All posts by Pam

More Chinese festivals: Jing zhe驚蟄 /Shangsi jie上巳 節

We’ve just celebrated 2 rather high profile Chinese holidays: New Years and the Lantern Festival.  Most people know something about these holidays.  They are fun, colorful, and celebrated by Chinese and non-Chinese around the world.  This picture was taken at the St Louis Missouri Botanical Gardens in 2013.

Lantern Festival at MO Botanical Gardens 2013 Jing Zhe Insects Awaken March festival

(my photo)

But there are many other less known festival days that are tied to traditional Chinese culture.  Some of these are tied to China’s solar calendar, some the lunar calendar, and some have become intermixed.  One such holiday may be 驚蟄 Jing zhe, Insects Awaken. Jing Zhe Insects Awaken March festivalThe holiday comes in the 3rd month (note  People’s Daily Online).  I believe this festival is also called the Shangsi Festival [上巳 節 shàngsì jié, shanghsih jier], which today officially lands on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar*. Traditionally this began the farming season in most of China.

It is said that the thunder of spring rains awaken the insects who have been hibernating all winter.  There are a range of activities to mark this day, such as a sacrificial ceremony held near water where people could clean themselves and rid themselves not only of dirt but also of last year’s bad luck. Driving out evil and bad luck is a critical part of this festival. Wormwood was hung in homes to drive out insects, rats and snakes.

Celebrants also called back the spirits of relatives and awaken their own spirits. And, as often happens, people would go outside and enjoy picnics and hikes.  After all, winter was over, the spring rains had started and there was new life everywhere.

Another custom the People’s Daily mentioned was that in some areas the white tiger was honored.  This was done to avoid disputes during the coming year. If someone angered or displeased the tiger, that person would have conflicts with others during the year. I especially like this story because it exemplified how important maintaining peaceful coexistence with your neighbors and family was.

Chinese and Vietnamese Americans

Veitnamese  and Chinese New Year celebrations remind us of the many Asian Americans we have in the U.S.

The Vietnamese Americans are the fourth largest Asian group in the US (Chinese, Asian Indian, and Filipino are the top three).  Their mass migration started after 1975 at the end of the Vietnamese War.  At that time, people were fleeing Vietnam as refugees and came to the US with little material resources, although a strong ethic and desire for education and for their family to succeed.  They left their homeland under duress.  If they had stayed, they or their loved ones (father, mother, brother, sister) would have become a political prisoner, perhaps tortured and killed.  They had little choice.  Once here, however, they have embraced the US as their new homeland, with the intent to stay.  They have assimilated politically, economically, even culturally.

Vietnamese Americans

Vietnamese Americans
from: http://images.chron.com/photos/2008/06/25/11826402/600xPopupGallery.jpg

 
Vietnamese prisoner in Vietnam

Vietnamese prisoner in Vietnam
from: http://www.inminds.co.uk/vietnam-tiger-cage.jpg
http://beirut.indymedia.org/ar/2006/03/3861.shtml.

At the same time, remembering their roots and valuing their own ethnic traditions are an important underpinning of their communities and families.  While the first generation is not as wealthy on average as the first generation economically motivated Chinese immigrants (remember, most refugees come with little to no resources—no matter what their social and economic status was at home), they have poured their commitment into their children and their children’s success.  Today, many second generation Vietnamese have completed college, become professionals, and can be considered successful in the US society.

 

Connie Chung, Chinese-American

Connie Chung, Chinese-American
From: http://assets.makers.com/maker/Connie%20Chung%20Portrait.jpg.
http://www.makers.com/moments/chinese-americans

The Chinese Americans are the largest, and certainly among the oldest Asian ethnic groups we have. [Note: I am using Asian as the US Census does: people with origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.]  San Francisco’s Chinatown, which was established in the 1840s, is the oldest Chinatown in the US and has the highest density of Chinese-American residents.  Most of these are, or were originally, from Guangdong province and Hong Kong and, therefore, are Cantonese speakers—Remember when I greeted you last week with Gong Hei Fat Choi! for Happy New Year?  The reason is because historically most of our Chinese immigrants came from these southern areas; areas that have a long tradition of migrating out of their country for jobs and other economic opportunities.  (Note: this includes other Chinese languages, but I’m using Cantonese as a catch-all for the Yue language branch of Chinese.) In the past, mostly men came and stayed in their new host country in order to make a living and send money home.  Some of these men returned to their home areas periodically to take a wife, who may have remained in his home village living with his parents, or (once our immigration laws changed) brought them to the US to live.

In the last 10 to 20 years or so, more and more of our Chinese immigrants from mainland China are Mandarin speakers.  This is bringing a change within the Chinese-American communities in terms of language use.  Mandarin apparently is taking over as the lingua franca of the American Chinese diaspora.  However, I must say that when I overhear a group of Chinese at a University or in a large, mixed group setting speaking with each other, they use English.  Perhaps English is considered a “neutral” third language for them—one which doesn’t privilege any one of the various Chinese languages over another.  Not to mention the fact that it is also the common language of the US and they all are adept at its use.

In terms of modern immigration, more and more mainland Chinese are emigrating to the US through the EB-5 Investment Visa, which allows powerful, wealthy Chinese access to US citizenship.  Under the EB-5 Visa, established in 1990 (under the first President Bush), a green card is given with the right to permanent US residency in certain US states.  This type of Visa is given to those who invest at least US$500,000 in projects listed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Servies (USCIS) (http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-fifth-preference-eb-5/eb-5-immigrant-investor).

Population Change among Chinese Americans:

Year                population                               increase over

                        According to Census              past 10 years

1980                   806,040                                + 85.5 %

1990                1,645,472                                + 104  %

2000                2,432,585                                + 47.8 %

2010                3,347,229                                + 37.6 %

 

Naturally, the Chinese and Vietnamese Americans will be found at all levels of the U.S. socio-economic ladder but, overall, both of these immigrant groups have contributed quite a bit to our country.  Personally, I am happy with the diversity they’ve added to our cultural understanding, yes, but (I’m being VERY selfish here) they’ve each (as with other Asian cultures) brought wonderful variety to our food cuisine!   I love American comfort foods, but who can resist the flavors and textures of these “new” dishes?!  If you’re interested in learning more, go on the Internet and type in foods from whatever country intrigues you—you will have a bountiful harvest!

Enjoy!

Final Note:

To check on how many people are in each ethnic group in the US go to: http://www.census.gov/.  You can get 2013 data as well—in some areas.

A site where delicious recipes are generously shared is: http://rasamalaysia.com/.

A good paper on Vietnamese in the US today is at: http://www.bpsos.org/mainsite/images/DelawareValley/community_profile/us.census.2010.the%20vietnamese%20population_july%202.2011.pdf.

For a quick overview of Chinese in the US see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_American#Statistics_of_the_Chinese_population_in_the_United_States_.281840.E2.80.93present.29.

Happy New Year! Gong Hei Fat Choi!

 This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.

picture by Lyndon Barnett

picture by Lyndon Barnett

Can you believe we are already one week into the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year?  Traditionally, New Year celebrations went on for a couple of weeks, although today that time has often been limited to as little as one week.

While the Chinese and Vietnamese have many differences in their cultures, they both share a lot of similarities for this major holiday, which the Vietnamese call Tet.

Vietnamese Tet

Vietnamese Tet .   Image from wikipedia

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What are Joss sticks?

Joss sticks are long, narrow sticks of incense, which are either held in two hands while praying or placed in a sand filled container and burned in various personal, family, and public religious rituals.

First, just to clarify, the word joss isn’t Chinese.  It comes from the Portuguese word for god, deus.  Nevertheless, joss is now the standard term used and if you wanted to buy some in a local Chinese grocery, for example, it’s what you’d look for.

The Chinese have been using incense to assist in communicating with the supernatural as far back as 2,000 BC!  Apparently, early Chinese used aromatic herbs and other plants, such as sandalwood, to burn.  However, although these are called incense, today it is common today to use a non-fragrant material in the joss sticks which are used for prayer purposes.  It’s not the fragrance that’s important in the ritual so much as the smoke given off by the joss sticks as they burn.  The smoke rises upwards, carrying the prayers to the gods or ancestors.  There are fragrant incense sticks and these can also be used for praying.

Joss Sticks (1) in China on July 22 2009Joss Sticks

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Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? Part 2 蝴 蝶

As we said in the last post (January  3, 2014) the radical makes up an essential part of a character but there often is a second part, which usually gives further information.  The word butterfly, hú dié, hur dier ( ) is a great example.  The first word in this combination is , hur ().

Its radical is chόng, chongr , which means bug. The second part is the character hú, hur, meaning foolish, reckless. Continue reading

Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? 蝴

I think Chinese characters are beautiful and elegant. In fact, historically, the script itself has often been used as art. You’ve probably seen some of these displayed  in museums and on walls of businesses and homes. They are often boldly written on long, vertical scrolls.

Chinese characters may look difficult at first, however, that’s only until you understand them. Personally I’m not an expert but with a bit of background anyone can learn about and appreciate them more fully. Continue reading

Scorpion, xiēzi, xie zi (蠍 子), one of the 5 poisons (wŭdú, wuu dur 五毒)

The scorpion (xiēzi, xie zi 蠍 子) is much like the spider (zhī zhū, zhi zhu 蜘 蛛) we mentioned in last week’s blog and is usually depicted as one of the 5 noxious animals.  What actually composes the 5 noxious animals varies – it often includes the spider, scorpion, viper, centipede, and toad.  Amulets depicting these animals were worn or hung on the walls, doors or gates as a way of protecting the family from disease and evil spirits.

Sometimes the actual animals portrayed differed—the toad may be a normal toad, but may be a three-legged toad; a worm, lizard, or tiger may replace one of the five 5 poisonous animals #1 close-up5 poisonous animals #2 close-up  5 poisonous animals #3 close-up

animals.  Continue reading

Spider, zhī zhū, zhi zhu (蜘 蛛)

Last week we introduced the butterfly as an auspicious Chinese insect, which is purely good and positive in its symbolism.  Another animal, which is not an insect but is often confused with being one, is the spider.  The spider (zhī zhū 蜘 蛛) in traditional China was considered to be one of the 5 poisonous animals, commonly referred to as the 5 poisons.  We would immediately believe that such an animal would be considered bad and to be avoided, however, in the traditional medical theory of fighting poison with poison, the spider is considered auspicious—a good thing.  People used spiders (and their images) to ward off disease.

One spider, a little red spider, is called xizi, xii zii (喜 子) and is particularly auspicious.  The xi (喜) character may be written with the chong in front of the xi 喜, but apparently is often written exactly the same as the character for happiness xi (喜).  Thus, its image predicts a happy event and, therefore, symbolizes joy.  Plus, the spider web is a circle with a hole in the middle, which looks like an ancient Chinese coin.  This spider is often portrayed as dropping from a spider web. Put all of this together and the spider dropping from the web becomes another auspicious sign representing good things dropping from the sky.   spider descending fr web Dec 27 2013 Eberhard

May blessings fall upon you in our New Year of 2014!

Pam

References:

Bartholomew; Eberhard (+ image); http://primaltrek.com/impliedmeaning.html#spider; http://books.google.com/books?id=QNSJSA0GUFoC&pg=PA186&lpg=PA186&dq=xizi,+spider&source=bl&ots=xc9WopnBdf&sig=be5p8mupaGyeBGZkOu5AoehaXI8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=eOy8UtKSEKaO2AWpsIGADg&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=xizi%2C%20spider&f=false

Butterflies: hú dié, hur dier (蝴 蝶)

Although we are in the depths of December and cold, cold, cold, I am thinking of my wildflower garden and Spring.  Naturally, butterflies come to mind and butterflies [hú dié, hur dier (蝴 蝶)]are another auspicious symbol in traditional China.

Butterflies are beautiful and because they simply flit around from place to place, flower to flower, they appear to be carefree.  Perhaps as a result, they are considered a sign of joy, happiness, and blessings.  The longstanding place the butterfly has had in Chinese tradition is highlighted by the story about Zhuāngzǐ (莊子), a 4th Century philosopher, having a dream where he was the butterfly and the joy it gave him.Butterfly Paper Cuts fr Florence Temko Dec 2013

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Zhōng Kuí (鍾魁), demon slayer

Zhong Kuei, demon slayer

Zhong Kui, demon slayer

Images of Zhōng Kuí (鍾魁), a mythological figure in Chinese folklore, are often seen in traditional homes. He was a successful scholar—which is why he wears a scholar’s hat. His job is to exorcise demons, banish evil, and encourage blessings to come into the home.  These three tasks are represented in his image through the sword he carries on his back, the demon often seen cringing under his foot, and the bat (which represents blessings) found on or near his fan. Sometimes he is shown without his foot on a cowering demon, nevertheless, simply having his picture or statue scares away evil and demons, keeping the family safe. He is a dynamic figure, full of energy and ferocious protectiveness.Today, when someone is described as Zhōng Kuí (鍾魁), the speaker is saying she has the courage to fight against evil. (from: http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqb=zhong)Note: The characters used for Zhōng Kuí (鍾魁) are from Eberhard. Although the pronunciation is the same, Bartholomew uses a different Chinese character for Kuí (鍾).