One of the awesome things about our neighourhood is that you can plant trees pretty much wherever. No vegetable gardens, because then our neighbourhood would be nothing but parking spaces and fields of leeks. But trees, bushes and flowers? Knock yourselves out.
Last year I tried to plant a ton of magnolias (çŽ‰å…°), but the guys at the market saw me coming a mile away and sold me every kind of tree but magnolias. Whatever; they’re trees, they’re growing.
This spring planting season, however, began with me planting a peach tree and a “Chinese toon” ï¼ˆé¦™æ¤¿ï¼‰ tree in the last two available spots in the shared grass area around our building, and ended with me uprooting them at the earnest badgering of two anxious neighbours while one of them burned incense to the tree and flower god.
It gave me yet another opportunity to stumble down the rabbit hole of traditional Chinese taboos and superstitions (note: there are many such rabbit holes in China!). And it went something like this…
Planting Trees Wrong in China — Day 1
One of my neighbours told me today that I can’t plant é¦™æ¤¿ (“Chinese toon / fragrant cedar / Toona sinensis”?) on the back side of the house, which is apparently what I’ve done. I’ll defer to her knowledge about trees; she’s over 50 and grew up in a Chinese village. I asked if it was because the sun was no good there. Nope, nothing to do with sunlight. I kept asking why, and she just kept saying that in China you don’t plant é¦™æ¤¿s behind houses, especially according to the older people. (Never mind that what she calls “behind” is the front and only entrance to our stairwell. In China front/back orients to the sun, not the front door.).
So I asked on å¾®ä¿¡ (aka WeChat aka Chinese Facebook), and got a lot of replies:
Folk culture. æ°‘ä¿—æ–‡åŒ–
It’s maybe a superstition. å¯èƒ½æ˜¯è¿·ä¿¡
This is a superstitious saying. Because Chinese toon buds are edible, and tasty, so as soon as Chinese toons bloom people come an pick them and eat them, so people turn it into a metaphor for not ever getting out of a predicament, meaning the family’s days will never get better. The family members won’t succeed in whatever they do. è¿™æ˜¯ä¸€ç§è¿·ä¿¡è¯´æ³•ã€‚å› ä¸ºé¦™æ¤¿èŠ½å¯é£Ÿç”¨ï¼Œå‘³é“é²œç¾Žã€‚æ‰€ä»¥æ˜¥å¤©åˆšå‘èŠ½ï¼Œå°±è¢«äººæ‘˜ä¸‹æ¥åƒäº†ã€‚æœ‰äººå°±æŠŠè¿™ç§çŽ°è±¡æ¯”å–»æˆæ°¸æ— å‡ºå¤´ä¹‹æ—¥ã€‚æ„æ€æ˜¯å®¶é‡Œçš„æ—¥åä¸€ç›´éƒ½ä¸ä¼šå¥½è½¬ã€‚å®¶é‡Œäººåšä»€ä¹ˆäº‹ä¹Ÿä¸ä¼šæˆåŠŸã€‚
This is feudal superstition, don’t bother about her. Don’t plant willows in the front, don’t plant mulberries in the back — they’re all superstitions. We just believe in Jesus, not in whatever else. è¿™æ˜¯å°å»ºè¿·ä¿¡ï¼Œåˆ«æ‰“ç†ä»–ï¼Œå‰ä¸ç§æŸ³æ ‘ï¼ŒåŽä¸ç§æ¡‘æ ‘ï¼Œéƒ½æ˜¯è¿·ä¿¡ï¼Œæˆ‘ä»¬åªä¿¡è€¶ç¨£ï¼Œåˆ«çš„ä»€ä¹ˆéƒ½ä¸ä¿¡
She means you planting that tree in that place will bring bad luck. ä»–çš„æ„æ€æ˜¯ä½ æŠŠé‚£ä¸ªæ ‘ç§åˆ°é‚£ä¸ªä½ç½®ä¼šç»™ä½ å¸¦æ¥å€’éœ‰çš„äº‹æƒ…
You also can’t plant mulberry trees, locust trees, willow trees, pine trees, cypress trees or banyan trees in the yard. 5000 years of history have not only given us glorious, splendid culture, but also innumerable superstitions and taboos. Although not many people can explain clearly why. é™¢åé‡Œä¸èƒ½ç§çš„æ ‘è¿˜æœ‰æ¡‘æ ‘ï¼Œæ§æ ‘ï¼ŒæŸ³æ ‘ï¼Œæ¾æ ‘ï¼ŒæŸæ ‘ï¼Œæ¦•æ ‘ã€‚äº”åƒå¹´çš„åŽ†å²ä¸ä»…ç»™äº†æˆ‘ä»¬å…‰è¾‰ç¿çƒ‚çš„æ–‡åŒ–ï¼Œè¿˜æœ‰æ•°ä¸æ¸…çš„è¿·ä¿¡å’Œç¦å¿Œã€‚å°½ç®¡æ²¡æœ‰å‡ ä¸ªäººèƒ½è¯´å¾—æ¸…ä¸ºä»€ä¹ˆã€‚
Actually (I) don’t know this rule. Here we say in the front don’t plant mulberries, in the back don’t plant willows. å€’æ˜¯ä¸çŸ¥é“è¿™ç§è§„å®šï¼Œæˆ‘ä»¬è¿™å„¿æ˜¯è¯´å‰ä¸æ ½æ¡‘(æ¡‘æ ‘),åŽä¸æ ½æŸ³(æŸ³æ ‘)
I just Baidu’d it for you. The approximate meaning is: “A single tree is inauspicious. A single one is unfavourable for the propagation of later generations, generally they should all be planted in the front! Furthermore must not just plant one!” Chinese people are rather superstitious; us Christians don’t need to care about this. åˆšå¸®ä½ ç™¾åº¦äº†ä¸€ä¸‹ï¼Œå¤§æ¦‚æ„æ€æ˜¯â€œä¸€é¢—å°±ä¸å‰åˆ©ï¼Œå•ä¸€ï¼Œå¯¹åå™åŽä»£ç¹æ®–ä¸åˆ©ï¼Œä¸€èˆ¬éƒ½æ˜¯æ ½åœ¨å‰é¢ï¼è€Œä¸”è¦ä¸è¦æ ½ä¸€é¢—ï¼â€ ä¸å›½äººæ¯”è¾ƒè¿·ä¿¡å’±ä»¬åŸºç£å¾’æ˜¯ä¸æ˜¯å¯ä»¥ä¸ç”¨ç®¡è¿™ä¸ª
Nah, my mother-in-law’s yard has a Chinese toon. ä¸ä¼šå§ï¼Œä¿ºå©†å©†é™¢åé‡Œå°±æœ‰é¢—é¦™æ¤¿æ ‘
There’s no problem with Chinese toons. But apparently according to fÄ“ngshuÇ, you can’t plant mulberry trees. Chinese toons are not problem. But this one is too close to the house and might obstruct the windows. é¦™æ¤¿æ ‘æ²¡æœ‰é—®é¢˜å§ã€‚ä½†æ˜¯ä¼¼ä¹Žä¾æ®é£Žæ°´ï¼Œä¸èƒ½ç§æ¡‘æ ‘ã€‚é¦™æ¤¿æ²¡é—®é¢˜ã€‚ä½†æ˜¯è¿™ä¸€æ£µç¦»ç€æˆ¿åå¤ªè¿‘å¯èƒ½ä¼šæŒ¡ä½çª—æˆ·ã€‚ã€‚
I also want to know… [awkward] æˆ‘ä¹Ÿæƒ³çŸ¥é“â€¦[å°´å°¬]
So what about how the front and back of our house is full of peach and pear trees and also cherry trees? This is certainly some place’s special custom. Today I also heard a coworker say in his hometown you can’t plant mulberries in the yard because “mulberry” and “mourning/corpse/make funeral arrangements” sound the same. [sweat] æˆ‘ä»¬å®¶æˆ¿å‰å±‹åŽç§æ»¡æ¡ƒæ ‘å’Œæ¢¨æ ‘è¿˜æœ‰æ¨±æ¡ƒæ ‘å’‹è¯´ï¼Ÿè¿™è‚¯å®šæ˜¯å“ªé‡Œçš„å¾ˆç‰¹åˆ«çš„é£Žä¿—ã€‚ä»Šå¤©è¿˜å¬åŒäº‹è¯´ä»–ä»¬è€å®¶ä¸èƒ½åœ¨é™¢åé‡Œç§æ¡‘æ ‘ï¼Œå› ä¸ºâ€œæ¡‘â€å’Œâ€œä¸§â€æ˜¯ä¸€ä¸ªéŸ³ã€‚[æµæ±—]
This saying is Chinese older generation’s old thinking and old views. The previous age’s old people pay particular attention to this. è¿™ç§è¯´æ³•æ˜¯ä¸å›½è€ä¸€è¾ˆçš„æ—§æ€æƒ³æ—§è§‚å¿µçš„è¯´æ³•ï¼Œä¸Šäº†å¹´çºªçš„è€äººè®²ç©¶è¿™äº›ã€‚
Planting Trees Wrong in China — Day 2
I just cannot win with trees in China this spring! Another neighbour (not the one from yesterday) just came down to ç»™æˆ‘è¯´è¯´ about another tree, this time a peach tree ï¼ˆæ¡ƒæ ‘ï¼‰. And she was in earnest. Turns out you can’t plant peach trees in the é™¢å — like the “yard” of a house or courtyardï¼› they’re supposed to go on mountains or public parks. Because something about husbands dying(!) and how it will bring bad luck and all the residents in our building will be affected. I couldn’t catch all her explanation because she’s a Qingdao å¥¶å¥¶ (imagine a small-town Texan talking to an international student).
And then she went out and burned incense and paper money to the Tree & Flower god and everything (I am *not* making this up) before trying to uproot a bush (not mine) that was threatening to block her windows, telling it sorry and that she was going to move it to a new home (*not* true: she hacked it to pieces with an axe, poured toilet cleaner on the roots and threw the branches in the garbage. I’m assuming the Tree and Flower god is either not that bright, or very forgiving…).
So I asked on å¾®ä¿¡ again, and got a whole nother pile of replies:
So painful. Just plant what you want to plant, so long as you don’t disturb others you’re OK. China has so many superstitious ideas, what can you do? å¥½ç—›è‹¦ï¼Œæƒ³ç§ä»€ä¹ˆå°±ç§ä»€ä¹ˆï¼Œåªè¦ä¸å½±å“åˆ«äººå°±okäº†ï¼Œä¸å›½é‚£ä¹ˆå¤šè¿·ä¿¡æ€æƒ³ï¼Œæ€Žä¹ˆåŠžï¼Ÿ
I’d be worried about offending the peach blossoms! [snicker] æ‹…å¿ƒçŠ¯æ¡ƒèŠ±[å·ç¬‘]
Just plant whatever you like to plant [grin] ä½ å–œæ¬¢ç§ä»€ä¹ˆå°±ç§ä»€ä¹ˆå§[å‘²ç‰™]
Chinese superstitions ä¸å›½è¿·ä¿¡
So many go in for superstitions!! æžè¿·ä¿¡çš„çœŸå¤šï¼ï¼
Frankly, I’ve never heard of this, you should Baidu it and see if you can get an answer. è¯´å®žè¯ï¼Œæˆ‘éƒ½æ²¡å¬è¯´è¿‡ï¼Œä½ ç™¾åº¦ä¸€ä¸‹è¯•è¯•çœ‹èƒ½ä¸èƒ½æ‰¾åˆ°ç”æ¡ˆã€‚
There’s a proverb that says: “Don’t plant mulberry in the front, don’t plant willow in the back, don’t plant ‘ghost clap’ (also called ‘executioner’) in the yard.” Can’t plant mulberry in the front because “mulberry” sounds like “mourning/corpse”, so it’s feared to be inauspicious if you go out your door and see “mulberry”(“mourning”). In the back can’t plant willow. The sayings differ. One says it has to do with funerals and interment of the dead. Because “mourning staffs” and “soul-beckoning banners” are made from willow, and behind the tomb willow trees are planted as “money trees” and “ghost trees”, it’s easy for willow to make people think of funerals, so it’s inauspicious. Another saying says that willows don’t bear fruit. If planted behind the house in the backyard, it’s feared to be harmful, and will cause the family to not have descendents. “Ghost clap” refers to poplars. When the wind blows, poplar leaves have a “hua-la-hua-la” crashing sound, like a ghost clapping. People fear planting poplar in the courtyard will attract demons; it’s hugely inauspicious. In Shandong province’s Linqing region there’s a similar folk belief. If you plant mulberry in the front and willow in the back, it’s equal to losing the population, can’t “preserve”(“willow”) the later generations. “Executioner” refers to peach trees because peach blossoms, peach branches, and peach fruit are all blood red, so demons and ghosts all want to live in peach trees, so people don’t dare plant them in the yard. In Jiao county, peach trees can only be planted behind the house because it’s believed peach trees have evil energy/influence. If planted in the front yard, the roots will run into the house, and the people’s lives will have sorrow. In Henan province’s Fangcheng county, people also dread to plant peach trees in the yard because it’s believed peach wood has magic power. Whichever family plants peach trees will have lots of evil and disaster. It’s also said that planting peach trees is to escape from famine, because “peach” and “escape” are homophones. Among the people there’s also a saying: “Before the door a peach stump, invites wind without end”. So peach wood helps avoid evil spirits, but definitely not peach trees.ä¿—è¯è¯´ï¼š”å‰ä¸æ ½æ¡‘ï¼ŒåŽä¸æ ½æŸ³ï¼Œé™¢ä¸ä¸æ ½”é¬¼æ‹æ‰‹”ï¼ˆåˆè¯´”åˆ½åæ‰‹”ï¼‰ã€‚é™¢å‰ä¸æ ½æ¡‘æ ‘ï¼Œæ˜¯å› “æ¡‘”ä¸Ž”ä¸§”åŒéŸ³ï¼Œå‡ºé—¨è§æ¡‘(ä¸§)ï¼ŒæƒŸæä¸å‰ã€‚åŽä¸æ ½æŸ³ï¼Œè¯´æ³•ä¸ä¸€ï¼Œä¸€è¯´æ˜¯ä¸Žæ®¡è‘¬æ»äººæœ‰å…³ã€‚å› “ä¸§æ–”ã€”æ‹›é‚å¹¡”éƒ½æ˜¯æŸ³æœ¨åšçš„ï¼ŒåŸå¢“åŽè¾¹åˆè¦æ ½æŸ³æ ‘ä½œ”æ‘‡é’±æ ‘”ã€”å¢“æ ‘”ã€‚æ‰€ä»¥æŸ³æ ‘ä¹Ÿæ˜“è¢«äººæƒ³åˆ°ä¸§äº‹ï¼Œä¸å‰ï¼›å¦ä¸€è¯´æ˜¯è®²æŸ³æ ‘ä¸ç»“ç±½ï¼Œè‹¥æ ½äºŽæˆ¿åŽã€é™¢åŽï¼Œè¿˜æå¦¨å®³ï¼Œæ„Ÿåº”å¾—è¿™å®¶äººå®¶ä¹Ÿæ— åå—£åŽä»£äº†ã€‚”é¬¼æ‹æ‰‹”æ˜¯æŒ‡æ¨æ ‘ã€‚é£Žä¸€åˆ®ï¼Œæ¨æ ‘å¶å“—å•¦å“—å•¦åœ°å“ï¼Œåƒæ˜¯”é¬¼æ‹æ‰‹”ã€‚é™¢å†…æ ½ä¸Šæ¨æ ‘ï¼Œè¿˜ææ‹›æ¥é¬¼é…ï¼Œå¤§ä¸å‰åˆ©ï¼Œå±±ä¸œä¸´æ¸…ä¸€å¸¦ä¹Ÿæœ‰ç±»ä¼¼çš„ä¿—ä¿¡ã€‚å¦‚æžœå‰æ ½æ¡‘åŽæ ½æŸ³ï¼Œå°±åˆä¸§(æ¡‘)å¤±äººå£ï¼Œç•™(æŸ³)ä¸ä½åŽä»£ï¼Œ”åˆ½åæ‰‹”æŒ‡çš„æ˜¯æ¡ƒæ ‘ã€‚å› ä¸ºæ¡ƒèŠ±ã€æ¡ƒæžã€æ¡ƒå®žéƒ½æ˜¯è¡€çº¢è‰²çš„ï¼Œå¦–é”é¬¼æ€ªéƒ½æ„¿æ„åœ¨æ¡ƒæ ‘ä¸Šä½ï¼Œæ‰€ä»¥ä¸æ•¢ç§åœ¨é™¢é‡Œã€‚èƒ¶åŽ¿ä¸€å¸¦ï¼Œæ¡ƒæ ‘åªèƒ½ç§åœ¨åŽé™¢ï¼Œç¦å¿Œæ ½åˆ°å‰é™¢ï¼Œä¿—ä»¥ä¸ºæ¡ƒæ ‘ä¸Šæœ‰é‚ªæ°”ã€‚å¦‚æžœç§åˆ°å‰é™¢ï¼Œæ ‘æ ¹æ‰Žåˆ°å±‹é‡Œï¼Œäººå°±æœ‰æ€§å‘½ä¹‹å¿§ã€‚æ²³å—æ–¹åŸŽä¸€å¸¦ä¹Ÿå¿Œé™¢å†…ç§æ¡ƒæ ‘ï¼Œä¿—ä»¥ä¸ºæ¡ƒæœ¨æœ‰æ³•åŠ›ã€‚è°å®¶ç§æ¡ƒæ ‘ï¼Œä¸»é‚ªç¾å¤šã€‚ä¹Ÿæœ‰è¯´ç§æ¡ƒæ ‘ä¸»é€ƒè’è¦é¥çš„ã€‚è¿™æ˜¯å› “æ¡ƒ”ä¸Ž”é€ƒ”è°éŸ³çš„ç¼˜æ•…ï¼Œæ°‘é—´è¿˜æœ‰”é—¨å‰ä¸€æ ªæ¡ƒï¼Œè®¨æ°”è®¨ä¸äº†”çš„è¯´æ³•ã€‚æ‰€ä»¥è¯´ï¼Œæ˜¯æ¡ƒæœ¨é¿é‚ªï¼Œå¹¶ä¸æ˜¯æ¡ƒæ ‘é¿é‚ªã€‚
This is related to superstition! It has nothing to do with you. è¿™å’Œè¿·ä¿¡æœ‰å…³ï¼å’Œä½ ä¸€ç‚¹å…³ç³»éƒ½æ²¡æœ‰ã€‚
Folkways and customs æ°‘é£Žæ°‘ä¿—
Planting Trees Wrong in China — Day 3
So this afternoon I transplanted the fÄ“ngshuÇ-offending, superstitious-neighbour-triggering trees from our shared yard to the public park area beside the preschool, where the neighbourhood kids play, the elderly sit in the sun, and retirees do taiji and group exercise.
Two of my students ran over while I was planting the second one:
“Mr. Lu! Are you done planting? Mr. Lu! Are you done planting? Mr. Lu! Are you done planting? Mr. Lu! Are you done planting?”
“Hold on… uh, yep. I’m done now.”
“Good! I have to pee!”
These poor trees just cannot catch a break.
Here they are, hopefully in their final resting places: