T’ung Shu: The Ancient Chinese Almanac is not the almanac itself, but rather an explanation and sample of what is in the almanac, a yearly publication with hundreds of years of history in Chinese culture.
My copy of this explanatory book is a quality hardcover with printing in both red ink and black ink on some pages. See below for what stood out, and when and why I read it.
I’ve never bought a copy of the actual almanac, though I’m sure it’s available in Singapore. Here’s an online version: http://www.dragon-gate.com/tool/almanac/
What Stood Out
The section on charms (pages 80 to 83) explains that characters and illustrations in the almanac are placed in the home or on the person as a way of avoiding bad things or obtaining good ones. Furthermore:
Charms are deemed more powerful if they also have a representation of lightning (or if possible two representations). This is usually done by elongating the final stroke or strokes of the principal charm character into a twisting line denoting lightning. (80–81)
The symbolism is that according to folklore, a bolt of lightning separated light and darkness much like the God of the Old Testament; heaven/earth, yin/yang, and everything else came after that. Also, there’s a thunder god who’s seen as a punisher of evil, and according to Buddhist thought, lightning destroys false teachings.
Makes you wonder how the Chinese see Harry Potter, doesn’t it? The fact that Harry’s name (as well as his forehead) has a lightning bolt like the ones that are believed to make charms more powerful could be viewed as a coincidence or as meaningful, albeit unintentionally.
I probably first saw Harry Potter written in Chinese on a bus in Hong Kong in 2001, and recognized the lightning bolt that is also used on the ‘P’ when ‘Harry Potter’ is written in English. I had never traveled in Asia before that, and at the time it seemed like an amazing sign of the spread of Western popular culture.
Dreams about Teeth
From time to time I have terrible dreams about my teeth falling out. The loss feels real and irreversible, and invariably I’m to blame for it. If I ever find a genie in a bottle, one unambiguously live-improving wish I’d make would be never to have that kind of dream again!
The almanac says:
[T]o dream of your teeth falling out means your parents are in danger. (115)
Um, ok. I guess I believe that about as much as I believe Carl Jung’s interpretations.
It has been argued that dreams have some universal meaning. Baloney. Dream interpretation is culturally determined, if anything.
Symbols and metaphors have the meaning we give them, and we aren’t particularly consistent. Need an example? Much of Western culture treats snakes, serpents, and dragons as evil (or rehabilitated, at best). In Christian tradition, Saint George of England kills one, and in Genesis a serpent convinces Eve to taste the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge. In contrast, traditional Southeast Asian Buddhist iconography often depicts multi-headed nagas kindly protecting the Buddha from flood waters while he meditates seeking enlightenment. So are snakes ‘universally good’ or ‘universally bad’? Neither, obviously.
Not being a superstitious person, I doubt that dreams ever predict the future in any kind of cosmic-vibration sense, though obviously people do have dreams about future events about which they naturally feel anxious. Readings in psychology indicate that dreams are the brain’s way of processing input in creative ways that sometimes reflect the sleeper’s conscious and unconscious thoughts, hopes, and fears but that sometimes mean nothing at all.
How to See if a Cat is a Good Cat or Not
The best cat has a short body, charming eyes and a long tail. Its face should have a haughty expression like a tiger’s. Its voice should be strong, so that when the rats hear it they will die instantly. When its claws come out, they should be capable of digging up tiles. If a cat has a long body, it will not stay long at home; it will go to another family. A cat with a long face will kill chickens. A wide tail means a lazy cat. (157)
This advice falls, appropriately, in the “miscellaneous” section.
How to See if a Friend is Good or Not
The section isn’t really called that, but it is about judging people.
The text tells how getting to know someone is like riding a horse. All may go well at first, but it is only after you have travelled a long way, endured various incidents and come to know the horse’s strengths and weaknesses that you can claim really to know the horse. So it is with a friend. (158)
Eclipses and other celestial phenomena, often a source of fear because they are considered to be omens and harbingers of ill luck, are here considered as natural and explicable events, a curious intrusion in a volume closely concerned with omens and good or ill luck. (170)
There’s an illustration of the sun, moon and earth all lined up. I wonder when this section was originally included in the almanac? It is—and long has been—an evolving publication.
When and Why I Read It
Bought it cheap at the Salvation Army because it looked interesting.
Genre: Non-fiction (Chinese culture / philosophy / folk religion)
Date started / date finished: 11-May-16 to 30-Jun-16
Length: 237 pages
ISBN: 0712611274 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 1986
Amazon link: T’ung Shu: The Ancient Chinese Almanac