Chinese Birthday Customs for Newborns

Mom with beautiful newborn baby
Getty Images/Images By Tang Ming Tung

Chinese people put their family in a very important position as they regard it as a means to keep the family bloodline continuously running. The continuation of the family bloodline maintains the life of the whole nation. That is why reproduction and family planning in China truly becomes a focus of all members of families -- it is, in essence, an essential moral duty. There is a Chinese saying that of all who lack filial piety, the worst is who has no children.

Traditions Surrounding Pregnancy and Childbirth

The fact that Chinese people pay great attention to beginning and growing a family can be supported by many customary practices. Many traditional customs about the reproduction of children are all based on the idea of protecting the child. When a wife is found to be pregnant, people will say she "has happiness," and all her family members will be overjoyed. Throughout the whole period of pregnancy, both she and the fetus are well attended, so that the new generation is born both physically and mentally healthy. To keep the fetus healthy, the expectant mother is offered sufficient nutritious foods and traditional Chinese medicines believed to be beneficial to the fetus.

When the baby is born, the mother is required to "zuoyuezi" or stay in bed for a month in order to recover from childbirth. In this month, she is advised to not even go outdoors.

Cold, wind, pollution and tiredness are all said to exert a bad effect on her health and thus her later life.

Choosing the Right Name

A good name for a child is considered equally important. The Chinese think a name will somehow determine the future of the child. Therefore, all possible factors must be taken into account when naming a newborn.

Traditionally, two parts of a name are essential -- the family name or last name, and a character showing the generation order of the family. Another character in the first name is chosen as the namer pleases. The generation signing characters in the names are usually given by the forefathers, who chose them from a line of a poem or found their own and put them in the genealogy for their descendants to use. For this reason, it is possible to know the relationships between the family relatives by just looking at their names.

Another custom is to find the newborn baby's Eight Characters (in four pairs, indicating the year, month, day and hour of a person's birth, each pair consisting of one Heavenly Stem and one Earthly Branch, formerly used in fortune-telling) and the element in the Eight Characters. It is traditionally believed in China that the world is made up of five principal elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. A person's name is to include an element that he lacks in his Eight Characters. If he lacks water, for example, then his name is supposed to contain a word like river, lake, tide, sea, stream, rain, or any word associating with water. If he lacks metal, then he is to be given a word like gold, silver, iron, or steel.

Some people even believe that the number of strokes of a name has a lot to do with the owner's fate. So when they name a child, the number of strokes of the name is taken into account.

Some parents prefer to use a character from an eminent person's name, hoping that their child inherits that person's nobility and greatness. Characters with noble and encouraging connotations are also among the first choices. Some parents inject their own wishes into their children's names. When they want to have a boy, they may name their girl Zhaodi meaning "expecting a brother."

The One-Month Celebration

The first important event for the newborn baby is the one-month celebration. In Buddhist or Taoist families, on the morning of the baby's 30th day of life, sacrifices are offered to the gods so that the gods will protect the baby in his subsequent life.

Ancestors are also virtually informed of the arrival of the new member in the family. According to the customs, relatives and friends receive gifts from the child's parents. Types of gifts vary from place to place, but eggs dyed red are usually a must both in town and the countryside. Red eggs are chosen as gifts probably because they are the symbol of changing process of life and their round shape is the symbol of harmonious and happy life. They are made red because red color is a sign of happiness in Chinese culture. Besides eggs, food like cakes, chickens, and hams are often used as gifts. As people do in the Spring Festival, gifts given are always in an even number.

During the celebration, relatives and friends of the family will also return some presents. The presents include those which the child may use, like foods, daily materials, gold or silver wares. But the most common is money wrapped in a piece of red paper. Grandparents usually give their grandchild a gold or silver gift to show their deep love for the child. In the evening, the child's parents give a rich feast at home or a restaurant to the guests at the celebration.