My Grandma Once Told Me… : Decoding Chinese Superstitions

Have you ever read your fortune cookie slip and thought “Where on earth does this kind of thing come from??” There are many Chinese superstitions that don’t make sense, but if so many people believe in them, doesn’t it make you want to know what they are? Chinese culture has a strong emphasis on superstitions which often influence a person’s daily life. It’s fair to assume that luck and wealth are a common concern for Chinese people, so it’s not surprising that many of these sayings have to do with that. None of these are scientifically proven, so just take them light-heartedly for a enjoyable mid-day read.

1. Twitching on the left eyelid forecasts fortune; twitching on the right eyelid forecasts misfortune.

You’ve probably experienced your eyelids twitching and wondered why. This superstitious saying has become ingrained into many Chinese people’s minds. If it’s your right eyelid, be careful of a small misfortune that might happen soon. But if your left eyelid twitches, smile and know that you’re about to receive some money.

2. You lose wealth when you shake your leg.


This is one of many examples from the Chinese Feng Shui belief. Many find it stress-releasing to shake their legs, but according to Feng Shui, you’re losing your fortune whenever you shake your legs. If you wanted to get rid of this habit but find it hard to, think about your bank account and this Chinese saying. It just might help.

3. Sometimes it’s better not to give.


Watches. This has to do with the pronunciation of the word “watches” in Chinese. It’s considered ominous to receive a watch on one’s birthday, since “gifting a watch” sounds similar to “sending off the dead” in Chinese. Both are pronounced “Song Zhong”.

“Umbrella” and “lose/fall apart” also sound alike in the Chinese language (“San”). It’s considered inappropriate to gift an umbrella to a friend or significant other, which insinuates that your relationship will fall apart.

4. The unlucky number 4.


The number 4 in Chinese is homophone for “death.” Thus, just like Americans’ attitude towards the number 13, Chinese skip level 4 in their buildings and avoid the number 4 in their lives.

Similarly, 8 is the lucky number since it sounds similar to “fa,” which means to be prosperous.

5. Stepping on manhole covers will cause misfortune.


My deepest fear of living in New York is that one day I’ll fall through the basement entrances covered by two thin iron boards. But here’s an excuse to being scared of those – some Chinese believes that manhole covers are soaked with evil spirits and stepping on them lead to bad luck.

6. One should wear red during one’s “ben ming nian” (本命年)


Like the western 12 astrology signs, China has 12 sheng xiao(生肖)or animal zodiac signs, according to the Lunar calendar. The year of your animal zodiac is called your “ben ming nian”(本命年). Red is believed to be a jubilant and auspicious color. Thus wearing red during one’s “ben ming nian” is a long-kept tradition that is meant to make the year particularly prosperous. Think about it as an all-year-long Christmas.

2017 is the year of Rooster. Find out what your animal zodiac is here.

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