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Sabrina Zhang. It was the late afternoon of June 1901.

Sabrina Zhang

Toronto
It was the late afternoon of June 1901.
The Zhou family was having a big party. The auspicious sounds of firecrackers, drums and gongs filled the air. Guests were led into a big hall and seated.
Mr. Zhou, the master of the family, stood up with a cup of white wine in his hand. He was about seventy years old, tall and thin, with grey hair and long beard, a solemn look on his face. He looked around; the room went into a silence immediately. He spoke in a soft but authoritative tone, "To all the relatives and friends, I am very honored to have you here for my first grandchild’s Zhua Zhou ceremony, and cheers to you all! "
“Congratulations!” Guests greeted back. Mr. Zhou turned to his son, ZhongHeng, a young man sitting at the next table. He was about twenty-three, long and lean, dressed in a neat white satin gown. His white, calm, long face gave him a look of a scholar, but his eyes showed the shrewdness of a businessman. “ Has everything prepared?” Mr. Zhou asked. ZhongHeng stood up. “Yes, father.” He answered swiftly.
ZhongHeng left the room, and in short while, he came back with a wet nurse, holding a little baby in her arms. ZhongHeng’s wife, JiaRong stepped over immediately. She was a woman of about sixteen, medium height, rather full-bodied, with a gentle look on her round face. She wore a light yellow dress and a blue skirt. Beneath the skirt showed a pair of red bow shoes, three and half inches long and beautifully embroidered. She took the baby, and then moved slowly through the crowds towards the end of the room.
It was a baby girl of one year old, dressed in a brand-new, long-sleeved blouse, and a pair of three quarter length trousers, both made in bright red satin. The baby was small in size. Her face was rather round, with a small pointed Chin, and a delicate nose. Her eyes were dark, glittering with curiosity. She turned to the left, then to the right, and then over her mother’s shoulder, looking at the crowd. At last, she curved the corner of her mouth, and smiled sweetly. ‘What an adorable baby!’ A woman cried loudly. ‘Look at the little, chubby hands and feet, oh, how lovely they are, I want to bite them!’ ‘She is going to a beauty.” A man added.
The child was surrounded by all sorts of objects. Right in front of her was a scented paper fan patterned with the bright red rich peony flowers and colorful butterflies; next to the fan was a small, black makeup powder box; to her left, were a pair of earrings made of strings of small white pearls, followed by a gold bracelet carved with dragon and phoenix pattern, then a long, slim writing brush, and a tiny embroider shoe patterned with bright pink lotus flowers and green leaves; to her right, were a string of copper coins, followed by a small mirror in a shinny copper frame, then a seal, a Confucian textbook, an abacas and a pair of scissors…
At the far end of the room, two servants laid a list of things in a half circle on a large desk covered with auspicious red tablecloth. The center of the desk was left empty for the baby. The ZhuaZhou ceremony began. The young mother put the baby carefully on the desk. Guests gathered around.
The baby followed the direction. She looked to her left, then to her right. There are so many different colors and shapes, the interesting things she had never seen before. It was daunting; for a long while, the baby could not make up her mind.
The tradition started around 230 AD during the Three Kingdom Period. SunQuan, the emperor of Wu, used the ZhuaZhou ceremony to pick his crown prince. It then became a popular tradition held on a baby’s first birthday to predict the baby’s future. Each item indicates a different meaning. For ex, a book represents a scholar, a pair of scissors was the symbol a capable housewife, and copper coins represented wealth. The predictions were rather accurate. Mr. Zhou picked a seal when he was a baby; he then became a government official. ZhongHeng picked an abacus, and now he was taking care of the family business. Old people often said, “Everyone has their own destiny, you cannot change that.” JiaRong stood beside the table, smiled at her child, pointing her finger to the objects. ‘Look baby, so many pretty things here, pick one!’ A young girl cried in an exciting voice, ‘Pick the bracelet baby!
“That’s it!” A few people could not help clapping their hands with excitement. However, a strange thing happened. Just before the baby reached the shoe, she saw the long, writing brush beside it. Before people knew it, she had the brush in her hand, nibbling one end of it as if it was the most delicious candy in the world.
The idea was soon objected by another girl. ‘No, take the earrings, they are much prettier!’ “You silly girls. Take the embroider shoe of course! ”A middle-aged woman in a purple dress looked at them with scorn. It was Mrs. Wang, JiaRong’s mother. “If you can fit into that shoe, you will sure marry a good husband and have everything you want, a big house and garden, lots of servant, never mind a small piece of jewelry!” ‘You are so right Mrs. Wang. We are too young to be sensible. Embroider shoe it is!’ One of the girls made a funny face and agreed. The baby wandered for a while, at last her eyes were fixed on something, it was the exquisite tiny shoe! She giggled and crawled toward it. “How could this happen?” Mrs. Wang cried in deep disappointment, “Stupid…?” She stopped abruptly, seeing her husband glaring at her, fire in his eyes.
But a writing brush was a completely different story. Men used it for study, to write poems and essays, to write the Imperial Exams, to serve the court, or to do business. But for a woman, what was the use of a writing brush?
“What do you women know? Hush, do not ruin Master Zhou’s party!” Mr. Wang, a middle aged, stout man with an austere look scolded his wife in a low voice. Mrs. Wang swallowed her unfinished words. The room went into a complete silence, not even a whisper. JiaRong blushed. Slowly, she picked up the baby, holding her against her chest tightly. Her heart sank like a stone thrown into a lake, and her body trembled unnoticeably. Every woman wanted a pair of petite feet. They carefully bound them to shorten the length, to create an elegant pointed tip and a high heel in each foot. To emphasize them, they wore bright colored embroidery shoes underneath the long skirts or trousers. When a woman walked, her well-bound feet kept her chest up and hips back, and the effort to stay in balance slowed her down elegantly. The tiny feet added exceptional beauty and delicacy to a woman’s appearance.
Mr. Zhou beckoned to his son. ZhongHeng replied immediately, "Yes, we have picked her name."
“Knowing too much is not good for a you. You may get too distracted by thinking about other things than your duty.” JiaRong remembered what her mother told her when she was a child. For the benefit of her future, she never learned how to read or write. But her baby girl, against all odds, picked a writing brush! She looked at her husband, like a trapped small animal begging for help. ZhongHeng’s head was slightly up, with a strange smile on his face. ‘How could he be so careless?’ JiaRong thought. She then turned to her father in law. Mr. Zhou stood there like a statue at a Confucian temple, calm and solemn. He did not say a word. The poor mother stood here, an awkward look was written on her face. She did not know what to do. At last, the silence was broken by a clear, loud voice, "This child is out of the common run! How could you compare her with the ordinary ones? May I ask, has the baby been named yet?" It was Mr. Zhu, a well-respected scholar in town.
After the ceremony, guests returned to their seats. Maids started serving the meal.
Servants cleared out the table, laid a large piece of fine writing paper at the center, and a writing brush and ink at the corner. Right in front of the crowd, ZhongHeng wrote down the name. It consisted of two large characters, "??". For a moment, people looked at each other, surprised and confused at the same time. Girls’ names were often picked from the names of flowers and plants, or the words that represent the good traits of a woman, such as wan? (gentle) , jing? (calm),xian? (kind), etc. This name was nothing like that. Luckily, this time, the silence did not last long. The same gentleman, Mr. Zhu spoke again. "This is such a magnificent name, only a child from the Zhou family deserves such honor. The word?(yong) stands for eternity, and the word?(xi) means prosperity. No wonder the baby picked a writing brush. She is going to develop great wisdom and have a very long, prosperous life!" “That’s right, congratulations to Mr. Zhou!” The rest of the crowd echoed the compliment. A rare smile appeared on Mr. Zhou’s face. JiaRong drew a long breath of relief. She quickly glanced at her husband; he still had that peculiar smile. JiaRong wondered why he was so absentminded.
It was a feast.
At the center of each table was a big bowl of ZaHui soup that smelled like heaven. It was made of rich flavored chicken broth, sliced meat rolls wrapped in golden fried eggs, white fish balls that shone like pearls, half transparent green bean noodles, dark red ripened tomatoes, silky tofu and oyster mushrooms. A dozen of other dishes were placed around the soup. There were the golden deep-fried river shrimps, laid neatly into a three-story tower; the steamed fish with diced spicy red peppers, the steamed crab, the slapped cucumber and stir-fried bitter melon with eggs …

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