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20 Chinese Taboos and Superstitions

Every country has its own customs, taboos and superstitions. Hong Kong is no different. It is a concoction of many cultures. Most of the employers in Hong Kong are Chinese, American, Australian, etc. with Chinese ethnicity in the majority.

Some of these beliefs take root in homonyms and words that rhyme entities associated with misfortune. For example, the numbers 4, 14 or 24 are sometimes conspicuously absent at elevator floors: “14” sounds like “definite death”, while “24” sounds like “easy death”. Considering that Hong Kong is a former Western colony, where “13” is also considered unlucky number, don’t be surprised to find residential flats or even commercial buildings that skip a series of elevator button numbers.

So if you are going to Hong Kong or any other Chinese city with minimal information about these taboos, traditions and culture of the Chinese people, knowing about them helps ease curiosity and maybe avoid yourselves from getting in trouble. Here they are!

Beliefs relating to numerical references:
In addition to the numbers mentioned above, there are other numerical combinations that connote bad luck.

  • “5354” in Cantonese sounds like “not alive, not dead”, referencing the sinister limbo between life and death.
  • “9413” could mean “90 per cent dead, 10 per cent alive” – an ominous way of phrasing a narrow escape.

Traditions that are followed on new year:

  • To be lucky for the whole year every Chinese cleans his/her entire house and all the equipment used in cleaning like brooms, brushes, dust pans, dusters are kept outside the house.
  • After the New Year’s Day people do not sweep the dirt out of their home until the fifth day as there is a superstition according to which if you sweep out the dirt of your home you are sweeping out one of your family member.
  • There is another superstition according to which if any person sweeps the dirt out of their home from the main entrance the person is sweeping out good destiny from his/her home. To avoid this they should sweep the dirt inside of their home and then sweep it out from the back door of the home.
  • People should not use and bad words or unlucky words during the holidays of New Year.
  • There is another tradition and that is if a person cries on New Year’s Day then he/she would cry for whole year.
  • People do not wash their hair on the day of New Year as they think that washing their hair means washing away the good luck.

Everyday beliefs and cultures that are followed in the household:

  • If Chinese employer sees his/her domestic worker crying then it brings bad luck for them.
  • Chinese people generally prefer to wear red color as they think that red color is a happy color. They do not wear white, blue and black color as they think that these colors are related to death.
  • People of China do not open their gifts instantly as they receive them they do it afterwards.
  • To build amiable personal relationships and to have good health and wealth the furniture should be arranged in a proper way.

Additional don’ts and don’ts

  • Never stick chopsticks vertically into your food – especially on a bowl of rice. Such act reminds us of burning incense sticks dedicated to the dead.
  • Do not clip your finger nail or toe nails at night. Doing so is believed to attract ghosts.
  • Do not give anyone a clock as a present. In Cantonese, “giving a clock” sounds like song zung, which could also mean to attend funeral rites.
  • Do not open umbrellas indoors. Spirits are thought to live inside dark spaces such as a folded umbrella. So be aware when trying to dry your brollies inside the house coming from a rainy day.
  • Do not leave behind grains of rice in one’s bowl after a meal. It is believed that these represent scars and blemishes on one’s future partner.

How to bring in good luck

  • Red is considered a color of celebration. In ancient times, they represent power and elite status. These days, they represent happiness, prosperity and good luck. No wonder red is a popular theme on celebratory occasions such as weddings and Chinese New Year celebrations. Festival decorations such as lanterns, lai see and wedding dresses adopt this color.
  • If four is considered unlucky, six, eight and nine are thought to bring good fortune. In Cantonese, six, or luk, sounds like “good fortune” and “happiness”. In imperial China, the number nine was associated with the emperor and matters relating to him.
  • The number nine sounds like the Cantonese word for “long-lasting”. Of all numbers, eight – which is homophonous with the word “prosper”, is the luckiest. As a result, any phone number, licence plate, or address with an eight among its digits is always in high demand and command a premium price.
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