Most brides and grooms promise to be together “til death do us part” and “as long as we both shall live.” But what if death wasn’t the end but rather the beginning?
The Chinese custom of “ghost marriages”, or as the Chinese call it “minghun”, shows that death can be the start of a relationship. Most people would find this odd, but it is still practiced in the Chinese culture.
On February 4, 2010, 26-year-old Zhuang Haugui planned to marry his girlfriend, 21-year-old Hu Zhao. But before the wedding, Zhao was murdered by thieves who broke into her apartment. Instead of letting her go off into the afterworld a spinster, Haugui proceeded with the wedding and married his dead girlfriend. The wedding took place at a funeral parlor in Zhangzhou, Fujian China. Family and friends from both sides attended.
“Ghost marriages” can be performed between one or two people who are no longer living. Either both are dead or one person is a corpse and the other is still living. The Chinese are very heavy believers in the afterlife; therefore this is a common nuptial ceremony. The Chinese believe that if a person dies and they aren’t married, they will forever haunt the family members, so it is the living relatives duty to find them someone who they can share a happy life with in the afterlife. Ghost marriages were outlawed in 1949, but are still practiced in some regions that are rural. In fact, since China’s economy has excessively improved, ghost marriages are making a way back into their culture.
When imaging a ghost marriage, you wonder how it works. Believe it or not it is the same way a wedding would be between two live humans, with a little twist. The family members do the usual at a wedding; they dance, eat drink and socialize. The family of the groom also gives the bride’s family a gift and they will forever be united after the wedding. The twist in it all is if both are deceased, the family of the bride digs up her remains, and places her near her husband’s burial site. They then have a graveside ceremony where they are pronounced husband and wife.
Professor Chen Huawen, who is an expert in Chinese burial customs, says that the demands for bride corpses are very high. He says that “the reason is, is that many young bachelors work as coal miners in provinces where ghost marriages persist. Coal mining is dangerous and leads to death. “ According to Huawen, the families of miners will get compensated $50,000 when they die, and this is often spent on the corpse of a bride. Because there is such a high demand, bride corpses can be priced at as much as $30,000. The shortage of bride corpses has led to the crime of grave robbing.
Grave robbing is pretty self-explanatory. What people do is they dig up graves and steal the corpses to sell on the black market to people looking for them. There have been numerous arrests of people getting caught doing so. It is high illegal but it is a very common act that is done. Some have even gone beyond to the point of plastic surgery and dyeing of the hair to make them look younger for higher prices. Even though asking for a corpse is an insane request, the Chinese take pride in ghost marriages. At the end of the day, a ghost marriage is a stable marriage that will last forever.
In my novel, Shanghai Love, Peilin marries a ghost. Experience her inner most thoughts as she is wed to a corpse by picking up a copy today.
Happy New Year! Here’s wishing you and your loved ones much joy, good health and prosperity in 2014.
2014 — YEAR OF THE WOOD HORSE
According to the Chinese Calendar, a new moon on January 30 at 11:20PST (listed as January 31st on most calendars) marks the start of the Year of the Wood Horse. How does this play into the universe? And more importantly, what does it mean for you? We depart from the slower energy of 2013’s Water Snake, and launch into a period of fast victories, unexpected adventure and surprising romance. A hero in Chinese folklore, the Horse brings with him good fortune and luck. Decisive action and high energy brings victory. Production is rewarded!
Events move quickly though, so be sure not to gallop off in the wrong direction. The Horse symbolizes nobility, class, swiftness and determination. There is no midfield with the Horse’s fierce inspiration.
. In Eastern philosophy, wood relates to green trees, which is why the cycle is sometimes referred to as the Year of the Green Horse. The Horse is the strongest Fire animal of the 12 zodiac signs. Since 2014 is year of Wooden Horse, Wood can help Fire to burn and last longer. The last time the Wood Horse appeared was 60 years ago in 1954.
What does the Year of the Horse mean for you? Check out your birth year below for more:
Paul Ng, a professional feng shui master based in Toronto, evaluates how the Chinese zodiac will affect us — from the global political climate to what the world’s health will look like in the coming months. And most importantly, he tells us how our birth sign will affect us in 2014.
Horse: Born in 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, 1918
The Year of the Horse means there is leadership linked with this sign this year, so your authority might grow. However, a horse’s hasty conduct can lead to irresponsibility, so take caution when gambling and/or fielding speculations.
Work: Those in positions of authority will do well, but unstable businesses, like the stock market, should be avoided.
Wealth: Don’t anticipate making a great deal money, and appreciate the revenue you do have coming to you.
Relationships: There won’t be a lot of excitement in your love life this year. If you’re engaged, you might want to postpone your marriage until the following year.
Health: Watch your health this year — you could tired and can catch bugs easily. Make physical exercise and rest an important part of your life.
Sheep or Goat: Born in 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, 1919
This is a “linking” year for you. Benefit from your good relationships with other people, especially if you’re a male sheep.
Work: Those who work in the automobile industry, analysis, public relations, entertainment, surgery, and police work should expect to do well this year.
Wealth: Anticipate stability, with a slender growth in income this year. Streamline your investment portfolio.
Relationships: You’ll be loved this year, in fact, watch out for love triangles. If you’re married, make sure to exhibit lots of fondness to your partner.
Health: You’ll be healthier this year than last, but watch out for minor accidents. Drive protectively and take your time.
Monkey: Born in 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, 1920
It’s important for the monkey to widen their reach–either travelling or moving–to increase success this year.
Work: Businesses that are good include areas based around movement—sales, marketing, travel, education, law, and finances.
Wealth: Money is poised to be good, including prospects for promotions and strong investment returns.
Relationships: If you’re single, this won’t be a promising time for finding love, but those who are married should feel assured in the continuance of their bond.
Health: Your overall health is good; but like the goat, be careful of accidents especially when driving.
Rooster: Born in 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, 1921
This is revving up to be an extensive year for roosters. There are many opportunities for work and business, but your personal relationships could be unstable. Rely on friends for support.
Work: You do better outside an office than inside. Look for positions in police work, law and politics.
Wealth: Be cautious with your money—don’t gamble this year.
Relationships: There’s love headed your way, but look out for struggles in your relationships. Take a moment to think things over before continuing to quarrel or it could end.
Health: Small accidents could be an concern for you, and be aware of your heart and lungs.
Dog: Born in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, 1922
This is a lucky year for dogs. Everything from work and funds to relationships are on the upswing.
Work: Work within your innate creativity–the arts, music, architecture and writing. Even theater, TV and movies are great for you.
Wealth: Use instincts, rather than logic, rule when building an investment portfolio — it will help keep your money secure.
Relationships: Consider proposing if you haven’t already. If married, express more love toward your partner. Be humble when relating with others.
Health: Enjoy your good health, but be careful of overindulging.
Boar or Pig: Born in 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923
You’ll need energy at the start but be prepared for a great year— you’ll cultivate friends, experience breakthroughs and be supported in business.
Work: Good environments for you–metaphysics, religion, public relations, human resources, media and politics.
Wealth: Money will be secure for you this year, but don’t wager or invest in speculative markets.
Relationships: Nothing exciting, but nothing bad here either. Your relationships stay flat but stable.
Health: You’ll feel better than last year. Even if you do become ill, you’ll recuperate swiftly.
Rat: Born in 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924
The rat is in opposition this year, so this could mean losing some money. Still, the rat sign is generally lucky, which will aid in keeping you out of trouble.
Work: Show business is great for you, including things like pageants and the arts.
Wealth: If not greedy, you’ll hang onto your money. Stay away from gambling though.
Relationships: Be quiet and patient this year. If not, many of your relationships will involve arguments and conflict.
Health: Be sure to get lots of exercise and rest. Body areas to watch for: the lungs, kidney and waist.
Ox: Born in 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925
The ox is in conflict with the horse, which could mean arguments with other people. However, the ox is a sign of authority, which potentially means promotions.
Work: Good environments include politics, the army or police work, where a promotion might be waiting for you. But watch out for enemies.
Wealth: Don’t expect a lot of money, but your income is proportional to your authority level.
Relationships: There isn’t a lot of romance expected for you this year. Be patient with the people in your life.
Health: Your health is fine, just watch out for small accidents.
Tiger: Born in 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926
This should be a good year for tigers. Be on the lookout for luck, joy, romance, spirituality and learning opportunities.
Work: You’ll do well in businesses that have to do with medicine (particularly surgery), the military, teaching, and philosophy. If you’re self-employed, expand your business.
Wealth: This will be a year of financial stability.
Relationships: Romance is in the air. If the opportunity arises, consider marriage. If you’re married though, be wary of temptation and extramarital affairs.
Health: Watch out for accidents, and be especially careful around sharp objects.
Rabbit: Born 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927
This is a year of romance, controversy, and lots of happiness. Just be watchful about your non-romantic relationships with others.
Work: Entertainment, speaking and sales all suit you — mental work is better for you than physical.
Wealth: This year the more you work, the more you’ll make.
Relationships: Romantic entanglements await, but watch out for love triangles.
Health: There’s a minor concern about sharp objects, so be mindful.
Dragon: Born in 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928
This will be a good year for dragons, as horses and dragons together have great energy. Also, health and wealth abound.
Work: You’ll do well in surgery and the military, as well as spirituality—philosophy and religion.
Wealth: Trust your intuition on investments. You would do well in travel or trading businesses.
Relationships: Not a particularly romantic year for dragons.
Health: You have a general tendency towards accidents, but, you’ll be very healthy this year.
Snake: Born in 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929
Last year was a year of conflict for the snake, so this year is a money year.
Work: Since this is your money year, finance and the stocks work well for you. Entertainment is another good area.
Wealth: Both your fixed and speculative incomes look good.
Relationships: If single, think about marriage. If already hitched, be sure to express love toward your partner.
Health: You’re prone to colds and flus this year so keep your immune system boosted. Exercise and get plenty of rest.
Whatever your sign and prediction, be sure to make the most of your year!
In Chinese medicine, autumn is linked with the metal element and the large intestine (yang) and lung (yin) organs. They are elegantly paired; one eliminates wastes, while the other receives chi (energy). We let go of the old to make way for the new.
The Chinese culture also looks at a person’s emotional or spiritual level. Holding onto old beliefs, judgments and negative thoughts can pollute our speech, our relationships, and our basic sense of self worth. If we don’t let go of what is complete, we won’t be able to move on to the next phase.
Many ancient cultures, not just the Chinese, link inhalation with inspiration. The lungs manage our body’s protective energy, helping us to fend off the wind and cold that are accompany the seasonal change. When this energy is weak, colds and flus develop. More wind causes aridity: dry lungs, cough, and skin. The skin, known in Chinese medicine as the “third lung,” can fail in its capacity to eliminate, which can lead to acne, psoriasis or eczema.
The emotion associated with metal is grief and sadness. If there is a death, on any level, a suitable quantity of grieving should happen. Then, there is an appropriate time for the sorrow to end. If weeping lungs sigh too long, a person can become drained; and this leads to fatigue.
This season is also a good period to clean your house, eliminating what is no longer of importance. Trees shed their leaves, riding themselves of items no longer of use. Yet people will clutter their home to such an extent that they don’t even know how to find the things that are important to them. If you have trouble purging yourself of unnecessary belongings, hire a personal organizer to help.
Steps to consider during autumn:
- Boost your exercise level — or any activity that increases your breath.
- Consume foods that complement the seasonal change to go inward, especially as we head towards winter. Such foods are often sour: pickles, vinegar, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Other such foods to consider: yogurt, plums, apples, and rose hip tea. To fight the dryness try barley, whole oats, millet, sweet potatoes and yams, seaweeds, almonds, pine nuts, eggs, persimmons and pears.
- Hydrate — drink lots of water
- Less is better — Let the shedding of autumn nourish the soul.
How do you prepare for Autumn?
Until next time,
5 Lessons We Can Learn from Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been healing people for thousands of years. Although quite different from Western practices, there are at least five lessons that we can glean from its method and philosophy.
1. Listen – TCM practitioners pay attention to the whole body. Using their senses – sight, smell, hearing, feeling and even taste — to pick up on messages from the body. For the Eastern practitioner, a reddish complexion indicates heat. A sweet smell often points to spleen deficiency and/or dampness problems.
2. Treat the problem not just the symptoms - In most Western medicine, painkillers are prescribed for the pain. In TCM, pain is due to the non-free flow of qi (energy) and/or blood. When the qi and blood flow freely, there is no pain. Therefore, it is essential to keep our qi and blood full and moving freely for optimal health and well-being and especially for being pain free.
3. Treat the whole person – Western medicine focuses on the organs. Eastern medicine treats people as the whole – mind, body and spirit. A TCM practitioner inquires about family, diet, and life stressors, among other areas. S/he takes into consideration what’s going on in the patient’s life.
4. Health is not just about the disease, it’s also about wellness – We often see the yin-yang symbol associated with Chinese Medicine. That’s because TCM believes in keeping the body in balance. It addresses wellness as well as prevention.
5. Evidence is in the eyes of the beholder – Many who’ve been treated by Eastern remedies have said that they were able to get relief for ailments that Western treatments failed them. Could it be a placebo effect? Possibly. But even scientific research acknowledges that empirical evidence is not the only method of confirmation. For the rational mind, it’s difficult to accept that we may not be able to explain why – yet positive results have been supported.
More research in TCM practices will continue. In the meantime, it’s valuable to be open to the lessons it can provide.
What lessons have you gained through Eastern Medicine?
National Fortune Cookie Day
September 13th is National Fortune Cookie Day. Do you know their American background? Fortune cookies became common in Chinese restaurants after World War II. Since desserts were not traditionally part of Chinese cuisine, the cookies provided Americans an after meal treat with an unusual flair.
Early fortunes included Biblical sayings, or quotes from Confucius, Aesop and even Ben Franklin. Later, fortunes included lottery numbers, smiley faces, jokes, and sage, if trivial advice.
Fortune cookies were originally made by hand using a chopstick. In 1964, Edward Louie of San Francisco’s Lotus Fortune Cookie Company, automated the process by creating a machine that folds the dough and slips in the fortune. Today, the world’s largest fortune cookie manufacturer, Wonton Food Inc. of Long Island CIty, Queens ships out 60 million cookies a month.
What’s your favorite fortune cookie saying? Have you ever had a fortune come true?
During World War II, Shanghai became one of the very few places in the world that would accept European Jews fleeing from the Nazis without documentation. From Germany and Austria alone, 20,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai beginning in 1938. “The main thing was to get out of Germany, and really at this point, people did not care where we went, anywhere just to get away from Germany” was what Ernest Heppner recalled about fleeing his homeland and escaping to Shanghai with his mother in 1939.Although the well-established Sephardic community prepared a social service system to aid the refugees, Shanghai was still a huge culture shock. Refugees who came to Shanghai on a European liner and served breakfast, now found themselves waiting on a line in a soup kitchen. They were very poor and jobs were hard to find. As time went on, many started to adapt. Some launched small cafes, shops, or small factories; others worked as doctors or architects. The Heppners opened up a place called Café Louis, which became a popular spot for the refugees to gather. The refugees developed their own little area called “Little Vienna” due to the cluster of European restaurants and shops.They dealt with rumors of being deported without warning. They combated diseases by soaking fruits in chemicals before eating. Bathing was an extravagance as hot water could only be bought in stores. Dormitories were filled over capacity and everyone shared a single washroom. Living situations weren’t the only thing; disease was an enormous problem. By the end of 1939, scarlet fever killed well over 100 people in shelters; and by the end of 1944, hunger and infection killed about 1,000 of the Jewish population.Even though they managed, it still wasn’t a glamorous lifestyle for the German and Austrian Jews. “The conditions in Shanghai were terrible, but it wasn’t Auschwitz,” said Ingrid Wilmot, a survivor of the hard times.Most survivors left China in the late 1940s; and they refrained from talking much about the experience. China recently opened the Shanghai Jewish Museum to honor their history.Resources:http://www.jewishtimesasia.org/shanghai/262-shanghai-communities/46-shanghai-china-jewish-communityhttp://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007091http://articles.latimes.com/1997/jul/15/news/mn-12725http://www.shanghaijews.org.cn/english/
“Double Happiness” is a popular Chinese character. The symbol is a favorite sign that represents love, happiness and good luck. Prominently displayed at weddings,, you can find it everywhere – invitations, the cake, table decorations and even wrapping paper! It’s often represented in paper cut outs as well as on red pieces of paper. Like many facets of Chinese culture, there’s a tale behind its origins.
During the ancient Tang Dynasty, a young boy was travelling towards the capital to attend a national final exam. If he did well, he would be selected as a minister in the courts. On the way to his exam he suddenly fell ill and was taken into a house where an herbalist and his daughter lived. The boy recovered quickly with the herbs that the herbalist and his daughter had given him.
While there, he had fell very much in love with the herbalist’s daughter. When he left, the herbalist’s daughter wrote part of a couplet for the young boy: “Green trees against the sky in the spring rain while the sky set off the spring trees in the obscuration.” He promised to come back to her after his examination.
The boy took the exam and passed. He received the highest score! The emperor then tested and interviewed the winners. The boy was asked to finish a couplet, which needed a right part to finish. As the emperor wrote “Red flowers dot the land in the breeze’s chase while the land colored up in red after the kiss.” The boy realized that the herbalist’s daughter’s part fit ideally with this. Without hesitation, the boy answered with the girl’s couplet. The pleased emperor made the young boy the minister of the court. As part of the reward, the emperor allowed the boy to visit his hometown before assuming office. The boy then met with the girl and told her the emperor’s couplet. They then married.
On their wedding day, the couple both doubled the Chinese character of happy to express their delight. From then on, it became a social custom.
What are the symbols in your life that represent happiness?
Chinese Wedding: The Bride
The Chinese marriage is a revered ceremony. The traditional event signifies the transition from childhood to adulthood. The Chinese wedding dress one of the most important elements. A “good luck woman” attends the preparation of the bride and speaks words of wisdom to her.
The style of the bridal dress varies in each region, but always includes the color red, which symbolizes good luck and guards against evil spirits. It also indicates prosperity, joy and love. You’ll rarely see dark colors as they denote sorrow and grief in the Chinese tradition.
Depending on the region, it can either be one or two pieces. If you are a Chinese bride living in the North, you wear what it is called a “qi pao” or “cheongsam”, which is a form fitting, long, one-piece garment embroidered with elaborate gold and silver designs. If you are a Chinese bride living in the South, you wear what is called a “hung qua”, which is a two-piece garment that consists of a long decorative jacket over a long embroidered skirt also elaborately decorated with the golden phoenix and dragon.
In extravagant situations, the bride wears a crown-like headdress, often made of silver and decorated with pearls and feathers. This adornment may also feature a red silk veil which covers the bride’s face as she makes the transition coming from her family’s home to her husband’s home. In the previous generations, the bride would wear this veil to cover her face for the entire ceremony. The newlyweds do not see each other until the night of their wedding.
Before the wedding, the bride bathes in water infused with pomelo or pomegranate leaves. The Good Luck Lady performs the hair combing ceremony, known as “shutou” to further bless the bride with luck for a bountiful union.The four bridal comb blessings include: (1) First combing ensures that bride and groom will be together all their lives, (2) Second combing brings harmony to the marriage, (3) Third combing blesses the couple with many children and grandchildren, (4) Fourth combing is a blessing for longevity.
What cultural traditions do you like to include in your wedding?
Until next time,
Jewish Refugees of Shanghai during WW II
- Jewish “Little Vienna” neighborhood in Shanghai, circa 1930s (Courtesy of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum)
I’m a woman of Chinese heritage who converted to Judaism after a long personal and soul-examining journey. The connection had surprised even me. So much so, that I searched for a link that would tie these two seemingly different cultures together. In an unusual discovery, I found there was a historical connection: World War II.
Young Jewish Refugee surrounded by Chinese friends (Courtesy of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum)
From the early 1930s to mid-1940s, approximately 20,000 stateless Jewish refugees fled Hitler’s wrath and horrific Nazi persecution to one of the few places that would accept them without the required and hard-to- obtain immigration visa – Shanghai. This fascinating and little-known past had me captivated –I had to learn more.
Serendipitously, I discovered a Jewish Tour of China, being led by Professor Xu Xin of Nanjing University. It turned out that Professor Xu Xin is one of the premiere experts on Jewish history in China. So in 2003 I traveled with him and a small group through China and Shanghai.
The highlight of the trip for me was of course our time in Shanghai. Here we visited the Hongkew District, walked along the Bund, where many of the buildings of the 1930s still stand, and the longtangs where the Chinese resided and operated their businesses. We also went to the synagogue frequented by the WWII Jewish population. Here I met the elderly Chinese caretaker who was there during those times. I felt a bridge to the people who fascinated me so.
The intermingling of cultures here has and continues to be a source of inspiration for me, so much so that I wrote the recently published novel, Shanghai Love.
Who would have known that it would’ve caused such attention about the subject? I’ve been inundated with questions about the history, the people and cultures. Happily surprised and with so much rich material to share, I’ll explore these and other related topics here in my blog.
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And please comment and let me know your thoughts and connections. I look forward to hearing from you!
Until next time,