Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Old Chinese Superstitions

"There are a number of things that many people avoid doing during Ghost Month, including not whistling — especially after dark — as whistling is thought to attract evil spirits and once they have been lured, they could follow the person around for a long time, bringing ill fortune."
That puts me in a culturally awkward position as I have six dogs, all of whom need to be walked morning, afternoon and evening (it goes dark here after about 6.30pm in summer). Whistling is one of my most often used ways of signalling to my dogs and of exercising a psychological restraint over their behaviour.

My solution: ignore the taboo.

Traditional Chinese culture is all around me, and I put up with it, tolerate it and sometimes indulge it for the practical reason of not getting involved in unnecessary arguments. Much of it is, however, a pre-rational collection of superstitious nonsense that should not be taken seriously. What needs to be taken seriously are the threats to the health of my dogs - traffic, old people and bacteria in rotten food thrown away in the park - and these are the things I get my dogs to avoid, initially by whistling to get their attention.

It is often said that immigrants should not criticize their host culture; I think there is some practical sense to this in terms of avoiding unnecessary conflicts, but this rule should be circumscribed by reflection on a counterfactual question: where would the Taiwanese (and Chinese) people be today had they not had the benefits of contact and trade with the west?

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