All posts by Pam

Hungry Ghost Month and the Zhuangyuan Festival

We are in the midst of Chinese Ghost Month. It’s the 7th lunar month (August 11th through September 9th in 2018) of the year. The gates of the underworld open on the 1st day of the 7th lunar month and close on the 30th. During this time, ghosts and spirits of the departed wander the earth. It’s the only time of the year when they can freely leave the underworld and move among the living. Traditionally, Chinese believed this month was particularly dangerous. There would be more disasters than normal, both natural and man-made.

The spirits, called Hungry Ghosts, roam the world seeking revenge and trying to find a living person to replace them in the underworld. Today, many still encourage extra caution during this month. Older people and children, for example, should not go out at night. Everyone should be careful to avoid needless risks.

Who are these ghosts? Everyone who has died will not become a wandering ghost–only those who died in unhappy circumstances, such as people who are guilty of a crime, committed suicide, or died violently or prematurely.

The ghosts travel the world looking for food and entertainment. To keep them from causing too much mischief—in case they are disappointed with what they find—people put out food, ghost money (also called joss paper), papier-mâché renditions of items the ghosts need in the afterlife (clothing, furniture, etc.), and burn incense sticks. The most important day for offering sacrifices to them is the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It’s called the Hungry Ghost Festival (the Zhongyuan Festival). It is on this day that the grandest celebrations/sacrifices are offered. This year (2018) the Zhongyuan Festival day is August 25th.

In the past, to appease these lost souls and ensure safety for the living, families and communities would burn paper money (called ghost money because the ghosts could use this money in the netherworld) and hold open-air banquets with theatrical troupes providing fun for the spirits and the human guests. Buddhist monks and Taoist priests also performed ceremonies to alleviate the ghosts’ suffering. All of these activities, by families, communities, and the temples, were to placate the spirits. That is, once the spirits have eaten the food and enjoyed the entertainment, they should not cause trouble. After all, it would not be polite to hurt someone who has just shown you such generosity! Many families and communities today still remember the wandering ghosts in this way.

For a selection of ghost stories based around this tradition, read A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts: A Collection of Deliciously Frightening Tales by Ying Chang Compestine. It’s for children, but everyone, no matter the age, will enjoy it.

The Chinese American Family organization has a wonderful site with lots of information on this special month. They also have crafts and other ideas for families to learn more about the Hungry Ghost Festival and Ghost Month. http://www.chineseamericanfamily.com/hungry-ghost-festival/ .

NOTE: Other sites for more information on Ghost Month and the Zhuangyuan Festival (the Hungry Ghost Festival) are:

https://www.yourchineseastrology.com/holidays/ghost-festival/

https://www.yourchineseastrology.com/calendar/ghost-month.htm

https://www.thoughtco.com/ghost-month-and-ghost-festival-2279383

If you do anything special during this month or on the Zhuangyuan Festival, I’d love to know what you did.

Veneration For The Family Ancestors

In looking though pictures I took in China some time ago, I found this picture which reminded me of the unbreakable tie between the living and dead within a Chinese family. It is reflected in what we commonly refer to as ancestor worship.

Regard for one’s family and one’s ancestors has a long, long tradition in China. It goes back to the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 BC) and remains strong among many Chinese today. This regard—with its ritual and prominently placed table—is, as we said, sometimes called ancestor worship.

The table or altar holds pictures and/or plaques with the names of the family’s male line, for China has been a patrilineal system for thousands of years. A patrilineal system means that people count only the male side of the family as important in determining who is an ancestor and who isn’t. Your father’s side are your ancestors. Your mother’s side are not considered your ancestors, that is, they are outside your direct lineage. However, your mother–having given birth to you–will be included on your family altar, just not the rest of her lineage. Therefore, your obligations for showing reverence is only for your father’s side of the family. The latter are the people who will appear on your family altar.

Showing respect and honoring your ancestors is not a one-way street. By properly caring for your ancestors, they will, in turn, watch over and care for you. In other words, familial ties are not broken at death. Your ancestors and you are forever linked. This interconnection has been consistently supported and reinforced throughout history by both Confucian and Taoist traditions and beliefs.

Venerating your ancestors is a primary filial duty. It is because of your ancestors that you exist–that you were born and nurtured, allowing you to grow and prosper. It is only fair that you show proper recognition, regard, and respect to them. You owe your life to all of them. For this reason, people offer burning joss sticks, plates of food, and cups of tea to the ancestors by placing them before their pictures and tablets. It’s a sign of shared nurturing and support.

A New Year’s coming!

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost to Chinese New Year’s Day again. The year slipped by so quickly! I hope you all had a productive and prosperous year of the Rooster. It was a wonderful year for me, as you might have noticed on my books tab: the third book in my Mei-hua trilogy, Trapped, was nominated for an Agatha Award and for a Silver Falchion Award. Both are great honors.

 

While I don’t know everything this new year of the Dog will bring, one thing for sure is that I am coming out with a new early Ming Dynasty series. The first novel is Deadly Relations.

Deadly Relations launches on—you guessed it—February 16th, Chinese New Year’s Day. Continue reading

What would we do without umbrellas?

It’s spring and very, very wet. Finally, after days of rain, we have sunshine for a couple of days before more rain. All of this rain makes me think of umbrellas. Obviously, they are a wonderful tool for walking outdoors on rainy days, but when we were in Taiwan many years ago, I also discovered how useful they were for creating a patch of shade in the hot, burning sun.

Umbrellas. According to Joseph Needham,[i] while umbrellas, as sun-shades, were known in Greece and Rome times, the collapsible mechanism we take for granted probably came from the Chinese.

INFO BLOG Chinese making an umbrella May 2017

How far back into Chinese history the umbrella goes varies a lot. Some claim it was first invented somewhere around 3000-3500 BC,[ii] but it certainly was around by the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Early on, umbrellas were made of paper and silk and were sun-shades. Because they were expensive, they were a status symbol of the upper classes and the royal family.

These early umbrellas had four parts: the head, handle, ribs, and shade. The frame was of mulberry bark and bamboo and the silk or paper covering became a canvas for works of art.

In time, the umbrella evolINFO BLOG Chinese paper umbrellas May 2017ved: First, the paper shades were covered with an oil to make them impermeable to rain and expanding their use. But the really remarkable thing about these early Chinese umbrellas was how they evolved from a fixed frame to a collapsible frame. These coINFO BLOG Chinese umbrella May 2017llapsible umbrellas worked by means of sliding levers, pretty much the same as we use today.

 

The first indication that the Chinese umbrella could be collapsed was in 21 AD, during Wang Mang’s reign as the first and only emperor of the Xin Dynasty.[iii] This umbrella was to protect the Emperor as hINFO BLOG Wang Mang's collapsible umbrella 21 AD May 2017e rode in his four-wheel, ceremonial carriage, so it was quite large. The mechanism was so new and innovative that it was a secret. Besides the collapsible frame, the handle had bendable joints, allowing it to be extended or withdrawn.

Needham does go on to say that there is some evidence that the mechanism had been developed as early as the Zhou Dynasty (around 600-500 BC). If so, it was probably invented by a woman named Yun shih, the wife of an artisan.

Truly a remarkable history for our simple, and much-needed, umbrella! The next time you open up your umbrella think of its long past and its country of origin: Ancient China.

Pictures from:

en.people.cn/102774/8017371.htm;

http://www.infoniac.com/offbeat-news/the-most-important-inventions-of-ancient-china.html;

http://www.i-china.org/news.asp?type=15&id=819;

http://www.umbrellahistory.net/umbrella-history/chinese-umbrellas/.

References:

[i] Joseph Needham Science & Civilisation in China, Volume IV:2, pp. 70-71.

[ii] https://sites.google.com/site/ancientchineseinventions/Home/the-invention-of-the-umbrella; http://www.umbrellahistory.net/umbrella-history/chinese-umbrellas/; http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/culture/paper-umbrella.htm.

[iii] Needham, ibid; http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/emperor-wang-mang-chinas-first-socialist-2402977/.

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

PIC bamboo closeup 1 Feb 2017Names are more than arbitrary, random words used to identify individuals. The surnames can, and often do, indicate family relationships. The given names, although they can be arbitrary, also often indicate something about the parents’ wishes for and/or perceptions of their child.

In China today, 100 surnames dominate: making up 85% of the country’s total surnames. And remember, China has about 1.4 billion people. Compare this to the US where, according to the 2000 census, 151,00+ surnames make up only 3% of our population’s surnames! Think about how you feel when you meet someone with your same last name. There is a sense of connection. The same is true in China—although the connection may go back hundreds of years.

Traditionally and today, the Chinese put the family name (the surname) first and then the given name (personal name) second. So that, if a person is named Liu Xiao-lung à Liu is the family name and Xiao-lung is his personal name. In the United States, we would refer to this person as Xiao-lung Liu, putting the family name last. One way to figure this out, when you’re not sure, is to remember that in most cases the family name is one word. Often, although not always, the given name is two words—and usually NOT written with a – between the words, the way I have written Xiao-lung in this post.

What’s interesting about Chinese given names is that they often carry the hopes parents have for their children. The names are meaningful. Xiao-lung means Little Dragon and, therefore, symbolizes good fortune and success. Boy’s names are likely to reflect strength, good fortune, and whatever aspirations the parents have for him, for example, in intelligence or business success. For girls’ names, traditional parents may give their child a name which reflects a desire for her to be lovely in appearance or have a sweet, peaceful demeanor. For example, Xiang-lian would mean Fragrant Lotus Flower. This is changing for women today, however. I had a female friend whose given name was Xue-wen, Studies Literature (in the past, this was more of a boy’s name). And, indeed, she did have strong academic interests and abilities.

Therefore, as with names in the West, there are gender preferences. Xiang-lian is not a name a parent would give a boy, nor would Xiao-lung be given to a girl. No more than a typical American would name their girl child Stephen or the boy child Mary.

What about your name? What does it say about you and your family?

CHINESE NEW YEAR 2017, WHAT DO PEOPLE DO BESIDES EAT?

First, before I go into this New Year’s blog. I am so excited because yesterday I found out that Trapped, a Mei-hua Adventure, the thirIMAGE fireworks landscape-1435678244-fireworks-4d novel in the ancient China trilogy, has been nominated for an Agatha Award. The Agatha Award is given to mysteries that hold to the standards of Agatha Christie and her work. I am honored to be among such a wonderful group of other nominees for this award.

Now for this week’s New Year’s blog.

Before New Year arrives, the house is cleaned from top to bottom. By cleaning the house, the family is getting rid of any bad fortune they may have had last year. BUT they do not clean the house during the first couple of days of the New Year because then they could be sweeping away the New Year’s good luck. So: once the New Year comes it’s time to relax and enjoy, their work is done!

Some things people do to celebrate:

WHAT TO DO IMAGE red Chinese envelopes il_fullxfull.193993600

  • Adults give red paper envelopes to children. Inside the envelopes is a New Year gift of money. How much isn’t important, but it’s always in a red envelope.
  • Everyone wears new clothes.
  • People decorate their homes and buildings:
    • At the entrance people hang long red paper strips with good luck sayings written on them. The good luck couplet is also visually balanced by being divided into two strips, one on each side of the door. and the saying is usually visuallyIMAGE red good luck strips in Taipei 95cb871170d1383cf52fc12e9ba0ef8d balanced, too.
    • Red paper-cuts (usually square in shape) with the year’s animal—the rooster this year—or other good luck symbols (wealth) are pasted on the windows and doors. A popular word is fu for good fortune or happiness and it’s hung upside-down to represent the good things flowing into the house.
  • Families go to temple fairs where they can watch puppet shows. These shows can be seen almost every day throughout the New Year period.
  • Setting off firecrackers—much like our 4th of July on steroids. Both public and private fireworks are set off all over. Everyone participates.
  • On the more serious side, is when the family comes together to honor their ancestors. They may clean the tombs, and they may also cluster together before pictures of their deceased relatives to show honor and respect. By participating in these activities as a family they are stressing that they are united by blood and are a cohesive unit.
  • People greet each other by saying gongxi (恭喜), which is a way of saying “Best wishes in the New Year.”

WHAT NOT TO DO

Don’t give anyone:

  • A scissors or a knife because they are sharp and it means you’re cutting off your relationship with them;
  • Anything with the number 4 in it because 4 sounds like death and is, therefore, an extremely unlucky number.
  • While fruit is usually a good thing to give as a gift, you should avoid pears. The word for pears is homophonous with “leaving” or “parting.”
  • Cut flowers because these are generally given at a funeral, so—obviously—not auspicious!
  • White or yellow flowers, which represent death. Just choose a plant in another color.
  • Mirrors are thought to attract malicious ghosts—something no one would want to do. Plus, mirros are easily broken and anything broken is a bad omen.

This is a time of great celebration and joy, just avoid anything that implies death, breaking relationships, or bad luck.

Enjoy!

Other quick resources: http://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/things-not-give-chinese-new-year.htm; https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/new-year/customs.htm; http://www.chinesenewyears.info/chinese-new-year-traditions.php; http://www.china-family-adventure.com/chinese-new-year-traditions.html; https://www.activityvillage.co.uk/chinese-new-year-games; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year

Images:

the door in Taipei = interest.com/pin/80361174572834867/; the red envelopes = I couldn’t find the source again; fireworks = pop.h-cdn.co.

CHINESE NEW YEAR 2017, Favorite Holiday Foods

 

Sharing holiday dinners is one of the most important, if not the most important, part of celebrating the New Year, which is not a one-day event. Chinese New Year is celebrated over a couple of weeks. Plenty of time for everyone to have their own large dinner gatherings and attend other dinners! This time spread averts our  own difficult Thanksgiving and Christmas problem: which dinner to attend. We often either end up only going to one and having to miss others, or going to a couple dinners—if they are staggered (ex., early in the afternoon and a second later in the afternoon or evening). Always a difficult decision.

No problem for Chinese New Year. A family can attend different dinners on different days. Thereby assuring their proper enjoyment of all the special foods!

And what are some of those foods?

FISH is an essential dish. The Chinese word for fish, , is a homophone for excess and a surplus,s .

IMAGE Chinese-Steamed-Fish Jan 2017So, overall, the fish is a strong good symbol for wealth and luck. The word fish is used in such optimistic and encouraging proverbs such as:  a fish in water, which means congenial in general and good relations between husband and wife; and a surplus of luck, which refers especially to the luck that comes to virtuous families.

Serving a whole fish is also important because it signifies both the family as a unit and that the prosperity is for the whole family.

LONGEVITY NOODLES are another essential dish because the long noodles represent a long and happy life. Always a good thing, right? The noodles can be cooked in many different ways—boiled, fried and served on a plate or in a bowl—but they must be very long and uncut.

FRUIT, citrus fruits and lychee or longan (translated as dragon eye. See how the seed looks like a dragon’s eye!) in particular, are very popular since they also represent prosperity, family unity, abundance, happiness, and of course, good luck.IMAGE longan fruit Jan 2017

There are other delightful dishes and you can learn more at sites such as for the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/02/10/chinese-new-year-food_n_6641164.html and China Highlights http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/festivals/chinese-new-year-flowers-and-fruits.htm or Googling Chinese New Year Dishes.

A HOLIDAY SPECIAL: In celebration of Chinese New Year, the young adult novel, Hidden, is free through Amazon from Saturday, January 21st through Monday, the 23rd. It’s an adventure/mystery story of survival and the bonds of friendship in ancient China. Go to the “books” tab and the Hidden link to Amazon or to Amazon.

Enjoy!

The fish image is from popsugar.com/food/ and the longan image is from growables.org.

Chinese New Year 2017, The Year of the Rooster

2017 Chinese Rooster Jan 12th

from Pinterest

We’re almost at the beginning of a new Chinese year! Lucky us. We get to celebrate New Year’s twice: once on January 1st and a second time on the first day of the first lunar month—which this year is January 28th.

As many of you already know, every year in the Chinese Zodiac is represented by an animal — each with special, auspicious qualities. This year, 2017, is the Year of the Rooster.

Why the rooster? What does it symbolize?

The rooster is a strong yang symbol, going back many hundreds and hundreds of years.

  • The crown on its head (the rooster’s comb) show that it supports and encourages civil society.
  • When a rooster finds food, it is said to let others know about it. Therefore, roosters are considered benevolent.
  • Because it crows in the morning, marking the break from darkness to a growing sun light, it is important as a symbol for chasing away negative forces and what is evil.
  • And, finally, because a rooster has razor sharp claws to fight against its enemies, it is considered courageous.

All of these positive symbols represent one side of a coin—the other side is the personal side. For those people born in the year of the rooster, this will not be such a good year. That’s because the year of one’s birth is usually considered an unlucky year for the person.

Whatever the year brings, New Years is a time of celebration. In times past, and perhaps today if jobs permit, people celebrate for at least a week with special dinners and visiting family and friends.

A trip back to Ancient China

Hidden takes you back to Ancient China

What was it like to live in 1380 China? What did people do? How did they travel, dress, or eat? Where did they live? Hidden, the first adventure/mystery novel in my Ancient China trilogy, takes you back and plops you down in the middle of this fascinating time.Cover Hidden front cover only March 2015

Hidden is the story of a young, bi-racial heroine who finds her world turned up-side-down when her father, a magistrate, is threatened by enemies who are trying to accuse him of treason. Treason was considered the worst of all crimes because it was an act against the Emperor himself. If found guilty, the punishment included death or—if you were lucky—banishment to the farthest corners of the empire and social ostracism for not only her father but for every member of his own and his extended family.

To protect Mei-hua, her father sends her away to live with a friend in Hangzhou City. On the way there, Mei-hua is captured and sold as an indentured servant to a wealthy family. She must hide her identity in order to avoid the authorities and her father’s enemies. Will she be able to free herself and find her father’s friend and safety?

This is a story of survival and discovering the meaning of family, friendship and loyalty set in the intriguing and dangerous world of Ancient China.

For the history buffs among you, there is an Author’s Note section at the end of Hidden with more information on the culture of Mei-hua’s Ancient China.

You can find Hidden by searching under PA De Voe on Amazon or going to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=pa+de+voe.

I look forward to your comments.

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