Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'Ghost' Bride

What is a 'ghost' bride?

In the days dating back to before the Han dynasty, when a single man passes away, custom calls for him to be married posthumously to a deceased single woman so that he will not be alone in the afterlife. It was believed that if the deceased man is unmarried, he can come back to haunt their living relatives and cause misfortune.

The tradition is still in practice today. In 1998, a farmer was caught stealing female corpses from their graves, mostly freshly upon their death. He sold the bodies for less than 4,000 yuan each to traffickers, who passed them to intermediaries, known as matchmakers for ghosts, who marked them up more than three times for the final customers.

Female corpses have become comparatively rare due to the substantial gender imbalance brought on by China’s one-child policy.

In January this year, the tradition took a heinous turn when police in northern China detained 3 men for the killings of two women whose corpses were then sold as "ghost brides". Yang Donghai, a 35-year-old farmer in western China's Shaanxi province, confessed to killing a woman bought from a poor family for 12,000 yuan last year. She thought she was being sold into an arranged marriage, but Yang killed her and sold her corpse for 16,000 yuan. He and two accomplices then killed a prostitute and sold her for 8,000 yuan (£523) before police caught them.

The corpses were apparently being sold to Li Longsheng, an undertaker who police said specialized in buying and selling of dead women for "ghost weddings".

The Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated around Asia every year. The Festival is celebrated in the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

The Chinese believe that in this month ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower world to visit earth. Some of the activities include preparing ritualistic offering food, and burning hell money and bags containing cloth to please the visiting ghosts and spirits of the ancestors. Chinese Opera and Puppet Shows are put together for audiences - both living and non-living alike, at certain suburban areas prior to the big day

The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos. Due to the theme of ghosts and spirits, the festival is sometimes also known as the Chinese Halloween.

The following is a legend on how the festival came to be:

A long time ago there lived a young man, Mu Lian and his widowed mother. His mother was a very wicked woman and she liked to laugh at the poor and their dirty clothes. She often turned away those beggars who came to her door asking for donation or food. The only person she cared was herself......

Mu Lian on the other hand was a kind soul. He was a gentle person and always willing to help anybody in need. One day he decided to become a monk and this did not please his mother. She scowled at him for being such a useless son; she wanted him to go out and work to earn more money for her. Wealth and materialistic things meant more to her than anything else.

When she saw that she could not dissuade her son, a plan began to hatch in her mind. She decided to play a trick on the monks just to get back at them for taking away her son. Mu Lian's mother thought it was silly that these monks did not eat meat. One day she got her chance and offered food to some monks and slipped in some non-vegetarian food without them knowing it.

When the wicked woman died, her soul was sent to 18th level of hell, the very bottom of hell, to be punished. All souls who are punished to the 18th level of hell will become hungry ghosts which mean they will have no chance of reborn on earth.

Mu Lian wanted to save his mother's soul because he knew her soul was suffering. He set out and ventured deep into the bowels of hell. Soon he came upon his mother and he saw that she was sitting a bed of very sharp pointy stakes and was holding on to a basin of blood.

Mu Lian tried feeding her some food but the food would either turn into fire or blood. It was hopeless: he couldn't do anything for her so he left. He returned home and started to pray.

It is said that Buddha heard Mu Lian's prayers and was touched by Mu Lian's compassion. Thus Buddha decreed that once a year, the gates of hell be opened so that the lost souls will be able to roam the earth and be fed. This is why every year on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, the Chinese celebrate the festival of the hungry ghost.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The History of the Middle Finger

Here's something that you might not have known before.....

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous English longbow was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew").

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, See, we can still pluck yew! Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodentals fricative F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute! It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird."


And yew thought yew knew every plucking thing.