Among the various taboo that we tend to avoid from time to time, the ones that most people keep a look out for are those associated with death.
You don’t want to have a prominent display item in the living room that actually means death, and you’d probably don’t want to receive a gift that carries this meaning as well.
In every culture, there are going to be items that are symbolic of death. And the Chinese is no exception.
Here are some Chinese symbols of death to take note of.
1) Chinese word
The Chinese character for death is 死 pronounced as si. So this is understandably a word to avoid by default.
While avoidance seems intuitive, it needs to be mentioned as the new generation of youngsters can have an appreciation of negatively associated words because it seems “cool” and “edgy”. Some even tattoo this word on their body.
This niche demand has led to more and more products carrying this character in design.
Just don’t bring this as a gift for an event like housewarming as it just carries all the wrong symbolism.
2) Number 4
The number 4 is generally seen as highly inauspicious by the Chinese because of it’s pronunciation sounding eerily similar to the word death.
It’s not far-fetched at all to suggest that all Chinese is aware of this superstition.
This is even more homonymous when we use Cantonese language diction for the number 4.
Anything with the number 4 is generally avoided in celebrations and festivities due to what it “represents”.
Continuing on the topic of Cantonese, do realize that a huge portion of the population in South China speaks the dialect. Guangdong province and Hong Kong for example natively speak Cantonese.
Hong Kong is also a place famed for it’s feng shui practices.
Natively, it used to be that when melons are mentioned, people are referring to the gourd. But the introduction of other types of melons from the west into the market meant that the blanket term for western melons is 西瓜 (xi gua). Today, this almost always refers to watermelons even though it can also mean winter melons and others.
When spoken in Cantonese the word 西 from 西瓜 sounds exactly like the word for death.
So it is no surprise that melons is a very unthoughtful gift to any Cantonese person.
4) White frangipani
The frangipani flower by itself is strongly linked to the supernatural in various Eastern cultures.
But because white is the color of death in Chinese culture, white frangipanis carries too much negative symbolism for comfort. Especially to seniors and elders.
It is also commonly known as one of the flowers of death.
While expert bird watchers would be able to tell the difference between ravens and crows, most people would be unable to tell the difference between them.
For this reason, ravens are often symbolically compared to crows because people just cannot tell them apart. This is actually wrong as the former is generally considered an auspicious creature.
So the presence of one can be a presage to what it will do when the hour strikes.
6) Date tree
Since we are talking about bad omens, the date tree should be mentioned.
Chinese dates which is more commonly known as jujube in the west is a generally auspicious symbol.
But it is believed that if you dream about a date tree, it conveys the message of early death.
So some might carry that superstition into the physical world.
It is believed that the cicada is associated with life after death and also reincarnation. So the presence of one can be seen by some as a death messenger.
However, this relates to death more in a spiritual sense.