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” (八; 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!):
- Nīni (妮妮), the green one, has a kite on her head, representing the kite-flying tradition of Weifang in Shandong province (train collision).
- Yíngying (迎迎), 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.
- Jīngjing (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!