenails at night. There is also another group of superstitions that can bring good or bad fortune such as the color white. This also includes seeing spirits as dogs do, which can make you wiser or kill you. All in all, there are many kinds of Chinese superstitions that have been a general part of daily life since the beginning of China.

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