Tom Herbert

China post: Windy Eyes and Hairy Babies

All two of my regular readers may remember from last year that the local shop in our compound was staffed by old Mr He, who liked his Christmas decorations so much that he kept them up all year round and sported a Sichuan accent so thick you needed a chainsaw to cut through it. When our little store reopened after the Spring Festival break, it turned out that Mr He had been gracefully ‘retired’ by the powers that be, and had been replaced by a friendly young couple from out of town, Xiao Feng and Xiao Ke.

Chinese babyXiao Ke was already sporting the Chinese symbol of maternity that is the fetching blue dinner lady’s tabard, and over the coming months her bundle of joy grew steadily until earlier this month she gave birth to a baby girl. Naturally (for me anyway) I asked Xiao Feng if she would be bringing the baby into the shop any time soon. He looked at me as if I’d gone completely insane.

Realising I was a foreigner, and therefore a little behind on these things, he patiently explained to me that if Xiao Ke left the house in the next month she would develop a condition I could roughly translate as ‘windy eyes’. This mystified me at first, but with a little internet research I found that the windy eye condition is more commonly know as a ‘sitting month’ in other parts of Asia. During this month the new mother must stay in doors for at least thirty days, but this period of time can actually be as long as three months depending on how the mother-in-law (who acts as a kind of bodyguard during the pregnancy and the child’s early infancy) thinks she’s doing.

Pregnant Chinese WomanThis in turn got me thinking; in a country that must rank among the most superstitious in the world, were they any other seemingly random quirks that needed to be observed during the child-bearing period in the middle kingdom? Here are a few collected from Chinese friends and colleagues in a completely random, totally unrepresentative survey:

  • According to the laws of Chinese traditional medicine, pregnancy and childbirth are considered ‘hot’ conditions. To prevent complications and to avoid upsetting the balance of ‘hot and cold’, after giving birth the woman must avoid showering, washing her hair or exposing herself to potentially cold conditions such as open windows, drafts, air conditioning or doorways for the entire sitting month.
  • Women who are with child should also try to always think happy thoughts so their babies will grow up being happy, and expectant mothers must avoid any praise about the unborn child during the pregnancy as this will attract the attention of evil spirits. They must not criticize others, or the baby will resemble the person they criticize. It’s also a good idea to hang posters of cute babies around the house, as the constant sight of these perfect little specimens will mean that their children will also be pretty or handsome.
  •  In terms of food and general nutrition, it’s generally not a good idea to eat rabbit, as it’s believed in some parts of Sichuan that this will cause the baby to be overly hairy and/or come out albino (according to two different friends). Pregnant women should also avoid eating rooster, as this means the child will be born prematurely.
  • For the birth itself, squatting is ideal position; if you lie down on your back the baby will have no energy to come out, and will thereafter be listless and lazy.
  • Three months before and after the child is born, the mother should not sit on a bench next to other pregnant women, as this will mean that she will not have enough milk to feed to the baby.
  • One month after the child is born a special ceremony takes place where several objects are placed before the infant such as money, a book or a farm tool. Whichever object the baby grasps first acts as an omen for the child’s future – perhaps they will make bundles of cash, study hard or work the fields? The answer is all in the ritual!


So, congratulations to the proud parents, and plenty to ponder on as I wait for Xiao Ke to arrive at the shop with her new little bundle of joy. No offence intended, but I hope she’s taken a shower before she gets back and laid off the rabbit…

Hairy baby

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *