Episode 215: Clipping Fortune

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As growing up, I often heard the words ”do like this” or “don’t do like that” because this is the tradition or because the old generations said so. I respect cultures and traditions not all though and for a culture lasted for thousands of years, I feel like asking the questions when and how this so-called tradition started and why we need to follow them. Everything is built on stories and you can decide what to believe or not.

Maybe it sounds a little serious to start with. Let’s talk about a tradition in Chinese folklore and you would told by the old generations that “don’t clip nails at night.” Today we will talk about where the saying is from.




In the book BeiHuLu 北户录 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝 from around the year 871, it says the kind of birds Xiu Liu (一声,二声) 鸺鹠, which is called pygmy owls in English never show up during the day while their sight is extremely well during the nights. If people clip nails and the nails fall on the ground, the pygmy owls would pick them up at nights. The pygmy owls could tell fortune by checking the nails. If it shows bad luck, the owls would howl.




In the book from the same dynasty, it says pygmy owls appear during nights and like to eat nails to tell fortune. If bad things would happen, they would haul on the roof. That’s why people buried the nails after clipping to avoid this.

Nowadays, only the saying that do not clip nails at nights stays and forget why.



北户录 BeiHuLu

岭表录异 LingBiaoLuYi

Episode 214: Wish Regret

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There is a saying in English called be careful what you wish for. I really like it and think it has some eastern philosophy in it. It is hard to tell a thing is good or bad. When you gain something, you might sacrifice something else even you can’t tell from the moment.

Today we will tell a story of be careful what you wish for especially when you in a temple. The story is from the book In Search of the Sacred 搜神记from the Jin dynasty 晋代 around the year 350.

In the book, it says during the reign of Emperor Cheng of Jin 晋成帝, between the year 335 ~ 342, three young men from the powerful families visited JiangShan temple 蒋山庙, where the statue of Jiang Ziwen 蒋子文 is worshiped. Jiang Ziwen was an official from the Easter Han dynasty 东汉 and the worshiping him after his death was popular before the 6th century. We will talk more about him in the future.




There are a few statues of women in the temple , beautifully made. These three rich young men were a little bit drunk and pointed the statues making comments like they are their maids and math themselves with the women.

That night, three of them all had a dream that Jiang Ziwen sent people to inform them saying, “my children are pretty ugly (this is a humble and polite way to speak in Chinese culture), but I am flattered you don’t mind and requested the match. The marriage date is chosen. We will welcome you at XX date for the ceremony. ” Waking up, the three young men felt weird and asked each other and found out they had the exact same dream. They freaked out and prepared sacrifice to beg for forgiveness in the temple.




After they went back, they had another dream. Jiang Ziwen came to them and said, “sir you already came to us and asked for the match. I don’t want to ruin the marriages and the date is settled. How can you regret?” Not too long, three young men all died.



搜神记 In Search of the Sacred

Episode 213 :The Year Of Disasters

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It is just the February of the year 2020 but it seems has been a long time. A lot of things happened including the corona virus outbreak in China. It is always painful to see people suffer no matter where and no matter how in this world.

There is a so called curse that Chinese people talk about that the year of GengZi 庚子 is always hard to get through. Disasters will happen caused by nature or human every 60 years. Unfortunately, this year is the year of GengZi.

GengZi is a term from GanZhi 干支 or sexagenary cycle that we mentioned in Ep 207, a cycle of 60 terms, used for reckoning time in China. The 60 terms is a combination of a heavenly stem 天干 and a earthly branch 地支. There are ten heavenly stems: jia 甲 yi 乙 bing 丙 ding 丁 wu 戊 ji 己 geng 庚 xin辛 ren 壬 gui癸. There are 12 earthly branches: zi 子 chou 丑 yin 寅 mao卯 chen辰 si巳 wu午 wei未 shen申 you酉 xu戌 hai亥. The first term JiaZi 甲子 combines the first heavenly stem and the first earthly branch. The second term YiChou 乙丑 combines the second stem and and second branch and so on. The year with the same 干支 happens every 60 years.




This year 2020 is the year of 庚子 and in FengShui 风水, it is not a lucky sign. This year China is suffer from the corona virus.




60 years ago, during the year 1959 ~1961, the Great Chinese Famine happened and estimates of deaths due to starvation range in the tens of millions. This is most due to the Great Leap Forward campaign contributed to Mao Zedong.

Another 60 years ago, in the year 1900, the Siege of the the International Legations occurred in Being, the capital of the Qing dynasty 清朝. The Eight-Nation Alliance includes British Empire, Russia, France, Japan, Germany, United States, Italy and Austria- Hungary joined by Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. These great powers had forced China to allow the import of opium later causing widespread addiction, defeated China in wars, asserted a right to promote Christianity and imposed unequal treaties.




Another 60 years ago, between the year 1839 ~1842, the First Opium War happened, which was a series a military fought between the Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China. The war ended in the signing of China’s first unequal treaty, the Treaty of Nanking 南京条约.




A lot of things have happened in other parts of the world as well. In 1900, there was the Indian famine that affected millions of people. The second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and the South African Republic. A varieties of strikes went on in the Europe and U.S. In 1960, the year of Africa of the independence of 17 African nations. The same year, the most powerful earthquake in recorded history, magnitude 9.5 struck Chile.

Maybe for some of you who are listening, these all sound far from your life or sounds like words from history book. This year just begins and there will be another 60 years and another in the future. Anything can happen anywhere. Is this curse of year of GengZi real? Maybe. We can’t control the natural disasters but we could try to reduce disasters caused by us including wars, massacre, tyranny, pollution. No matter where you are and who you are, wish you all can get through life and have the faith to live.

Episode 212: Chicken Master

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Today we will tell a story from the book called YouMingLu 幽明录 from the Southern dynasty 南朝 between the year 420 ~ 479. It is written by the same author named Liu Yiqing 刘义庆of the book A New Account of the Talks of the World 世说 新语 that we also talked about before. I found it interesting the latter book is about historical mostly fictional anecdotes of people lived in the Han dynasty 汉朝 and Wei-Jin periods 魏晋, while the first book contains stories of a total different world of absurd that build on the real. And the whole book of YouMingLu is lost. We can only find some pieces from the book from quotations from other books, which makes it more absurd.

We have talked about a few stories from this book like the swapping feet story from episode 203 and the big cricket story from episode 204.

Today we will talk about a story about chicken master. In the book, it says, there was an official named Song Chuzong 宋处宗 who bought a rooster that crowed. Zong Chuzong loved it so much and raised it as a pet. He put the cage right next to his window and talked with rooster. Day after day, the rooster could talk and have conversations with Song Zhuzong. They talked everyday from day to night about Taoism, and debate on philosophy and the universe. Thanks to the rooster, Song Chuzong’s talking and debating skills improved a lot.




There is a Chinese word not used very often today called JiTan 鸡谈, literally means chicken talk or TanJi 谈鸡, talking chicken, which refer to people that are inspiring in terms of wisdom. Since during the Wei-Jin periods 魏晋 where the story took place, Qingtan 清谈, meaning witty conversations or debates about metaphysics, philosophy and Taoism were popular especially among the scholars. This happened between the rooster and the person. So the words JiTan 鸡谈 chicken talk or TanJi 谈鸡 also refer to those kinds of conversations like Qingtan.




I found this story really interesting that I don’t know what the original intentions of the author. The person was improved and inspired by the rooster instead of the other way around. He taught the rooster to talk, but got much more from the rooster.



幽明录 YouMingLu

世说新语 A New Account of the Talks of the World

Episode 211: Ancient Chinese Jokes 8 – Flatter And Humbleness

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Laugh is a world language. People from different cultures all have jokes and today we will continue the series in our podcast about ancient Chinese jokes and hope you can laugh or smile about it.

One of the most famous book of jokes is called XiaoFu 笑府 by the author Feng Menglong 冯梦龙, who was a Chinese writer and poet of the Ming dynasty, between the year 1574 ~ 1646. Today we will tell two jokes about flatter and being humble.




The first joke says, two people met on the road. Person A like to flatter people and person is always being humble. Person B accidentally fell on the slippery rainy ground. Person A helped him get up and said, “the way you fell was so graceful. Nobody else could do it.” Person B replied, “thank you! I am not as good felling on the ground as you are.”

The second joke is always about two people. Person A like to flatter people and person is always being humble. Person A asked, “what’s your last name?” Person B was being humble, “no no. I am too naive and young to deserve a last name.” Person A said, “everyone has a last name.” Person B said, “the most tiny unremarkable last name of all. ” “What is it?” “Zhang” Person B finally replied. Person A said, “oh so your dad’s last name is also Zhang?” Person B said, “yes also Zhang.” Person A said, “wonderful! Wonderful! What an coincidence that the whole family all have the last name Zhang! ”



笑府 XiaoFu