About.com: Chinese Culture, Birthday Customs of the Newborn and Elderly
Written by our column writer Ye Qinfa
Chinese people put their family in a very important position as they regard it as a means to keep the family blood stream continuously running. And the running family blood stream maintains the life of the whole nation. That is why children production and breeding in China becomes a focus of all members of families. It is even accepted by them as an essential moral duty. There is a Chinese saying that of all who lack filial piety, the worst is who has no children.
The fact that Chinese people pay great attention to children production and breeding can be supported by many customary practices. Many traditional customs about preproduction of children are all based on the idea of children protection. When a wife is found to be pregnant, people will say she "has happiness," and all her family members will feel overjoyed about it. Throughout the whole period of pregnancy, both she and the fetus are well attended, so that the fetus is not hurt in any way and the new generation is born both physically and mentally healthy. To keep the fetus in a good condition, the going-to-be mother is offered sufficient nutritious foods and some traditional Chinese medicines believed to be helpful to the fetus.
When the baby is born, the mother is required to "zuoyuezi" or stay in bed for a month in order to recover from the fatigue. In this month, she is advised to stay at home and not to go outdoors. Cold, wind, dirty air, and tiredness are said to exert bad effect on her health and thus her later life.
A good name for a child is considered equally important. The Chinese think a name may somehow determine the future of the child. Therefore, all possible factors must be taken into account when they are naming their children.
Traditionally, two parts of a name are essential, the family name or last name and a character showing the generation order of the family. Another character in the first name is chosen as the namer pleases. The generation signing characters in the names are usually given by the forefathers, who chose them from a line of a poem or found their own and put them in the genealogy for their descendents to use. For this reason, it is possible to know the relationships between the family relatives by just looking at their names.
Another custom is to find the newborn baby's Eight Characters (in four pairs, indicating the year, month, day and hour of a person's birth, each pair consisting of one Heavenly Stem and one Earthly Branch, formerly used in fortune-telling) and the element in the Eight Characters. It is traditionally believed in China that the world is made up of five principal elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. A person's name is to include an element that he lacks in his Eight Characters. If he lacks water, for example, then his name is supposed to contain a word like river, lake, tide, sea, stream, rain, or any word associating with water. If he lacks metal, then he is to be given a word like gold, silver, iron, or steel.
Some people even believe that the number of strokes of a name has a lot to do with the owner's fate. So when they name a child, the number of strokes of the name is taken into account.
Some parents prefer to use a character from an eminent person's name, hoping that their child inherits that person's nobility and greatness. Characters with noble and encouraging connotations are also among the first choices. Some parents inject their own wishes into their children's names. When they want to have a boy, they may name their girl Zhaodi meaning expecting a brother.
The first important event for the newly born baby is the one-month celebration. In Buddhist or Taoist families, on the morning of the baby's 30th day, sacrifices are offered to the gods so that the gods will protect the baby in his subsequent life. Ancestors are also virtually informed of the arrival of the new member in the family. According to the customs, relatives and friends receive gifts from the child's parents. Types of gifts vary from place to place, but eggs dyed red are usually a must both in town and the countryside. Red eggs are chosen as gifts probably because they are the symbol of changing process of life and their round shape is the symbol of harmonious and happy life. They are made red because red color is a sign of happiness in Chinese culture. Besides eggs, food like cakes, chickens and hams are often used as gifts. As people do in the Spring Festival, gifts given are always in even number.
During the celebration,
relatives and friends of the family will also return some presents.
The presents include those which the child may use, like foods, daily
materials, gold or silver wares. But the commonest are some money
wrapped in a piece of red paper. Grandparents usually give their
grandchild a gold or silver ware to show their deep love for the
child. In the evening, the child's parents give a rich feast at home
or a restaurant to the guests at the celebration.
Ancient Chinese myths and customs of pregnancy start shortly after a couple weds.
According to Chinese custom, a husband should carry his
bride over a pan of burning coals when entering his home for the
first time to ensure she will pass through labor successfully.
Chinese women will often
drink a strong herbal potion to ease the strain of labor. Custom
dictates that women not fear the laboring process, since birth is
considered a women's career to the ancient Chinese. Chinese women
traditionally labor in an armchair or futon. Once the baby is born
they will often pray to the goddess who helped them conceive with an
offering of sweet meats and incense.
The Chinese Zodiac
When a child is born is also important to Chinese custom. The hour, day, month and year the baby is born dictate which of the Eight Characters he is born under. The Eight Characters are considered so important they will rule the child's life. They foretell if a child will be successful, wealthy, or blessed with good fortune. Parents may also hire fortune tellers or soothsayers to read their baby's fortune. The Chinese believe that each person is made up of some of the five elements - metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. If a fortune teller finds a child is lacking an important element, the missing element is incorporated in her name -- unless the missing element is fire or water. If water or fire is absent, that is considered a good omen. It is believed that a child with too much fire could be injured by fire in his life; a child with too much water needs to be watched, for she might drown.
The Chinese wouldn't dream of naming a baby before
she's born. In fact, they are given false names, or milk names, to
scare away evil spirits. Ancient wisdom dictates parents refer to
their baby as an animal or as ugly to trick the spirits into thinking
the baby is not worthy of a kidnapping. Once the child is older, he
is named. The Chinese sometimes have four or five names for a person
-- one for childhood, one for school, one for after graduation, and
even one after death. And, the Chinese often honor family ties by
using generational names. To announce the baby's birth, a new father
sends money and wine to his in-laws. Special ribbons fastened to the
wine jar signify if the baby is a boy or a girl. Parents send red
eggs to close family and friends -- an even number for a girl, odd
for a boy. Or they may send out boxes of fruit. Return gifts might
include two kinds of cake, brown sugar, millet, eggs, and walnut
The First One Hundred Days
If you would like to tell us about the
ceremony that is practiced in your region or culture or tradition,
write about it. We will take a summary of it and add
it to this website. We would love to read about more ceremonies and
traditions. Send information to firstname.lastname@example.org