Grabbing the future

Tomorrow is my younger grandson’s 1st birthday, a time for fun and rejoicing at having Arlo 1this special little chap in our family.  Alas, because we live in China and he lives in India, we will not be with him on this special occasion. However, cards and gifts have been sent, and with luck we will have some skype-time to wish him a very Happy Birthday, and to sing ‘Zhu ni shengri kuaile!’

Here in China an infant’s first birthday is celebrated with an old custom zhuāzhōu  (抓周) which roughly translates as ‘the one year old grab’. An informal party is held for friends and relations and the parents/grandparents set out a number of small items on a mat or tray, and then the infant is placed in front of it. Everyone watches to see which will be the first item the child picks up without any encouragement from family and friends. This item will indicate their future path in life.

Zhuazhou 4

Whilst this completely random method of career planning was taken fairly seriously in the past, nowadays it is just regarded as an enjoyable ceremony  – though who knows, many a parent may harbour the wish that it really will predict the future.

Sun Quan

Emperor Sun Quan of Wu

Zhuāzhōu ceremonies began way back (as everything does in China) during the Three Kingdoms period.  Legend has it that after the death of Prince Sun He of the Eastern Wu Kingdom, Sun He‘s father the Emperor Sun Quan was undecided as to which of his grandsons should succeed him; a courtier suggested that the Emperor place a few items on a tray and ask each of his grandsons to pick something. Sun Hao grabbed a bamboo slip (an ancient form of Chinese paper) in one hand, and an imperial belt (symbolizing royal power) in the other . These were thought to be such auspicious choices that he should be chosen as the next Emperor, and so he was.  Actually it turned into a bad method for choosing an heir as Sun Hao is on the list of  Top 10 Insane Chinese Emperors!

Zhuazhou 3

The items laid out for the infant to select from were usually things such as a small knife, an abacus, some coins, a book, a calligrapher’s brush – the idea being that if a child picked up the knife he would be a soldier, the book indicated a scholar, the brush meant he would be an artist, the abacus an accountant etc. – you get the idea.  Today the items might well include a computer mouse, a cell phone,  a toy stethoscope, a ball, a toy car or plane, a toy drum or kazoo.  Girls will get slightly different things laid out, such as a comb, a shoe, a spoon, , or even a lipstick in addition to the other things but usually omitting any weaponry.             Zhuazhou 2                                                                                                                                                                    I was puzzled by two items that are frequently included in the zhuāzhōu selection, namely a piece of celery and a spring onion (scallion). Then a friend explained to me that they are there because the word for spring onion (ng) and the word for ‘intelligence’ ( cōng) sound exactly alike, so the one represents the other positive virtue on the tray.  Likewise with celery ( qín) which sounds exactly the same as the word for ‘industrious’ (n).  The Chinese do love their homonyms!Zhuazhou 6

There is a wonderful display of ancient zhuāzhōu trays in the Capital Museum here in Beijing, together with pictures and models of children making their selections, it is well worth a visit if you are in BJ.

So if I were with my darling  grandson tomorrow I would be setting out a zhuāzhōu tray for him, and watching like a hawk to see what his future might be!



About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
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1 Response to Grabbing the future

  1. Delia Charton says:

    I think that’s rather a lovely idea!….even if it IS just a bit of fun!! Happy, happy birthday to Angus and I know his incredibly organized GranJo (?) will have something original & exciting waiting for him to open tomorrow!

    How’re ye, Jo?! I hear they have been having the most awful heatwave in India…..didn’t hear where though…..with temps reaching 48 degrees! Ouch!

    It’s Di’s birthday today and I took her to the St Petersburg Ballet production of Swan Lake last night which was just thrilling! We’ve been to-ing and fro-ing from Hermanus recently, which has been especially good for Bully as his life resumes after weeks of running the household and “nursing” me!! At the beginning of June, Hermanus has a Fynarts Fees, which has become rather successful! We have booked to go to a performance of The Last Night of the Proms on the Sunday night conducted by Richard Cock who is brilliant with audience participation. And I have booked for a few lectures during the week while Bully is probably on the golf course! Norma has taken some time off to come and stay ( though she says things are VERY quiet….its that time of year), so I think we’ll have some fun together. Have a look at the website!

    Otherwise, my foot is slowly coming along…..slowness is really the operative word! I am able to remove the boot and drive now, though I still use at least one crutch, which has made a big difference to life, though my foot starts needing to rest after being on it continuously for about 30 minutes, which is not really satisfactory for serious retail therapy!

    Anyway, we think of you often… did your evening (?) go with Catherine (?), daughter of friend of Celeste??

    Better get my a into g now……lots and lots of love, Jo!xxx

    Delia Charton “Poplar Grove” 6, The Valley Close Constantia 7806 W. Cape South Africa

    271, Main Road Eastcliffe Hermanus 7200


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