Chu Hua Yuan, Teochew’s Rite of Passage Reminds Children Not To Forget Their Roots

ceremony reminds children not to forget their roots

(Photo sources: Teochew Eight Districts Association Johor Bahru)

"Bathing in red pomegranate petals and walking in red wooden clogs; worshipping deeply in front of the Kong Pua Deity and becoming an adult after leaving the courtyard wall." Going out of the garden (Chu Hua Yuan) is a unique traditional rite of passage in the Chaoshan region. To the Teochew people, a child is like living in a garden, and when the child reaches the age of 15, the child is taken “out of the garden”, indicating that he or she has become an adult and can live independently.

In the last decade or so, the practice has been revived in Malaysia and became widely known. Dr. Seng Yan Ping, vice president of the Teochew Eight Districts Association, said in an interview in "Our Native Land", that the association had initiated organisation of group ceremonies in 2007, and were highly acclaimed.

He said, Chu Hua Yuan will generally be held on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, because it is the birthday of the Bed Mother, Ming Qing Pua deity that the children pray to when they are young. The meaning is that the children will be blessed by the Bed Mother before they reach adulthood, and when they reach the age of 15, they will have to leave and will no longer play in the "garden".

On the day of Chu Hua Yuan, the parents bathe the children in five-coloured floral water and wash them from head to toe, changing their clothes and shoes to symbolise their purification and embrace of new life. Next, they pay respects to the Kong Pua deity and ancestors. 

After that comes the "eating table". “There will be five courses of food, and what is put on the table varies from person to person. The importance is the symbolism of the ingredients, for example, eating fish implies that the child will be more methodical in doing things, eating pig liver or dried tofu means that the child can become an officer in the future, eating celery means he or she will become hardworking, and eating garlic means that he or she will become shrewd and meticulous.”

Biting the chicken head is the highlight of Chu Hua Yuan, with the youngsters biting off the head of the chicken, the young man with a rooster and the young girl with a hen, signifying that they will excel and be the best in the field.

This custom originates from an allusion: according to legend, when Lin Daqin, the scholar of Chaozhou, was on his way home from school one day, he saw an old man squatting on the ground with a rooster in his arms, and next to him there was a pair of couplets, one with no words, and the other with the words "the comb on the head of a cock". 

The old man asked the passer-by to make a pair of couplets, and the one who got it right would get the rooster, and the one who didn't, would have to compensate him for a page of couplet paper. Lin Daqin stood for a while and said:

"The beard behind the jaw of a ram". After praising Lin Daqin for his answer, the old man gave the rooster to Lin Daqin. When he got home, Lin Daqin's father slaughtered the rooster, scalded it, and cut off the head to reward Daqin as a sign of being the best in the field. Later on, Daqin did get the top grade and became famous. 

Since then, the people of Chaozhou thought this was auspicious, so they let their children eat the head of the chicken during Chu Hua Yuan and when they go to school, they will buy a pair of red clogs for their children and give them a rooster.

The allusion of biting the chicken head and red wooden clogs are legends, and the core value of the Chu Hua Yuan ceremony is to send parents' blessing to their children, which is the wisdom for Teochew people to educate the children not to forget their roots.

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