Zhua Zhou – Picking the Future!

Nathan's First Birthday!
Earlier this month we celebrated our son Nathan’s first birthday. Like most one year olds, Nathan doesn’t get too excited about cake. His sister Josie also wasn’t too thrilled about the cake, either. For some strange reason the Lightning McQueen cake we ordered turned out pink instead of red, leaving her highly disappointed.

We prepared a tray of objects for Nathan’s Zhua Zhou [抓周]. Zhua Zhou [which literally translates to “pick” and  “anniversary”] is an activity held on a child’s first birthday. In the activity, objects are placed on a tray and the object a child picks can indicate his or her future career and personality traits.

The tradition, said to have started during the Three Kingdoms period, arose following the death of Sun He, the prince of the Eastern Wu Kingdom. His father, the emperor Sun Quan, grew worried about which of his grandsons would succeed him, so a Wu citizen named Jing Yang suggested he place a few items on a plate and ask each of his grandsons to pick something. Sun Hao grabbed a bamboo slip – an ancient form of Chinese paper – in one hand, and an imperial belt – symbolizing royal power – in another. Both were deemed fortuitous choices that led to him being chosen as the new emperor. [The Zhua Zhou Way]

The meanings behind some items are pretty straight-forward while others require some knowledge of Chinese language or culture to understand:

  • Measuring Tape – Designer / Architect
  • Sword – Law Enforcement / Soldier
  • Green Onion – Intelligent [green onion (蔥 cōng) and intelligent (聰 cōng) are homophones]
  • Stethoscope – Doctor
  • Abacus – Businessperson
  • Chicken – Food Security
  • Yuanbao [(元寶) money used in ancient China] – A life of fortune
  • Book – Scholar
  • Calligraphy Pen – Writer
  • Stamp – Civil Servant
  • Peanuts – Long Life
  • Microphone – Entertainer
  • Celery – Industrious [celery (芹 qín) and industrious (勤 qín) are homophones]

Our son picked up the microphone first and played briefly with a few other objects before we threw his sister onto the tray. No matter what object he started playing with he always went back to the microphone. Despite the best efforts of my mother-in-law to get him to hold the yuanbao [元寶] long enough for a photo he always tossed it aside to grab his microphone.