Dubbed as Asia’s world city, local Hong Kongers still adhere to certain Chinese superstitions and customs in everyday life. These superstitions are rooted deeply in Chinese history, with people constantly tiptoeing around them to avoid the curse of bad luck. Here are some popular Chinese superstitions and beliefs still held to be true by many in the city:
In Chinese culture, numbers have always played an important role, from choosing building floor numbers on which to reside to setting wedding dates or choosing mobile numbers. Each number carries symbolic meaning and significance, and certain numbers are considered more “lucky” or “unlucky” than others due to their pronunciation. For example, number 8 is the most favored number among Chinese because it sounds like “prosperity” & “fortune” (“發”). The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games took this to the extreme with the Games commencing at exactly 08:08 on August 8th, demonstrating the Chinese number obsession to the world. Other lucky numbers include 2, 6 and 9, which rhyme with “harmony” & “doubled”, “success” and “long-lasting” respectively.
Number 4, on the contrary, has ominous connotations due to a similar pronunciation to the word “death” (“死”) in Cantonese. It is generally disliked by Chinese and many buildings in the city leave out the fourth, fourteenth and other “number 4” bearing floors so that their residents can avoid bad luck. A recent example would be 39 Conduit Road in Mid-Levels, the developer omitted a total of forty two numbers from the 46-storey building, in order to title the top floor as “the 88th floor”, meaning “double prosperity”.
Colours also carry symbolic meaning in Chinese culture.
Red is the dominant colour for celebrations, representing happiness and good fortune, especially in Lunar New Year and Chinese wedding ceremonies. Hong Kongers put on red clothes or under garments during Chinese New Year to wish themselves a lucky year ahead and to push away any misfortunes from the year before. You will also see red packets, red couplets (fai chun) and gifts wrapped in red paper during New Year.
Yellow and purple are used to reflect nobility, wealth and sacredness. Ancient Chinese emperors would wear the “dragon robe”, a yellow outfit embodied with a total of nine dragon patterns. Chinese tradition allowed only emperors to wear this pattern and colour because of the number 9’s association with the dignity of the throne. Today, yellow has become a popular wardrobe choice.
White is a common funeral colour. You should avoid wearing it during festive and celebratory occasions and should never wrap any gifts in white paper. Black is also associated with death. Do not present someone’s picture in black and white because it correlates with pictures on graveyards and is said to bring bad luck to that person.
Green is an interesting colour. While it symbolizes prosperity and health, green is also associated with infidelity. The Chinese slang “wearing a green hat” implies that the person wearing it was deceived. Therefore when preparing gifts, green should be avoided if the gifts are intended to be worn anywhere on or near a person’s head.
Chinese give gifts at certain Chinese festivals (Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival etc.), wedding ceremonies and births as a custom to wish the receiver luck as well as to show respect. It is important that the person who received a gift return the favor by buying a gift of similar value or a meal in the future. However, there are some taboos to avoid when giving gifts.
Books are not welcomed because the Chinese word resembles the sound of the word “loss” (“輸”). Other gifts to avoid include umbrellas (“傘”, to separate), clocks (“鐘”, termination and death, similar to the pronunciation of saying farewell someone on their deathbed), shoes (“鞋”, bad luck) or any sharp objects such as scissors (to cut off your relationships). The number of gifts you give is also worth noting. 4 and 7 are unlucky numbers as they connote death in Cantonese.
You are advised to buy food, fruits, and flowers or simply put money inside a red envelope.
Feng Shui literally means “wind and water”. It is an ancient Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing with the surrounding environment. Feng Shui masters use a special compass called a “luopan” (“羅盤”) and a “bagua” (“八卦”, an octagonal pattern determining the significance and auspicious qualities of spatial relationships) to analyze feng shui areas in residences and offices in order to improve the inhabitants’ luck and fortune.
Lucky bamboo plants and indoor water fountains are two of the most recognizable and popular feng shui cures. Bamboo plants symbolize strength and luck, different numbers of bamboo stalks symbolize good feng shui for different aspects. For instance, 2 stalks represent love and marriage, 3 stalks mean happiness, while 8 stalks symbolize prosperity. Water fountains are said to incorporate energy into the household and water has long been regarded as a feng shui symbol of wealth and prosperity.
The placement of these feng shui elements is equally important. You need to place them at the exact spot and exact orientation in order for them to work. Consult a feng shui master before you move to a new property or you may suffer from adverse effects.
- Avoid opening your umbrellas indoor because spirits live inside umbrellas. Chinese believes spirits are attracted to shadows, when you open an umbrella indoors, the shadow beneath the umbrella serves as an entrance for spirits to come inside.
- Cutting your nails at night is also said to bring evil spirits to your home because it opens the door for spirits to inhabit our bodies. You should also dispose of your clipped fingernails somewhere safe to prevent people from gathering these to place a curse on you.
- Animals can see spirits. If your pet dog barks or howls at a corner for seemingly no reason, it might have seen spirits moving there.
- Never stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into your bowl of rice. Not only is this an impolite act, Chinese also believe it brings bad luck as a result of upright chopsticks resembling incense sticks burnt at a tomb for the dead.
- Do not point at the moon with your finger or your ears will fall off.