Some Mainlanders losing confidence, start blaming Fuwas

One of my interviewees recently said,

…the Chinese people are extremely concerned with [the Olympics], however, Heaven isn’t helping out. After the Great Sichuan Earthquake happened, a lot of Chinese people lost confidence.

This is apparently a rather widespread, popular sentiment. Lately there’s been an unusual amount of firecrackers going off, especially in the evenings. It’s normal to hear the occasional wedding or funeral, but for the last two weeks or so it’s been more often than usual. So we asked around, and it turns out there are two different current firecracker-lighting concerns.

We only have sketchy details on the first one. Apparently this is the time of year when the Ghost King (鬼王) of Hades (阎王) – or something along those lines – comes to steal people’s virgins/children/unmarrieds (not so clear on the details). Parents are giving their children peaches to eat because “peach” (桃子) sounds like “escape” (逃), and they’re lighting off firecrackers to scare away the evil spirits.

But this year there are are additional firecrackers. People are trying to ward off China’s bad luck (运气). Rumours are circulating via text messages and the internet about how this is such an ill-fated year for China, with so many disasters coming in a year with so much at stake (all the national face and worldwide prestige invested in the Olympics). Turns out people are blaming/fearing the number 8 and, believe it or not, the Fuwas.

The number 8 is usually considered a lucky number because “eight” (å…«; bā) sounds like fā (发) from “get rich” (发财). People pay extra to have it in their phone number or on their license plate. The Olympics are scheduled to start on 2008-08-08 at 8:08:08pm (Take that!). However, people are saying that this year, 8 is a very unlucky number. The most popular reasons involve playing numerology with the dates of this year’s disasters:

  • Spring Festival snowstorm disaster. Date: 1/25. 1+2+5=8.
  • “Teabet” riots. Date: 3/14. 3+1+4=8.
  • Shandong train collision. Date: 4/28. 4×2=8.
  • Sichuan earthquake. Date: 5/12. 5+1+2=8.

And forget 666 as the Sign of the Beast. 888 is the sign of the (now evil) Fuwas! All but one of the Fuwas has associations with a disaster (talk about wolves in sheeps’ clothing!):

  • NÄ«ni (妮妮), the green one, has a kite on her head, representing the kite-flying tradition of Weifang in Shandong province (train collision).
  • Yíngying (è¿Žè¿Ž), the yellow one, is a Tibetan antelope (riots).
  • Huānhuan (欢欢), the red one, is the Olympic flame, and that worldwide torch relay turned into a public relations disaster.
  • JÄ«ngjing (晶晶), the black one, is a panda. Panda’s come from Sichuan (earthquake).
  • There’s still no dirt on Bèibei (贝贝), the blue one (she’s a fish), though horrible rain storms starting on March 26 (2+6=8!) caused bad flooding in various places.

Global Voices Online has translated a Chinese blogger’s take on all this, which also neatly summarizes the 8/Fuwa superstitions.

And in case you’re thinking this is all superstitious nonsense, we both came down with colds after sleeping ‘under the stars’ on the Great Wall. Turns out the Chinese lunar calendar for that weekend said, “To avoid catching a cold, avoid sleeping outside at night.” Ha! So there!

P.S. – And in case you were wondering what the 2008 Olympics are really about, that translated blog post from Global Voices Online is quite revealing:

…But we should not associate these disasters with the Olympic Games. After all, the Olympics are China’s glory, the glory of the Chinese people, and the honor we’ve earned…

P.P.S. – I bring this up not to make fun of people, but just to point out how a lot of Mainlanders are personally invested in the Olympics and their country; a lot of people here care a lot on some level about the country as a whole.

P.P.P.S. – Don’t forget to click the Chinese characters to see the pronunciation and definition!

9 thoughts on “Some Mainlanders losing confidence, start blaming Fuwas”

  1. 大多数的年轻人只是把这个在QQ上或者msn上传一传当 个笑话罢了。
    不过人是应该有些信仰的,《Desperate housewives》第四季曾经专门有一集讲述过信仰这个问题。当龙卷风袭击了紫藤街(Fairview),经受了 癌症的,从没去过教堂的lynett突然觉得应该信些什么 于是主动找到了Bree两口子。所以可以看出,越是经受了打击之后,越是大的灾难过后,人越觉得需要一些 信仰。

  2. Yabaliu mentions that for most of the young people, this bad luck talk is mostly just passed around as a joke, and then uses an example from American TV to illustrate how people often search for something to believe in when faced with disaster or hardship.

  3. hi joel, thank you for pointing out the fuwa talk; your observations put conversations i’ve had into perspective. here in shenzhen, i’ve been hearing people complain about the olympics, and that the government has overdone it–shades of hubris… almost. the comments are very vague, “other countries hold the olympics and its [merely] a sporting event…” and, as yabliu points out, very jokey.

  4. Hi Mary Ann. Good to hear from you.

    We discussed your pizza post just last week at one of the ngo’s culture training meetings.

    only mere shades of almost-hubris? I’ve heard little bits here and there about face projects or prestige projects, but nothing I remember directly from Mainlanders in Tianjin. I wonder though if those first-tier more cosmopolitan southern coastal cities would be more likely to produce that kind of more confident perspective. Every day we see and hear the unbelievable amount of money and activity being put into making Tianjin look good to the foreigners who will be here for the mere seven or so Olympic preliminary events. It gives the impression that China feels it desperately needs to be regarded highly by foreigners.

  5. Hi Joel, we’re almost in real time!

    I’m glad to hear that the pizza post–say five times fast–was helpful.

    My sense is that the north has been much more innundated with Oylmpic-ism than Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Just after Spring Festival, friends returning from Beijing described the city’s residents as “being brainwashed” because Olympic phrases and referents permeated everyday conversation. In contrast, we only really started hearing about the Olympics when the torch came. And since, there hasn’t been that much of a push, unless you count the Fuwa cartoons that are broadcast on the public bus televisions. What’s more, Shenzhen developers aren’t building for the Olympics. They’re building and show no signs of stopping, but none of it is for the Olympics.

  6. ha. i can hardly imagine a China that isn’t soaked in Olympic madness, plenty of which you can see in our Olympics category if the Coke commercials and Fuwas aren’t enough for you. but the way i hear it, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are decades ahead of Beijing and Tianjin anyway.

  7. i don’t know if it’s time ahead as much as it is miles apart. “mountains high, emperor far away (山高皇帝远) is one of the explanations for the guangdong difference.

  8. I had some university student language partners this semester from Guangdong. They definitely missed their home.

    always wondered what the Chinese was for that phrase.

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