73 Folk Taboos In Chinese Culture

73 Folk Taboos In Chinese Culture

Chinese folk taboos are cultural phenomena deeply rooted in traditional culture, involving aspects of daily behavior, festival customs, housing layout, and interpersonal interactions. In daily behavior, people avoid using inauspicious words like "death" or "illness," as well as certain numbers and actions. During festivals, such as the taboo against sweeping the floor or doing needlework on the first day of the Lunar New Year, or the custom of women refraining from visiting graves during the Qingming Festival if they are menstruating. In terms of housing layout, there are taboos regarding thresholds and considerations for the orientation and layout of houses. In interpersonal interactions, there are many taboos around gift-giving and hosting guests. These taboos generally stem from accumulated experience and a fear of the unknown. They regulate people's behavior to a certain extent and promote social harmony. As times progress, some unreasonable taboos are gradually being discarded. While understanding and respecting these taboos, we should also maintain a rational and scientific attitude to better inherit and develop the fine traditional Chinese culture.


list of folk taboo in china

In the ancient and mysterious land of China, numerous traditional taboos have been passed down through generations, like unwritten chapters of history that record people's reverence for life and their hopes and wishes. These taboos, some rooted in ancient beliefs and others in practical experiences, collectively form the rich and colorful tapestry of Chinese folk culture. Here are seventy-two widely known traditional taboos, each imbued with profound cultural significance and practical wisdom.


Do not kill a snake that enters your house:

In folk beliefs, snakes are seen as guardians of the home, especially house snakes, which are believed to bring good fortune and peace. Therefore, if a snake enters a house, people usually guide it out rather than harm it to maintain harmony and good luck in the home.


One person should not enter a temple alone; two people should not look into a well together; three people should not embrace a tree together:

These taboos are based on safety concerns. A lone person entering a temple might encounter danger; two people looking into a well could result in one falling and the other being suspected of wrongdoing; three people embracing a tree might lead to disputes or accidents.


Swallows do not enter poor households, and house cats should not be in mourning halls:

Swallows are considered auspicious birds, and they avoid nesting in poor or unlucky homes. Cats are believed to sense death, so they are kept away from mourning halls to avoid bad omens.


Divorced women should not make dowries:

This taboo reflects the wish for a happy marriage. It is believed that a divorced woman making a dowry might bring bad luck or increase the risk of divorce for the newlyweds.


Pregnant women should not eat soft-shelled turtles:

Soft-shelled turtles are considered cold foods, which might harm the fetus. Thus, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating them for the health of both mother and child.


Avoid saying inauspicious words when a sow is giving birth:

During a sow’s labor, people believe that saying auspicious words can bring good luck and ensure a smooth delivery, whereas inauspicious words might bring misfortune or complications.


People with conflicting zodiac signs should not marry:

In traditional Chinese marriage customs, zodiac conflicts are seen as bad omens for marital happiness. Therefore, people often avoid marrying someone with a conflicting zodiac sign to prevent a life of quarrels and discord.


Women should not visit graves during their menstrual period:

This taboo is based on the special nature of a woman's menstrual cycle. Visiting graves during this time is seen as disrespectful to ancestors.


Do not stand or lean against the doorway of someone’s house for too long:

This reflects respect for others’ privacy and space. Standing or leaning at the doorway might be seen as impolite or intrusive.


Do not finish eating all the fish on Chinese New Year’s Eve:

This custom symbolizes "yearly surplus," hoping for abundance in the coming year. Leaving some fish expresses a wish for prosperity in the future.


Do not urinate on bridges at night:

This taboo is for safety. Urinating on a bridge at night might lead to accidents, such as slipping or falling into the water, and is also considered uncivilized.


Do not look in mirrors or comb your hair at midnight:

This stems from the fear of ghosts and spirits. It is believed that midnight is a time when the yin and yang intersect, and looking in mirrors or combing hair might attract unclean entities.


Do not place your bed directly opposite the door in the bedroom:

This taboo protects privacy and safety. Having the bed face the door can make one feel uneasy, fearing intrusion or being watched.


Do not open umbrellas indoors:

This taboo aims to maintain household harmony. Opening an umbrella indoors is considered unlucky, especially black or white umbrellas, which are associated with death and misfortune.


Do not ride a pig; riding a pig to marry will bring snow:

This taboo is both humorous and superstitious. Riding a pig is seen as an unlucky act, and the saying that "riding a pig to marry will bring snow" is a playful superstition without scientific basis.


Do not give pears when visiting the sick:

The word for pear (梨, lí) sounds like "leave" (离, lí), which is considered unlucky. Giving pears might imply wishing the patient to leave the hospital or not recover.


Do not stick chopsticks upright in rice while eating:

Sticking chopsticks upright resembles the incense sticks used in offerings, which is seen as inauspicious or offensive to deities.


Avoid pregnant women when starting a trip early in the morning:

This taboo is for the protection of pregnant women and the fetus. It is believed that encountering a pregnant woman at the start of a journey might bring bad luck, and it is better to avoid them for their own health and peace.


If an owl enters your house, it brings bad news:

Owls (night owls) are considered inauspicious birds, and their presence is often thought to foretell bad events.


Do not put up red couplets during the first Spring Festival after a funeral:

After a funeral, to show respect and mourning, people avoid putting up red couplets, adhering to traditional mourning practices.


Dreaming of losing teeth is an omen of family death:

This superstition holds that losing teeth in a dream is a sign of imminent death in the family, though it has no scientific basis.


If a jade pendant breaks twice in a row, stop wearing it:

This reflects the value and respect for jade. Breaking twice is seen as an unlucky sign, so it is better to stop wearing it.


The poor should not change their house, and the rich should not relocate ancestral graves:

This reflects respect for tradition and family. The poor avoid expensive house changes, and the rich do not disturb ancestral graves to ensure stability and respect.


Do not pick up clothes found on the road:

This taboo is due to fear of the unknown and potential danger. Clothes found on the road might carry bad luck or disease, so they are best left alone.




Do not sweep the floor or sew on the first day of the Lunar New Year:

This custom symbolizes a desire for a leisurely and prosperous new year. Sweeping the floor on the first day might sweep away good fortune, and sewing might "pierce" the luck of the new year.


Children should not have their hair cut during the first lunar month, as it is believed to bring bad luck to their uncles:

This taboo originates from the saying "cutting hair in the first month kills uncles." Although there is no scientific basis for this belief, it is still observed in some regions.


Do not venture alone into deep mountains where there are no insect sounds:

This taboo emphasizes safety. Mountains without insect sounds might hide dangers or unknown creatures, and going alone could result in accidents.


Do not catch pheasants going down the mountain or chase rabbits going up the mountain:

This is based on an understanding of animal behavior. Pheasants going down the mountain might be fleeing danger, and chasing them could be risky; rabbits going up the mountain are more agile and harder to catch.


It is better to spend the night at a graveyard than to pass through an abandoned house alone:

This taboo reflects fear of the unknown and potential dangers. Abandoned houses might hide ominous things or dangers, while spending the night at a graveyard, though scary, might be safer.


Do not serve three dishes, use five chopsticks, or have six people at a table:

These taboos are based on etiquette and auspiciousness. Serving three dishes might seem insubstantial; using five chopsticks resembles a sacrificial setting; having six people at a table forms a "turtle table," which has negative connotations.


Even in poverty, do not sell your guard dog; even in wealth, do not sell your plow ox:

This saying respects loyalty and hard work. The guard dog is a family protector and should not be sold even in poverty; the plow ox is crucial for farming and should not be sold even in wealth.


Kicking a widow's door or digging up the grave of a family without descendants:

These actions are considered extremely immoral, seen as great insults and harm to widows and families without descendants. Such behavior is considered very vile in traditional culture.


Father and son should not travel together by boat; alcohol leads to immoral behavior:

Father and son traveling together by boat might both encounter danger; "alcohol leads to immoral behavior" warns that drinking can lead to losing rationality and behaving unethically.


Moving far away leads to three years of poverty; moving nearby leads to three days of poverty:

This saying reflects concerns about the inconveniences and losses of moving. Moving far requires more time and money, potentially leading to three years of poverty; moving nearby, while less costly, might still cause three days of disarray and poverty.


A poor person should avoid traveling by water, and a rich person should avoid promiscuity:

This saying advises against risky behavior for the poor, as traveling by water might result in danger and failure; for the rich, it advises against promiscuity, which can lead to family and career decline.


Starve rather than enter a radish garden; die of poverty rather than farm in-law's land:

Entering a radish garden might provide food but could cause discomfort if consumed in large quantities; farming in-law's land might be seen as losing self-respect and independence, preferring to maintain dignity.


Drying rice grains is better than drying polished rice:

This reflects valuing and respecting grains. Drying rice grains preserves them longer, while drying polished rice is prone to loss and spoilage, making it less economical.



"Better to try on a coffin than to try on someone else's shoes":

In ancient times, trying on a coffin was seen as a sign of respect for the deceased, while trying on someone else's shoes was considered disrespectful, as shoes are closely tied to personal identity and status, and trying them on might invade someone's personal space or dignity.


"There are four things you should never lend: sharp tools, walking sticks, medicine, and baby seats":

   Sharp tools symbolize danger and could cause accidents; walking sticks are items of dependence and their absence might cause inconvenience; medicine is crucial for health and lending it could delay treatment; baby seats are related to infant safety and should not be lent out casually.


"When returning to her parents' home, a daughter and her husband should sleep in separate beds. Likewise, a married couple visiting someone else's home should sleep in separate beds":

This is out of respect for traditional etiquette and to avoid causing inconvenience or awkwardness for others.


"Not afraid of a non-venomous snake biting your hand, but afraid of it biting the tiger's mouth":

This means that even seemingly harmless situations can have serious consequences, especially when involving important or sensitive areas.


"Greed for alcohol ignores others, greed for sex ignores oneself, greed for money ignores kin":

 This warns people to restrain their desires and not harm others or themselves due to greed.


 "Better to marry a reformed woman than an adulterous wife":

 This emphasizes the importance of virtue and loyalty in choosing a partner, avoiding those with a history of bad behavior or infidelity.


"If you feel a sudden chill on your back while walking alone on a mountain or at night, try to avoid that area":

This is a supernatural belief that a sudden chill might be an ominous sign, and avoiding the area might prevent misfortune.


"No matter how good your swimming skills are, do not swim alone in deserted ponds":

This stresses the importance of safety, even for skilled swimmers, and advises against the risk of swimming alone.


"When visiting someone else's home or a grave, do not eat the offerings":

This shows respect and etiquette, as eating the offerings is seen as disrespectful and greedy.


"Bring clothes that have been dried outdoors back inside before it gets dark":

This is for safety and hygiene, preventing clothes from being stolen or contaminated by nighttime dew.


"Do not burn or horizontally cut clothes":

This respects tradition and beliefs, thinking that burning or cutting clothes might bring bad luck or misfortune.


"A married woman should not return to her parents' home on the first day of the Lunar New Year":

This is a traditional custom, believing that returning on this day might bring bad luck or misfortune to her parents' home.


"Unmarried people should not carry coffins, and those whose zodiac signs clash with the deceased should avoid coffin-related activities":

This respects funeral etiquette and traditions, avoiding involvement of unmarried people or those with clashing zodiac signs to prevent bad luck or misfortune.


"Do not reveal your exact birthdate and time to strangers":

This is for personal privacy and safety, preventing misuse of one's birthdate and time for harmful purposes.


"Do not step on discarded medicinal residue, as it is considered unlucky":

This is a superstitious belief that stepping on medicinal residue might bring illness or bad luck.


"Unused mirrors should not be covered with objects":

This respects traditional beliefs, thinking that covering mirrors might bring misfortune or eerie occurrences.


"Men wear Guanyin, women wear Buddha; do not mix them up":

This is based on traditional beliefs and customs, thinking that different protective amulets bring different blessings and protection for men and women.


"People fear 'three long and two short,' incense fears 'two short and one long'":

This is a superstitious belief that "three long and two short" may indicate a person's misfortune, while "two short and one long" incense may indicate bad omens.


"Do not whistle while walking alone at night":

This is for safety and traditional beliefs, thinking that whistling might attract misfortune or unnecessary trouble.


"Women should not offer incense during their menstrual period":

 This is a traditional belief, thinking that women offering incense during menstruation might bring impurity or bad luck.


"Sanitary pads should not be borrowed, but can be given away":

This is for personal hygiene and privacy, thinking that sanitary pads are intimate items not to be lent out but can be given as a gift.


"Elders should not sleep in the daughter-in-law's bed":

This respects family ethics and traditions, thinking that elders sleeping in the daughter-in-law's bed might cause family disputes or misfortune.


"Do not plant mulberry trees in the front yard, willows in the back yard, or clapping trees in the yard":

This is a traditional feng shui belief, thinking that certain plants might bring bad luck or misfortune.


"When building a house in the countryside, let the green dragon rise high, but do not let the white tiger raise its head":

This is based on feng shui principles, thinking that the layout of the house should follow specific rules to ensure auspiciousness and peace.


"Do not pick up the clothes of a deceased elder":

 This respects the deceased and traditional beliefs, thinking that picking up the clothes of a deceased elder might bring bad luck or misfortune.


"Eggshells left by a woman in confinement should be discarded at a crossroads":

This is a traditional custom, thinking that discarding eggshells at a crossroads can take away misfortune or illness.


"Do not walk under drying women's underwear, as it might bring bad luck":

This is a superstitious belief, thinking that walking under drying women's underwear might bring bad luck or misfortune.


"Do not sweep the floor when there are guests":

This is for respect and etiquette, thinking that sweeping in front of guests might be seen as disrespectful or a sign of wanting them to leave.


"Do not point at Buddha statues with your finger, as it is very disrespectful":

This respects Buddhist beliefs, thinking that pointing at Buddha statues might be seen as disrespectful or offensive.


"The first lunar month has many taboos: do not go out on the seventh (初七), do not return on the eighth (初八), and conduct business on the ninth (上九)":

This follows traditional customs and beliefs, thinking that specific dates in the first lunar month should follow specific rules to avoid misfortune or bad luck.


"Do not host elders over 70 for the night, or invite elders over 80 for a meal":

This is out of respect and care for elders, thinking that elders over 70 should not stay overnight at others' homes, and elders over 80 should not accept meal invitations.


"Lending money on the first day of the Lunar New Year means relying on others for the whole year":

This is a superstitious belief, thinking that lending money on the first day might indicate a year of dependence on others.


"Lending money on the first day of the Lunar New Year means a year of financial loss":

This is also a superstitious belief, thinking that lending money on the first day might indicate a year of financial outflow.


"Do not enter abandoned old houses casually":

This is for safety and traditional beliefs, thinking that abandoned old houses might hide dangers or ominous things.


"Avoid breaking ceramics on the first day of the Lunar New Year; if it happens, recite 'peace every year' to ward off bad luck":

This is a traditional custom, thinking that breaking ceramics on the first day might bring misfortune, so reciting a blessing can neutralize it.

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