This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.
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.
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.
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(蝴蝶) is a great example. The first word in this combination is hú, hur (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.
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
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虫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.
May blessings fall upon you in our New Year of 2014!
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.
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 forZhōng Kuí (鍾魁) are from Eberhard. Although the pronunciation is the same, Bartholomew uses a different Chinese character for Kuí (鍾馗).
Always looking for ways to increase the power and strength of a blessing or good fortune, the traditional Chinese approach was to double up auspicious words. And, as you may have already begun to suspect, traditional Chinese also loved a play on words. That’s one reason we find so many good will wishes with double, or more, elements. Continue reading Red Bats (Hόng Fú 紅蝠)→
According to Bartholomew combining 5 bats with 8 peaches is an auspicious design and was commonly used as a good luck symbol going back to the early 1700s in the Ching Dynasty. We clearly see this design in the picture of our Chinese vase [Okay, some of the peaches are around the sides of the pottery and not in the picture, but believe me, they are on the piece.] Continue reading 5 Bats (Fú 蝠)) and 8 Peaches (Táo 桃)→
"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." Erasmus