The birth of a child is one of the most celebrated events in one’s life not just in China, but all over the world across multiple cultures.
And it’s not uncommon for festive events to take place to celebrate certain milestones in a child’s life.
Another milestone that is less widespread today compare to centuries ago is the baby’s first birthday.
While most families would hold an event to celebrate this date, it is very significant in ancient Chinese culture as it offers a peek into what the child might become in adulthood.
At 1 year old, it was believed that a child has experienced the world and interactions with people through innocent eyes. And what types of core values that have been implanted into their hearts and minds are believed to have a heavy influence on decisions they make in the future that shapes the life journey they eventually take.
This is not just anecdotal, but actually concurred by various psychologists in modern times.
To get a glimpse of the child’s future, parents conduct what is called the grabbing test (抓周). This is a simple ritual, or game, where items with clear connotations are placed in a basket in front of the baby, and observe which item he or she eventually picks up or walks away with.
This ceremony was even written in ancient text records, especially during the Tang and Song dynasties.
In a book authored by Wu Zimu (吴自牧) titled 梦梁录育子 discusses the intricate details of setting up a chair and objects placed in front of the child for the grabbing test include:
- 4 treasures of the study
What items the child picks up would essentially indicate what kind of person he or she becomes.
For example if the baby picks up the calligraphy brush, it is an indication that he or she would be involved in literary arts as an adult. And if a boy picks up a flower, it can indicate becoming a womanizer when he grows up.
In the books of Song history, it was mentioned that Cao Bin (曹彬) picked up a dagger and ritual stick in his grasping test. Then put them down later and selected the official seal. He later became a warrior in at a high level in official capacity.
Different parts of China might use different items as default items, then add other types of objects. These can include things like:
- Red beans
- Ink stone
This shows that the items used for the grabbing test in the baby’s first year anniversary are just part of the event. The gist of the event is to conduct the grabbing test. And the objects used for the test are very much determined by the parents and culture.
In modern times, you might find parents throw a smart phone and iPad in there somewhere. And you’d know what the baby would pick.