CUSTOMS AND SYMBOLS
The Chinese brought their customs, culture, food, games, traditions and way of dress with them when they came to Trinidad. Even though they have been assimilated into Trinidadian society they still observe some of these customs. The wider Trinidadian society in turn has adopted some of the Chinese heritage. This can be seen in the popularity of Chinese food, and the game Whe Whe, the legalised form of which is Play Whe.
THE 15 DAY CELEBRATION OF THE CHINESE NEW YEAR
The Chinese New Year, also called Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is the oldest and most important festival in China. It starts with the new moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The date is determined by the lunar and solar calendars rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the West. Therefore the date of the holiday varies from late January to mid-February.
The Spring Festival celebrates the rejuvenation of the earth, and the start of plowing and sowing. Houses are cleaned and brightly lit. It is a time of thanksgiving and family reunions. Families gather for large dinners, and ancestors are remembered and honoured at these dinners. There is an abundance of food. In Northern China steamed dumpling is served. In Southern China a glutinous rice pudding is the popular dish.
The 15th day of the new year ends with a Lantern Festival. Houses are decorated with lanterns and a dumpling made of glutinous rice is eaten.
THE CHINESE DRAGON
The Chinese dragon is a symbol of wisdom, power and luck in Chinese culture. Unlike Western dragons, the Chinese dragon does not have wings, nor can it fly. It is benevolent, wise and kind. The dragon is revered and respected in Chinese culture, and a depiction of it should not be defiled.
Dragons have been a symbol in Chinese folklore and art for a long time. Temples and shrines have been built to honour them, and Chinese emperors in ancient times traced their lineage back to dragons.
Chinese dragons control the rain, rivers, lakes, and sea, and can ward off evil spirits, protect the innocent, and provide safety. Most pictures of Chinese dragons show them playing with a flaming pearl. Legend has it that the pearl gives them their power and allows them to ascend into heaven.
Dragon turtles combine the longevity of a turtle and the power of a dragon. The dragon head turtle is a powerful symbol of obtaining balance in life.
In Chinese, “knot” means reunion and togetherness. Chinese often use knots to protect themselves from bad fortune or evil and express good wishes to friends and family. Every knot is weaved from one thread. Thousands of years ago the Chinese people used knots for fastening and wrapping. Today, Chinese knots are both practical and ornamental.
THREE-LEGGED MONEY FROG
The three-legged frog is a popular symbol of prosperity in Chinese culture. It is usually depicted as having eyes and flared nostrils, and it sits on a bag of Chinese money, with a coin in its mouth. It is used today as a wealth generator and should be placed near safes and financial documents. One frog placed within view of the front door will invite money into the home.
BA GUA MIRRORS
These mirrors feature the eight trigram of I-Ching with their special protective emphasis. The power of convex ba gua will ward off any negative chi and the concave ba gua will absorb positive chi in a person's surroundings.
THE THREE IMMORTALS
These represent the gods of Longevity, Abundance and Prosperity. Lu is the god of abundance, Shou is the god of longevity, and Fu is the god of prosperity.
The fisherman symbolises wisdom and patience.
Kwan Yu was born a commoner, over 1700 years ago, at the end of the Han Dynasty, completely unaware of the fact that he was destined for greatness. He first came into the limelight when he came to the rescue of one of his neighbours, who had been victimized by corrupt government officials. Physically, Kwan was very large and powerful with a distinct red face. He was considered a formidable adversary. He was a local hero to his peers who respected him as he helped those who were exploited. His quest was to uphold justice and foster peace and order among his people. He was revered for his wisdom, honesty and compassion, and is a symbolic representation of righteousness, loyalty, humility and justice. He is the patron saint of the Chinese Martial Arts.
Jade (Yu) symbolises nobility, perfection, constancy and immortality. It has been an integral part of the lives of Chinese of all positions and classes for centuries, and is considered to be the most valuable of all precious stones. It was used not only for the finest objects and cult figures, but also for grave furnishings for high-ranking members of the imperial family. Today, this gem is still regarded as a symbol of goodness, beauty and perfection.
Kuan Yin, also known as Quan Shi Yin, is the Goddess of Compassion in Chinese culture. Quan means to inquire or look deeply into, Shi means the world of people or generations, Yin means cries. Kuan Yin is considered to be the feminine form of Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit), the bodhisattva (or Enlightened One) of compassion of Indian Buddhism, whose worship was introduced into China in the third century. As the sublime Goddess of Mercy whose beauty, grace and compassion have come to represent the ideal of womanhood in the East, she is frequently portrayed as a slender woman in flowing white robes who carries a white lotus - the symbol of purity - in her left hand. Ornaments may adorn her form, symbolizing her attainment as a bodhisattva (or Enlightened One), or she may be pictured without them as a sign of her great virtue.
Double Ten Day is the national day of the Republic of China (which is now administered from Taiwan)and commemorates the start of the Wuchang Uprising of 10th October 1911 which led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty. It is also known as National Celebration Day in Taiwan (Taipei). Double Ten is celebrated not only in Taiwan, but in other parts of the world, wherever people of Chinese origin reside, including Trinidad and Tobago.
Fans have been used by Chinese people to keep cool in summer for over 3000 years and are still popular in the rural areas. They are also used as artistic props in plays, dances and story telling and even home decorations. There are three major types of fans: feather fan, folding fan and silk fan.
Feather fans are the oldest type of Chinese fans. The feathers from eagles, magpies, cranes, kingfishers and peacocks have all been used to make fans.
The silk fan is full-moon shaped and called the round fan. The frame is usually made of iron or bamboo slips. A peace of silk is stretched over the frame and is then decorated with colored drawings. It used to be popular among young ladies in the royal court and those in wealthy families.
The folding fans are the most popular in China. They date back to the Song Dynasty, about 700 years ago. Emperors and their ministers used them. The mount of the fan was made of ivory, sandalwood or mottled bamboo and was often carved with figures of birds, flowers, landscapes and even poems.
DRAGON BOAT RACES
The 5th Day of the 5th month of the lunar year is called Duan Wu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival and is celebrated everywhere in China. This Festival dates back to about 2000 years. According to legend, the Dragon Boat Festival in China commemorates the death of a national hero, Chu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River to protest the corruption of the rulers at the time. Because he was unable to persuade the king to mend his corrupt ways, Chu Yuan tied an enormous rock around himself and threw himself into the waters of Tung Tin Lake in Hunan Province.
Many attempts were made to recover his body but it was never found. Much later, his ghost was seen in the spot where he drowned, moaning that he had been devoured by monstrous water creatures.
Today, the dragon boat races honor his memory. Participants sit two abreast, with a steersman at the stern and a drummer at the bow. The addlers race to reach the finish line, urged on by the pounding drums and the roar of the crowds.