Chinese traditions and superstitions


    Written by Michael Hanna

    The Chinese are extremely superstitious and it does not matter when or what time you were born and which direction your home faces there are certain customs and superstitions that many Chinese all over the world follow especially during the New Year and other important celebrations like weddings, birthdays and more.

    Some superstitions to me seem mumbo jumbo but many others are actually more logical like letting of fireworks on New Year Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the new but more importantly scaring away evil spirits. On the minute of New Year’s Day dependant on the lunar calendar which is not the same system we use in the west, in 2013 for instance New Year’s Day year of the Snake is 10th February at 07.20am (GMT) every door and window in the house should to be opened to allow the old year to go out and invite a good year ahead.

    Many people also refrain from eating meat on the first day of Chinese New Year as it is thought that this will guarantee a long and happy life. Some may eat a whole fish, which is said to represent inseparability and abundance, or a chicken with its head and feet intact, which symbolises wealth. Any noodles in your bowl should be left uncut, as a sign of long life and the longer the noodle the longer the life. I can remember every Chinese New Year we always had noodles and I would cut at the table encouraging my two boys Sean & Daniel to keep their noodles intact, I know it would have looked strange in front of many westerners but something we have always done.

    Plants and flowers also play a significant role in symbolising rebirth and new growth especially with regards to wealth and fresh flowers must always be placed on New Year’s Day. A home is thought to be lucky if a plant blooms on New Year’s Day, as this predicts the start of an affluent year and healthy year ahead.

    Another Chinese superstition is that the entire house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away.

    Cleaning, sweeping and dusting should not be done on New Year’s Day for fear that good luck will be swept away. After New Year’s Day, the floors may be swept. Beginning at the door, the dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the room, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day after Chinese New Year. At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold of a door, you will sweep one of the family members away. Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no harm will follow. All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back door. The oven and hob are always cleaned spotlessly.

    All debts must be paid by New Year’s Day. Nothing should be lent on this day either, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. To me there is nothing more satisfying watch my wife Josephine sitting at the breakfast table in our kitchen with a phone or pen in her hand pay all our debts like electricity, gas, phone and this applies to our home and business and I know this is easier said than done but even if you just some of the debt off.

    Everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or negative words. Negative terms and the word “four”, sounding like the word for death, are not to be spoken. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally forbidden. References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning.

    If you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry all through the year so keep the day as joyful as possible and avoid any confrontation at all.

    On New Year’s Day, you must not wash your hair because it would mean we would have washed away good luck for the New Year. Red clothing is preferred during this festive occasion. Red is considered a bright, happy colour, said to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year’s sets the tone for the rest of the year. Children and unmarried friends, as well as close relatives are given little red envelopes with crisp notes inside, for good fortune.

    The first person one meets and the first words heard are significant as to what the fortunes would be for the entire year. It is a lucky sign to see or hear songbirds or red coloured birds or swallows.

    It is considered unlucky to greet anyone in their bedroom so that is why everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in the main living room.

    Do not use knives or scissors on New Year’s Day as this may cut off fortune, I know you are probably saying to yourself right now how am I going to carve the turkey and boiled ham etc, it is something we have always adhered to and I think always will.

    For those most Chinese superstitious, the Chinese Almanac should be consulted to find the best time to do important things. The Almanac would tell you that if the day is a good day or bad day to have a funeral, sweep the graves of ancestors, worship the dead or move an ancestor’s grave; start construction, move into a new house, visit friends or even travel north; get a haircut or cultivate plants and so on. You should also consult the Feng Shui flying star for the year and this year is the year of the yin water Snake with mixed predictions.

    Chinese superstitions are not just kept for the New Year, there are hundreds if not thousands of them for every occasion and I have detailed some below, some I believe and follow others are just the usual superstitions that every country in the world have and you would never achieve anything in your life if you followed them all…

    Why is it considered unlucky to sleep with a mirror facing the bed?

    You should never place a mirror directly facing your bed – this is a Feng Shui taboo and well documented although there are explanations, and one is that it can bring a third party into the marriage of the sleeping occupants of the bed. Superstition frowns on having a mirror directly reflect the bed, but here is the reason that I most believe is that doing so causes the spirit of your sleeping soul to enter into the mirror and you may not be able to return to your body when you wake up in the morning. In other words, it could cause you to get “trapped” in the in-between world that exists between sleep and wakefulness – a frightening prospect which some say can indeed happen. Another explanation is that the mirror attracts wandering spirits who come to steal your consciousness and another is that when you sleep your soul awakes and goes wandering and when it sees itself in the mirror it gets scared and causes a frightful sleep.

    When visiting a sick person

    You should never offer pears when visiting sick people as this is a symbol that the patient will die. It is also bad luck to send red flowers, especially red roses, as this signifies blood. Many other Asian cultures also believe that sending red roses will cause death to occur. Best colours for hospitals are white and yellow, the colours of yang life.

    Do not give presents in quantities of four. This is frowned upon because the number four sounds like “death.” The best kind of gift to send is boxes of chocolates.

    Should you hang your laundry at night?

    A big taboo handed down through the generations is never to leave laundry hung in the sunshine to stay there through the night-time. You must always remember to bring the washing back before dusk falls, otherwise wandering spirits will be tempted to “attach themselves” to the clothing and take over the personality of the person when she or he wears them.

    There are many stories of children behaving strangely after wearing clothing that had accidentally left hanging outside absorbing in the yin energy of the night. Remind yourself of this no matter how busy you are. Clothes and especially underwear left hanging out should ideally be thrown away. I know this seems extreme but believe me it is closely adhered to.

    Can your fringe cause you to have bad luck and block your wealth?

    FridgeThe Chinese have a great aversion to covering the forehead with hair. This is said to create a serious block on your wealth luck and is especially applicable to men (this explains why my luck is good having such a large forehead). Men’s foreheads are said to be the part of the face that attracts wisdom, success and good fortune. Covering the forehead it is said to seriously affect good fortune coming your way.

    Can seeing a hearse give your career a boost?

    If you see a hearse with a coffin on board as you make your way to your workplace, it is said to represents big success coming to you in your job or business, or it can mean that you will be getting a promotion. They say that the coffin will take away all your bad luck, leaving you only with your good fortune.

    Shaking away your wealth

    This will stick in my head for the rest of my life and especially family and friends; the habit many people have of shaking their legs when they sit down. This is considered very unlucky and the amount of times Josephine has told me or the boys off if we used to shake our legs, a habit my father used to do all the time much to annoyance of all of us. On a recent trip to kuala lumpur I noticed they also have this taboo, and the phrase “goyang kaki” or shaking legs.

    Shaking your legs is like kicking your wealth away and if you do this consistently, it is believed to create the cause for all your wealth to flow away from you.

    Things you should not to do at night

    There are many taboos associated with the nightly yin hours. This is when yin energy descends and the Chinese are especially mindful of wandering spirits who they believe they are roaming freely after the sun sets. At night they say it is dangerous to pick flowers, as strange events will follow as you will pull up evil ground spirits.

    At night if you are in the garden where there are many dark bushes and tall trees, you should refrain from calling aloud the names of your loved ones or of your friends, or even your pets, as these infuse the people and animals concerned with the wish to hurt or annoy you. In the night, yin energy overcomes and on dark nights when there is no moonlight, children are strenuously advised to stay indoors as coming out into the open where they are not protected by a roof above them makes them vulnerable to spirits. The antidote to darkness is light and this is why it is always safer to keep lights turned on even in the gardens, and well into the early hours of the morning. In Feng Shui it is good to have your doorways well lit to attract good qi into your home and also the reason why your doorways should be kept spotlessly clean.

    Whistling at night

    You should not whistle at night. You could be taking a walk and feeling happy, and might start to unconsciously whistle a tune. According to Chinese beliefs, doing so is sure to entice the attention of wandering ghosts who will then follow you home.


    Ang pow red envelopes should contain even number of notes

    It is considered very unlucky to place odd numbered amounts of cash inside a red packet or ang pow red envelope. On happy occasions such as weddings and birthdays, money wrapped as gifts should have even numbers and better yet should end in the 8 digit such as 118, 188 or 168. Odd number money is said to signify death although it is considered very lucky to receive one Chinese i-ching coin in a red envelope and this something as a company we have given as a gift to all our customers since we first opened in 1999.

    Protecting your money luck

    If you want to make sure money does not fly out of your home or business, make certain not to sit on the counter where the cash till is placed. This is a really negative thing to do. In the same way, you should also never sit on a table that has your important documents and your safe placed inside one of the drawers. You should also never step on the threshold of any doorway into your home or business. It is said that the threshold is the pulse point of the building and stepping on it destroys its essence and its spirit and cause many problems. Some people say that the threshold is placed at the doorway to prevent wandering spirits from entering. Spirits are unable to cross the threshold. If you step on the threshold, you will be symbolically “breaking” the protection of the home.

    Did you know it is considered bad luck to peek at women’s underwear

    You must not peek at women’s underwear either by chance or intention. This kind of “Peeping Tom” is said to bring bad luck and it is said that your life will be one of suffering and struggle all the way if you do this (Had to laugh at this one). Men should never perform female responsibilities such as suckling the baby, sweeping the floor or washing the laundry. Doing these traditional tasks of women within the household is said to bring bad luck. Doing any of these tasks as a profession or business is however perfectly OK. This superstation was definitely invented by a man!

    Men should never wash women’s as doing so can make it hard for the man to become rich. He will also become like a faithful “slave” to his wife. Men should never walk under a woman’s undergarments. So make sure you avoid going into a woman’s boudoir. These things stunts a man’s growth and brings him bad luck. These few superstations must have been invited by men and not something I could ever follow in my home!

    Children superstitions

    School children should avoid reading their text books whilst sitting on the toilet. This infers contempt for the God of Education who will withhold his blessings. As a result, the child will lack good academic luck and will suffer bad exam results. Allowing others to step on your text books have an even worse effect, as this creates the qi for bad luck in studies to rise.

    When children eat, they should try to eat all the food given to them, as a clean plate or bowl is what will bring good exam results and a good looking spouse for later in life. Spilling rice all over the table is unthinkable, as this causes the mind to become contaminated and your mind will wander.

    Be careful where you pee

    The Chinese have always had this belief and always remind their children to never just pee anywhere they like. This is considered very dangerous thing to do because you could carelessly be peeing on some wandering spirit, or on an ant hill or a rabbit hole and it is said that if you do you will upset the land spirits. It is also considered very bad to pee on plants especially trees as this upsets the plant spirits and you may suffer the consequences.

    Next time you desperately need an outside pee because you are traveling or on a long walk, find a spot where the land is flat and there is no danger of there being any kind of ant or mice nest, then put your palms together and humbly seek permission from the land spirit to pee. I must admit this is not something I follow (I am sure I did as a child though) and not something I do myself either but if we ever dig our land, cut trees, prune bushes, plant seeds etc I always ask permission from he and or plant spirits as I do believe they have an energy in one form or another.

    Crows bring bad news

    2 Black CrowsIt is believed that when a pair of black crows suddenly confronts you i.e. looks directly at you from a tree or rooftop, look on it as a warning not to sign any important documents or meet with anyone important on that day. Cancel all your important appointments immediately as the crows are said to be the purveyors of bad news. Colourful birds however bring news of good things.

    Seeing a rainbow

    I think this applies to many parts of the world and when you see a rainbow it is said that great fortune will come to you and this is known as “catching a rainbow” so a good idea to scan the skies for rainbows, especially if the sun comes out soon after rainfall. That is when rainbows get formed. If you see a double arch, it is even more auspicious. In China stories have been told of people striking it really rich after taking a picture where they are seen to be standing at the end of a rainbow. Using the camera to create visual effects like this is as good as the real thing. However, if you do see a real live rainbow, you should never point at it with your index finger as it said to bring you bad health as you draw the energy from your body.

    Stepping on poo

    Dog Poo under shoeIf you step on poo, you can expect some good luck and news to come to you. It is the same when you dream of poo. Apparently this has to do with the body getting rid of its undesirable negativities. It is also believed that when a bird poos on your head, it means you are about to come into some speculative money. As I have been writing is article I have been dog sitting my son Daniel new puppy Frankie who kindly left a deposit on the office floor and guess who stood in it? I didn’t think yippee at the time but I will wait to see f any great fortunes come my way.

    The Chinese say you should not be a bridesmaid more than three times.

    Doing so creates a negative effect on your own marital luck, causing you to have difficulties finding someone to settle down with. Obstacles will manifest and obstacles placed in your way with regards to relationships.

    Another rule is that parents should never bring a “marital bed” into the home for the daughter until she is well and truly married. Doing so will spoil her chances of getting married at all. Those wanting to invest in an antique marriage bed should take note of this and from a Feng Shui point f view this is a big no no.

    During Chinese wedding dinners

    Steamed fish is usually one of the main dishes served. According to eating superstitions, one should never turn the fish over nor break the fish bones when eating fish when it is served whole. This is sure to have a negative effect on the newlyweds.

    Try not to have sex on the 1st and 15th days of the Lunar Chinese Calendar. These are the days of the new moon and full moon. While these are auspicious days, they are also days for sacrifice rather than for sexual indulgence.

    A good or a bad break?

    The Chinese believe that the breaking of plates and other ceramics is a very bad omen and if this happens to you, you should immediately counter it by saying, “Fa Hoi Fu Gui” which means “May Prosperity Blossom”. Strange that we have so many variances on superstition as plate breaking to the Greek is very auspicious.

    The kitchen can be treated like a sacred area   

    Chinese Chop Sticks You should never stick chopsticks vertically straight into your rice bowl as this a sign of ancestor worship and spells yin spirit formation, bringing bad luck and you should never point the spout of a tea or coffee pot directly at the male head of household (patriarch), as this denotes him as the “enemy” of the household. It causes him to leave and even set up a second family outside the home. Pointing the pot this way is also a challenging signal towards the person the spout is pointed to. They also say it is lucky to serve tea to the patriarch in the northwest part of your home or business as this area on the lo sho is Chien Trigram which represents the eldest male

    You must not hang your wok or pans upside down or reversed. This signifies there is nothing to cook and indicates a lack of wealth. So the western style of hanging their pots and pans suspended above the kitchen table is something the Chinese frown upon.

    When eating, never point the knife or fork directly at someone, as this is a hostile signal and can cause the other party to have an accident.

    You should also place a mirror overlooking the dining table as this is said to double the amount of food on the table and considered very lucky.

    When having a baby:

    • If you’re pregnant, you should not use glue as it is said it can cause a difficult birth.
    • You should never praise a new-born baby because it will invite evil spirits and ghosts
    • If you strike an animal during pregnancy, the new-born child will look like that animal and behave like one
    • A baby boy born in a Dragon year must roll over the newlywed’s matrimonial bed to ensure good luck.
    • A baby regardless of sex with wide and thick ears will live prosperously.
    • A baby with more than one hair crown will be mischievous and disobedient.
    • A concave navel means a flourishing life.

    Before you get married:

    • They say you should never marry someone who is older or younger by 3 or 6 years.
    • Wedding clothes should be red, yellow and/or white.
    • Couples with the same surname cannot marry; even if they are not related, they still belong to the same ancestry.
    • Wearing black, blue or gray will bring bad luck to the marriage.

    Good luck superstitions:

    • The number of steps in a staircase should be even-numbered.
    • The principal bedroom should not be situated right above the garage.
    • It is bad luck if your door or gate directly faces the end of a road (T Junction).
    • The dining area should not be under a second-floor toilet.

    Lucky and unlucky numbers:

    • The luckiest number is eight because its Chinese word also means prosperity.
    • The unluckiest number is four as it sounds like the Chinese word for death.
    • Seven can also signify death.
    • The number one means loneliness.
    • The number “9” is good, because nine in Cantonese sounds like the word “sufficient”.

    Lucky and unlucky colours:

    • Red is the colour of blood or life and will bring happiness, wealth, fame, and good luck.
    • Black is the colour of faeces and is associated with evil, disaster and bad fortune. White is the colour of mother’s milk. It symbolises balance, purity, honesty and life and balances red and black.

    Going to funerals:

    • After leaving a wake, do not go straight home lest the ghost of the dead follows you.
    • The deceased’s children and grandchildren should not cut their hair for 49 days after the funeral.
    • Statues of deities like Buddha, Kwan Yin, Kwan Kung etc must be covered with red cloth of red paper.
    • Mirrors must be hidden; a person who sees the reflection of the coffin will have a death in his/her family.
    • White cloth must be hung across the doorway of the house.

    Lucky and unlucky colours:

    • Red is the colour of blood or life and will bring happiness, wealth, fame, and good luck.
    • Black is the colour of faeces and is associated with evil, disaster and bad fortune. White is the colour of mother’s milk. It symbolises balance, purity, honesty and life and balances red and black.

    Lucky and unlucky numbers:

    • The luckiest number is eight because its Chinese word also means prosperity.
    • The unluckiest number is four as it sounds like the Chinese word for death.
    • Seven can also signify death.
    • The number one means loneliness.
    • The number “9” is good, because nine in Cantonese sounds like the word “sufficient”.

    About time:

    • Cutting toenails or fingernails at night is bad luck; the person will be visited by a ghost.
    • If a dog howls continuously at night, this means death.
    • If you hear a crow caw between 3 – 7am it means you will receive gifts; hearing a crow caw between 7 – 11am means bad weather; and between 11am – 1pm it means you will argue with someone.
    • If a man’s ears burn between 11pm and 1pm, there will be harmony between him and his wife; if they burn between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, a guest will soon arrive.

    Things you should never do:

    • Beating a person with a broom will rain bad luck upon that person for years. Generally I would avoid this whatever the reason
    • Wearing a moustache is considered bad luck although I have worn one for many years with fantastic good luck but you must keep it cleanly cut and in good shape.
    • Never point at the moon or your ears might get chopped off.
    • Don’t keep a pet turtle or it will slow down your business.

    Please leave your comments below on this topic and share your superstitions wherever you are from in the world. You will also be automatically notified when someone else contributes to this page.


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