Saturday, April 4, 2009

Life and death in China Part One: Longevity lock charm

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

In China when a child turns 100 days old family and friends gather for a celebration. The baby is given many gifts and a longevity lock – a changmingsuo – to hang around its neck. The purpose of the lock is to protect the child, bring it good fortune and especially to lock the child’s qi – its vital life essence – to its earthly body so the child will stay here on earth with the parents and not be taken away prematurely, in essence “locking” the child to life.

On the lock above you can see special characters and symbols. The big character in the middle is – happiness – one of the most important auspicious blessings to be had in Chinese traditional culture. The two small bats on either side on the top are also symbols of happiness because they are homophones with happiness, also pronounced . The two characters on each side of the large happiness symbol are bai suo: “the lock for one hundred years”, wishing the child both a very long life - at least one hundred years – and happiness for one hundred years. Little bells hang from the bottom and the red thread is also a lucky colour. 

A lock like this could either be worn around the neck of the child or hung in the house for protection. I say could because it is no longer common for children to wear the locks, but it has again become fashionable to give them as presents that the parents will then keep as a keepsake (and lucky charm) for the child. These locks were most popular in China during the Ming and Qing dynasties and they came not only with the inscription above but with many different ones, albeit all with the same general meaning.

Yesterday I went to a combination baby shower and going away party for two dear friends that are moving home after living in Chengdu for a couple of years. When they fly home they will be two passport carriers but actually they are already three, the bun in the oven just doesn't have a passport yet (maybe I should say the baozi in the steamer basket). We joked a lot about many things, one of them being that we should gather all the kids around us here in the foreign families in Chengdu and get t-shirts made for them stating not where they were born but where they were made. It's sometimes a much more telling fact: Made in Thailand, Made in China, Made in Hong Kong, Made in England, Made in South Africa etc etc. The little boy that the changmingsuo above was bought for will be born in South Africa but he was made in China and I hope that a little part of him will somehow be "locked" to the country he was created in and to the friends of his parents that will so very much miss them when they move away. Yi lu ping an Carin and Barry! (And little Thomas or Luke or Matthew or whatever you wind up being called...)

....and thanks Kim D. for an incredible spread of fantastic dishes and desserts. Sorry that we drank up all your special wine, it was gooooood!

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