In Zhangbi, an ancient Shanxi village surrounded by sprawling factories, we just discovered the perfect antidote for bad ghosts… and it’s….
I’m not sure how prevalent this is across China, but every old Zhangbi door had a sprig of cypress shoved into it. “避邪,” explained the guide Lucy, who had no idea how to explain it in English… my iPhone translated it as “to avoid evil spirits.”
“Not just any spirits,” Lucy continued, “But especially the Nian, the beast. And also the yaogui. Did you read Journey to the West?” I was proud to say I had. Or claim I had. Ahem. Most of it. I watched the TV series, at least. “There are lots of yaogui in Journey to the West. They are also scared by the 柏树 (cypress) tree.” I couldn’t find a translation for yaogui, but presumably they’re ghosts. The Nian is a horrible monster, that’s scared of the sounds of fireworks.
This rang a real bell with Michelle, who’d never heard of the Nian or the yaogui, but did remember wearing cypress sprigs in her hair at a funeral as a child. “And a piece of red yarn in my hair, too,” she added. Zhangbi was drenched in both cypress and red.
There’s only one or two days left of Chinese New Year, so rush out and get some sprigs today. And keep some up your sleeve for next year. You know that Nian… t.r.o.u.b.l.e.
And a lovely shot taken with a proper camera (sorry, Hipstamatic) by The WooLand Hotel…