Superstitions That Still Shape the Lives of People in Hong Kong Today (2023)

Superstitions That Still Shape the Lives of People in Hong Kong Today (1)

© David Huang / Culture Trip

People in Hong Kong tend to have a healthy respect for superstition. From lucky numbers to feng shui, here are some of the city’s most common superstitions.

Why is a city like Hong Kong inclined to superstition? One theory suggests that because of the high-risk nature of jobs in the early years of Hong Kong’s rise as a financial powerhouse, many people would look for other ways to boost their odds of success, often drawing on traditional Chinese superstitions.

Red is considered a lucky colour in Chinese culture. While it’s strongly associated with Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings – when it’s a tradition to wear red – many don red attire when they feel they need a little extra luck. This rule extends to underwear, which is good news for anyone wanting to attract good luck in a more subtle way. In fact, the best way to be lucky for the new year is to wear red underwear gifted by friends or family.

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The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Hong Kong, and there are some crucial dos and don’ts that come along with it. On the first day, anything that involves cutting – such as having a haircut or clipping your nails – is a no-go if you want to have good luck in the year to come. Same for cleaning the house and washing hair, although many will still do the latter.

Dos are mostly associated with eating certain foods. Fish is popular as the word sounds like “surplus”, while round food items such as oranges, lotus candy and tangyuan, a dessert made from glutinous rice balls, all symbolise family unity. Flowers are also bought as their bloom represents imminent wealth, and different flowers have different meanings. For example, peach blossom is said to bring about luck in romance. In addition to lucky red, for Chinese New Year, it’s important to wear new clothes.

Superstitions That Still Shape the Lives of People in Hong Kong Today (3)

© David Huang / Culture Trip

Hong Kongers believe certain things should never be given as gifts. Most items with this unfortunate reputation are scorned because the alliteration of their names has connotations with something bad, which in turn means they bear bad omens. Here are some gifts to avoid giving (or receiving):

Clocks: In Cantonese, “to give a clock” is pronounced “song zung”, a phrase that sounds the same as “to prepare for the end”, referring to the rites of paying one’s last respects to a loved one near the end of their life and burying them after they die. Clocks are also solemn reminders that time is running out.

Shoes: The pronunciation of shoes rhymes with “hai” and is considered to be unlucky and unharmonious because of the way it is pronounced.

(Video) How feng shui shaped Hong Kong's skyline

Purse or wallet: This rule only applies to people you are not close to, as it insinuates you are giving your money away.

Sharp objects: Gifting knives and blades is frowned upon, because they are seen to represent a severing of relationships.

Pears: The word “pear” sounds similar to the word for “depart” or “leave”.

Umbrellas: The word for “umbrella” is like the word for “separate”.

Black and white objects: These are the colours of mourning, so black and white objects make for unwelcome gifts.

Four of anything: As explained below, “four” sounds like “death”, so anything that comes in a set of four is a no-no.

Green hats: In Chinese, to “wear a green hat” means “to be cuckolded”.

Feng shui is the Chinese architectural philosophy of organising your surroundings to attract good luck and ward off bad energy. Many superstitious locals decorate their homes with plants and position their furniture according to the principles of feng shui. In addition, many prominent buildings in Hong Kong incorporate feng shui elements. One example is the HSBC headquarters, designed by the renowned architecture studio Fosters + Partners. The escalators inside the building are set at an angle to the main entrance, to prevent evil spirits from entering. Two metal rods installed on top of the building also serve to deflect bad energy from the neighbouring Bank of China Building. In a nod to Chinese culture, the Walt Disney Company even consulted a feng shui expert when they built Hong Kong Disneyland. The theme park’s entrances and attractions are positioned to attract the flow of good qi (energy).

Dragons, the bearers of good fortune and prosperity, are believed to live in the mountains. In another feng shui-inspired architectural choice, many coastal buildings feature rectangular holes that function as passageways for their positive energy to pass through: dragon gates. Prominent buildings with dragon gates include the Repulse Bay residential and commercial arcade, and the Bel-Air Residence.

Superstitions That Still Shape the Lives of People in Hong Kong Today (4)

© David Huang / Culture Trip

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Spending a day at the races is among the most popular things to do in Hong Kong. Before the start of the horse racing season, the Hong Kong Jockey Club hosts a ritual ceremony called Bai Sun at the Sha Tin Racecourse. Joss sticks are burned, offerings of roast suckling pigs are laid out and prayers for a prosperous racing season are offered to the gods.

Superstitions That Still Shape the Lives of People in Hong Kong Today (5)

© David Huang / Culture Trip

The same goes for Hong Kong’s TV and film industries. Before filming begins, a Bai Sun ceremony is often held to attract luck and prosperity. The same goes for many new shops before they open for business, both to pay respect to the gods and to boost chances of success for the new venture.

If you look closely in older neighbourhoods, at the entrance to many buildings you will find a small red plaque and an accompanying pot in which to place joss sticks. This is a doorway spirit tablet – a ritual object dedicated to deities – for Tudigong, the Lord of the Soil and the Ground, who is believed to safeguard and bless the people living on his grounds. Some homes even have their very own Tudigong spirit tablet, or statues of other deities.

It is believed that during the 7th lunar month ghosts come out from the lower realm – the spirit world – and are free to roam the mortal world. During Ghost Month many people avoid renovations in order not to disturb any temporary spirit visitors to the house. The apex of the Ghost Month, The Hungry Ghost Festival, takes place on the fifteenth day, when the gates of the afterlife open. On this day, many pay respects at the graves of their ancestors and make roadside offerings to the ghosts who have not crossed over.

In Cantonese, the word for “four” sounds similar to the word for “death”, so it’s avoided at all costs. In many buildings, floor numbers which include the number are skipped. People avoid gifting things in sets of four, and even prefer phone numbers without the digit four.

Conversely, the number eight is considered auspicious because the word “eight” sounds similar to the word “prosper” – pronounced “faa”. That’s why people prefer addresses and telephone numbers that include the number eight, which can be sold at a much higher price by vendors. Around Chinese New Year, seasonal goods even bear prices featuring the number eight.

In 2016, a car license plate bearing the number 28 was auctioned for a record HK$18.1 million (US$2.3 million), because the numbers “two” and “eight” together sound like “easy fortune” in Cantonese.

Nam Cheah contributed additional reporting to this article.

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(Video) Where do superstitions come from? - Stuart Vyse

FAQs

What are examples of superstitious beliefs? ›

In some countries, Tuesday the 13th is the unlucky day, not Friday the 13th.
...
The Least Religious Countries, Ranked By Perception
  • Mirrors. Another widely-known superstition is that breaking a mirror will result in seven years of bad luck. ...
  • Birds Flying Into Your Home. ...
  • Argentinian Werewolves.
13 Jan 2017

What are the beliefs in Hongkong? ›

There is a large variety of religious groups in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), including Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism. All of these groups have a considerable number of adherents.

What are the top superstitions? ›

Here, then, are 13 of the most common superstitions.
  1. Friday the 13th.
  2. No umbrellas inside. ...
  3. Cross your fingers. ...
  4. Make a wish on a wishbone. ...
  5. Knock on wood. ...
  6. 666. ...
  7. Careful with that mirror. ...
  8. Bad luck comes in threes. ...
13 Jan 2012

What is the unlucky number in Hong Kong? ›

The unlucky number four in Chinese custom affects the numbering of floor levels. Because of Hong Kong's colonial past, buildings, especially hotels, may also skip the 13th floor, which in the West, is a number considered unlucky.

How superstitions affect our lives? ›

For many people, engaging with superstitious behaviours provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety – which is why levels of superstition increase at times of stress and angst. This is particularly the case during times of economic crisis and social uncertainty – notably wars and conflicts.

Which superstitions are prevalent in the present society? ›

Common examples of superstitious beliefs in India include:
  • a black cat crossing the road symbolizes bad luck.
  • a crow cawing indicates that guests are arriving.
  • drinking milk after eating fish causes skin diseases.
  • seeing a mongoose symbolizes to be very lucky.
  • itchy palms mean that money is coming your way.

What is unique about Hong Kong culture? ›

Hong Kong culture was born in a sophisticated fusion of East and West. It not only kept many Chinese traditions, but also experienced a baptism of western culture. This situation led to the diversity of its culture and the people there are open-minded to accept variety.

What is considered lucky in Hong Kong? ›

In contrast, the numbers nine and eight are considered extremely lucky. Again, homonyms are in play as the pronunciation of nine is the same as 'everlasting; (久)', and eight is similar in sound to 'making a fortune' (發). '88' also visually resembles the Chinese character '囍', meaning happiness.

What is the most superstitious country? ›

1. India. In the list of superstitious country, India bags the first position.

What are some of the weirdest superstitions? ›

The Weirdest Superstitions People Use Every Day
  • Don't Toast With Water.
  • Don't Whistle Indoors.
  • Don't Stick Your Chopsticks Straight Up.
  • Don't Kiss Across Thresholds.
  • An Itchy Nose Means Bad News Is Coming.
  • Itchy Hands Impacts Your Finances.
  • Don't Flip Over Cooked Fish.
  • Breaking a Mirror Means Bad Luck.
19 Oct 2018

Is 4 unlucky in Hong Kong? ›

In Cantonese, four (sei3 四) sounds similar to the word for death (sei2 死), and it is thus considered unlucky.

Which number is luckiest? ›

Perhaps part of the answer lies in a seminal paper published in 1956 by the psychologist George A Miller called “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”. Miller claims that it is more than just coincidence that the number 7 seems to be all around us.

Why is the number 14 unlucky? ›

While in Mandarin-speaking regions in China, 14 and 74 are considered more unlucky than the individual 4, because 14 (十四, pinyin: shí sì) sounds like "is dead" (是死, pinyin: shì sǐ) and because in some forms of the language, 1 is pronounced (yao) which sounds like (yào 要), which means will be, when combined, it sounds ...

How do superstitions affect the development of society? ›

It includes the belief in spirits, magic, taboos, witchcraft, and spiritual healing etc. In psychologically superstitions can sometimes have a soothing effect, relieving anxiety about the unknown and helping people gain a sense of control over their lives. It actions are common in our society.

Why do we believe in superstitions? ›

This is believed to stem from an effectance motivation - a basic desire to exert control over one's environment. When no natural cause can explain a situation, attributing an event to a superstitious cause may give people some sense of control and ability to predict what will happen in their environment.

What are causes of superstition? ›

Superstitions have two main causes: cultural tradition and individual experiences. If you grew up steeped in the superstitions of a particular culture or religion, you may carry these beliefs forward, even subconsciously.

Which superstition of people makes population explosion? ›

The superstitious people mainly from rural places think that having a male child would give them prosperity and so there is a considerable pressure on the parents to produce children till a male child is born. This leads to a population explosion. Poverty is another main reason for this.

Why is Friday the 13th unlucky? ›

Why is Friday the 13th Unlucky? According to biblical tradition, 13 guests attended the Last Supper, held on Maundy Thursday, including Jesus and his 12 apostles (one of whom, Judas, betrayed him). The next day, of course, was Good Friday, the day of Jesus' crucifixion.

Why is 13 unlucky? ›

Some believe this is unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. From the 1890s, a number of English language sources relate the "unlucky" thirteen to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table.

What kind of culture does Hong Kong have? ›

Hong Kong culture is a mixture of traditional Han Cantonese ethnic culture of southeastern China and British and Western culture in general. Hong Kongers are being increasingly influenced by the culture of the people from Chinese mainland.

What is considered rude in Hong Kong? ›

Give and receive everything with two hands. Serve others before serving yourself. Burping, spitting and other related behaviours are considered rude and impolite for most.

What is the lifestyle in Hong Kong? ›

Generally speaking, Hong Kong people have a very fast pace of life. They walk fast, eat fast, speak fast, and live fast. They follow the norm that "time is money" and "efficiency is the key to success". But in the spare time, they also pay great attention to relaxation.

What is Hong Kong's nickname? ›

One lion held a pearl, perhaps recalling Hong Kong's nickname “Pearl of the Orient.” China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.

What is Hong Kong most known for? ›

In a nutshell, Hong Kong is famous for attractions such as Causeway Bay, The Peak, and Hong Kong Disneyland. A city where skyscrapers meet centuries-old temples, Hong Kong is also known for its night markets filled with delights like dim sum and egg waffles.

What are the Chinese beliefs? ›

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are considered the “three pillars” of ancient Chinese society. As philosophies and religions, they not only influenced spirituality, but also government, science, the arts, and social structure.

What numbers are good luck in Chinese? ›

The numbers 8, 2, 6, and 9 are the favorite lucky numbers of most Chinese people. Combinations of the above are deemed as lucky numbers too, such as 66, 88, 168.

Why do people throw salt over their shoulder? ›

Salt is believed to ward off evil spirits in Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and after a funeral, salt is thrown over the left shoulder to prevent evil spirits from entering the house.

Is seeing a snake Good luck? ›

- The flesh of hunted animals is not given to others. If it is given, coins have to be taken in return. - Seeing a snake is considered good luck.

What are the superstitious beliefs in India? ›

9 Superstitions Indians Still Believe
  • Do not sweep after sunset.
  • Do not cut nails after sunset.
  • Meat should not be consumed on certain days.
  • Eat curd before heading out.
  • Eclipses are bad omens for pregnant women.
  • An itchy left palm means money is coming to you.
  • Adding one rupee to gift money is lucky.
1 Nov 2017

Why do Filipinos believe in superstitious beliefs? ›

They are taught by the elders to follow what is said, to give honor and respect to our ancestors which are roots wherein all the superstitions that are still known in the present started. Believing in superstitions can be one of the basic traditions that is taught to us Filipinos while growing up (Abad, 1995).

What are the cultural beliefs and practices in the Philippines? ›

The culture of the Philippines comprises a blend of traditional Filipino and Spanish Catholic traditions, with influences from America and other parts of Asia. The Filipinos are family oriented and often religious with an appreciation for art, fashion, music and food.

Is superstition a part of culture? ›

[4] Superstition is a part of the culture and is associated with an irrational inclination toward uncontrollable and unexplainable elements and beliefs; these beliefs provide us with a sense of understanding and control of the environment.

What is the meaning of superstitious belief? ›

1a : a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation. b : an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition. 2 : a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.

What happens on Friday the 13th? ›

Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and there were 13 guests at the Last Supper the night before his crucifixion. Another account suggests that the day has been associated with misfortune since 1307 when on a Friday the 13th, the French king gave the orders to arrest hundreds of Knights Templar in France.

Where did superstitions start? ›

The concept of superstition has existed for millennia, and some of today's most popular superstitions had their beginnings in ancient Babylonia.

What are the beliefs of the Filipinos? ›

The Philippines proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations.

What do you mean by superstitious belief? ›

: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic or chance It's a superstition that the number 13 is unlucky. More from Merriam-Webster on superstition.

Why is 13 unlucky? ›

Some believe this is unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. From the 1890s, a number of English language sources relate the "unlucky" thirteen to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table.

Why do Filipinos believe in superstitious beliefs? ›

They are taught by the elders to follow what is said, to give honor and respect to our ancestors which are roots wherein all the superstitions that are still known in the present started. Believing in superstitions can be one of the basic traditions that is taught to us Filipinos while growing up (Abad, 1995).

What are the cultural beliefs and practices in the Philippines? ›

The culture of the Philippines comprises a blend of traditional Filipino and Spanish Catholic traditions, with influences from America and other parts of Asia. The Filipinos are family oriented and often religious with an appreciation for art, fashion, music and food.

Is superstition a part of culture? ›

[4] Superstition is a part of the culture and is associated with an irrational inclination toward uncontrollable and unexplainable elements and beliefs; these beliefs provide us with a sense of understanding and control of the environment.

What are beliefs examples? ›

A belief is usually a generalization. For example, a person may believe that killing is bad or consuming alcohol is bad. But not every religion will support these beliefs. Beliefs are often very strongly ingrained in us that they influence our behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes in very powerful ways.

What are the cultural beliefs? ›

Cultural beliefs, defined as “a set of behavioral patterns related to thoughts, manners and actions, which members of society have shared and passed on to succeeding generations14 may also influence the decision making of patients with chronic disease to take medication.

What are the different influences that shaped early Filipino culture and identity? ›

The Filipino people have a distinct Asian background, with a strong Western tradition. The modern Filipino culture developed through influence from Chinease traders, Spanish conquistadors, and American rulers.

How do superstitions affect human behavior? ›

Superstitious beliefs have been shown to help promote a positive mental attitude. Although they can lead to irrational decisions, such as trusting in the merits of good luck and destiny rather than sound decision making.

Why do we believe in superstitions? ›

Jason Parker, a senior lecturer in Old Dominion University's Department of Psychology, said the root of believing superstitions is adventitious reinforcement. Adventitious reinforcement is when a person begins to worry something bad is going to happen because of an action they took.

What do you call a person who believes in superstitions? ›

Answer: We call them superstitious. Explanation: The definition of superstitious is believing in beliefs that doesn't have any grounds or logic.

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