Cecily Huang first introduced the Chinese custom of “zhua zhou” (抓周) in the December 2007 issue of the magazine. The practice, which dates back to the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280), is an “ancient method of predicting an infant’s future career” and involves having your child pick from a selection of items representing different professions (i.e. a sword for a military career, or a brush to foretell tenure at some prestigious Ivy League school).
So in the spirit of competitive Chinese parenting we conducted our own zhua zhou ceremony on the eve of Marianne’s first birthday. As most families do nowadays, we improvised a selection of everyday items: a 50ml bottle of Lancome renergie cream, an old Nokia cell phone, Mama’s favorite Lisa Ono CD, Lao Ye’s military stripes from his PLA uniform, a pen, a book on economic theory, an egg and a crisp hundred kuai bill.
There really was no rhyme or reason to the objects, nor did we reach any consensus on their meanings (the egg, for instance, meant “homemaker” to grandma, while, to me, it foretold a lucrative career as a celebrity chef), but we figured what they lacked in decisive meaning was made up for in their diversity.
After arranging them in random order on a red blanket we readied the video cam and unleashed our baby. Puzzled by the ring of adults barking orders at her, Marianne’s first motion was a diagonal crab crawl to her grandmother’s feet, which usually means she wants to be picked up. Like a wayward windup car we kept reorienting her towards her “future,” and it took a couple of more tries until she finally crawled over towards the stash.
Seeing her scan the selection was a bit like watching “Wheel of Fortune,” the American game show in which contestants spin a giant wheel sectioned off in dollar amounts and prizes. Would she go for the cream? (As she so often does whenever a plastic squeeze tube is in reach) Or would she grab the phone? (Another favorite pastime, especially when we’re on a call) She very tentatively stuck out her little hand and gently pushed the makeup. Uh-oh – did this foreshadow a messy modeling career filled with sleazy agents and constant dieting? But then she pulled back and laid a hand on the book. Interesting … perhaps we had a budding economist on our hands.
Just when it seemed like she had settled on the book, the crisp red RMB bill caught her eye. Marianne pushed the book aside and snatched up the money in fell swoop. Off she went, crawling away from the pile with the loot firmly in her grasp.
Grandma, who herself has a pretty sharp mind for business, was overjoyed, giving Marianne two thumbs up and repeatedly shouting “Hao! Hao!” (“Good! Good!”), while everyone applauded, perhaps more for the fact that she had finally made up her mind so we could stop filming and get on with the rest of her nightly routine (bath time, oil rubbing, bottle feeding, the works). For the next few minutes she crawled to and fro waving the bill like a handkerchief and beaming at all the attention, the pile of other items utterly overlooked.
My own logic dictates that our little zhua zhou ceremony was nothing more than that – a quaint custom that makes for a good family video. But seeing how resolutely Marianne stuck with the cash, I still wonder if my daughter is predestined for a materialistic mindset, or, perhaps, a fortune from cosmetics and authoring books on economics. No matter the case, I am bracing both myself and my billfold.