THE superstitious beliefs and observances of the Chinese are numberless, and they occupy more or less the time and mind of every individual in the nation. Those here recorded are common among the people near Swatow. I am unable to say how many of them are purely local.
When a child is just one month old, the mother, carrying it in a scarf on her back, induces it to look down into a well. This is supposed to have a mentally invigorating effect, producing courage, and deepening the understanding.
A mother feeds her young infant from a cup rather than from a bowl or plate, because a bowl, being capacious, has an occult influence in making the child a large eater; while a plate, being shallow, causes him to throw up his food on slight provocation. The cup, being small and deep, insures his taking but little food, and keeping it for assimilation.
When a child becomes ill, the mother gathers thorns from twelve species of plants and makes an infusion in which she washes the child, hoping to wash the disease, with the demon that produces it, into the water. She then carries the water to an open space where many people go to and fro, and there throws it upon the ground. As she goes from her own house, the inhabitants of the streets she traverses shut their doors, to prevent the disease from entering their abodes. A woman of my acquaintance recently told me that, having no fear of demons, she did not shut her door when a neighbor passed her house carrying water in which a child having fever and ague had just been washed, and the very next day she herself had chills I
If a child falls from a high place to the ground, spirit-money is immediately burned upon the spot by the mother, to propitiate the demon who is trying to pull the child down to destruction.
When a child has fallen, there is danger that he may have left his twelve wits in the earth on which he fell, so the mother at once makes with her empty hand the motion of dipping from the ground to the child's chest. Thus she replaces in the child what might otherwise be permanently lost in the soil. If a man falls into a cesspool or well, a long-handled dipper is used to dip out and restore to his bosom his scattered senses; then three sheets of spirit-money are thrown burning into the well, and a heavy stone is cast after it.
It is unlucky to leave much hair on a boy's head when he is old enough to wear a queue; therefore the head should be shaved so as to leave but a small patch on the crown. Abundant hair is symbolic of a burden on the head, and a heavy queue may soon bring the care of the family upon the boy through the death of his father.