Folk custom, or folklore, is a cultural phenomenon created and inherited by the general public. It is the lifestyle and cultural activities followed by people during the long-term social life, which is the foundation and important parts of the traditional culture. Folk custom, as a cultural phenomenon, whose content is constantly changing or expanding, is the fruit of the folks’ life-strategy, wisdom and knowledge.
Shanxi, located at the hinterland of the Yellow River basin, is one of the origins of the Chinese ancient culture. In an area from the luxuriant Taihang Mountain to the billowy Yellow River, between the steep Wangwu Mountain and the grand Great Wall, Shanxi, for thousands of years, has been well known to the world for its mountains, rivers and various reputations. The geographical environment makes the folk custom of Shanxi inevitably be rooted in the profound Yellow River Culture. The Chinese culture, namely Han culture, is integrated with the nomadic culture of the Northern minority, to form the featured and distinct Shanxi folk custom.
The folk custom of Shanxi can be divided according to its content: economy, society, belief, and entertainment.
1. Economic Folk Custom
Historically, the agriculture production of Shanxi had been in a leading position for a long time. Its commerce and trade once wined reputation home and abroad. Merchants from Shanxi pass down their unique habits in operation mode, project, and method, which deeply influence the folk’s life and habitude.
2. Social Folk Custom
The inhabitancy custom of Shanxi people is featured with quadrangle courtyard in urban and rural areas, cave courtyard in rural places and basement courtyard, resided by northerner.
Nuclear family is commonly seen in countryside of Shanxi, which is formed by a married couple and their children. Three or four generations may also live together in a house. Marriage is the core of family. Its form determines that of the family.
The marriage custom of Shanxi people, as elsewhere in China, indicates people’s blessing and expectations on a happy life. There are several particular characteristics. One of them is their great attention to create a prosperous and warm ambience. At the wedding day, the groom’s house will be redecorated as a new one, posted with auspicious paper-cuts. Guests may play tricks on the groom’s parents or teasing the new couples on their wedding night, just to exaggerate the joyous and fervent feelings. The other characteristic is their praying of good luck and happiness. They wish the new couple have a harmonious and enjoyable life, with many children. Another one is the wish for the couple’s richness after the wedding. In the area of Pinglu and Xinzhou, a fire will be set up in the center of the courtyard for the groom and bride to circumvent so as to avoid and expel the evil, which symbolizes a better life for the new couple. One more characteristic is that the peculiar wedding customs vary from different places. There are various ways to escort the bride on the wedding day, from horses, bride’s sedan, and carriage to cars nowadays. Even just for sedan, northeast of Jin and Wutai have their special customs, such as the donkey sedan.
Etiquette of life is also an important part of the social folk custom. In old times, people in Shanxi prefer boys than girls. The birth of a boy is called “big joy”, the birth of a girl “little joy”. If a woman failed to pregnant for a long time after the wedding, she needs to pray for bearing a child at the Temple of Goddess. So the folks worship the Avalokitesvara who has the ability to send child to couples who want one. And here comes many relevant customs.
Festival customs is parts of the social custom as well. Among the festival customs, the following celebration activities of Shanxi are unique in China.
3. Belief Folk Custom
The main content of folk custom in Shanxi Province is the belief in ghosts, which began with the understanding and worship to the nature by the ancient people.
The belief in heaven and earth is the most ancient and fundamental. The God of Heaven and Earth consecrated by the folks is not in a special temple. During the Spring Festival, people will buy a board with the picture of this divinity. It draws the god of heaven, the goddess of the earth, and a team of horses and people, with a memorial tablet in the center, which writes “The true omnipresent god of all spirits in Heaven, Earth and Hades”. It will be posted under the roof. Sometimes people will only write the name of the god on a loess-made yellow paper to show respect. And a pair of antithetical couplet will be by the sides of it, written “The sky should be high so as to hang the sun and the moon; the earth must be solid to bear the mountains and rivers”. The horizontal scroll written “God of Heaven and Earth Tablets” will be placed on the top of the board. Under the board, a table with a incense burner, offerings for the god and candles for worshipping. On the wedding, the bride and groom will bow to the earth, which is the most solemn ceremony, which is commonly known as “Bow to the Heaven and Earth”. There are many other secular divinities believed by folk people, like the Door-God, the Kitchen God, The God of Happiness, Dragon, and etc. Moreover, some human divinities are more likely to be regarded as unique in Shanxi.
Man who benefited the society will be worshiped as deity. This is the Chinese criterion of apotheosis. Among the human divinities, Guan Yu is the most outstanding one. Its worship is popularized from the north to the south of China, and even overseas.
Shanxi people constantly imported and localize exotic divinities while they are creating their own gods. A highlighted example is that the Dongyue Temple in Pu County invited the Dongyue Emperor to govern the ghost.
The folk’s taboo is the product of the belief folk custom. The folk’s taboo in Shanxi is somewhat mysterious, but its practicability is also standing out. Most of the taboos concern for the production and life of people, especially during the holidays and festivals. For example, there are “should not do” things in almost every day in the first month of the lunar year. And taboo becomes particular complicated when people are crowded fro celebrations. In the ceremony of birthday, funeral, wedding, the festival sacrifice and many other activities, taboos are everywhere to restrict people.
4. Entertainment Folk Custom
Entertainment folk custom, which indicates the traditional folk culture and entertainment activities, mainly includes the spoken language folk custom, folk song and dance custom, recreation and athletics custom, and etc.
The entertainment custom of Shanxi is extremely rich in content and has a long history. Ancient fairy tales in simplicity and magnificent slangs and proverbs with wisdom, colorful folk dramas and interesting farmland recreation and sports, limn a gorgeous and fascinating painting of folk custom.
Recreation and athletics custom is a leisured and enjoyable adjustment for life. It includes seasonal amusement activities, as well as competitive athletics. Folk athletics is a widespread self-enjoyable mass sport activity. The most popular ones in Shanxi are shuttlecock kicking, ice-skating, tug-of-war, iron-hoop rolling and many others.