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Cultural Differences

Keep Away from the Crow
by Hongxin; April 12, 2009


In Chinese culture, a crow is an inauspicious bird. We don’t like its image and its sound, and we all hate them as rascals.

In social life, we call the men who prefer to gossip and sow discord as “crow beaks.” In the past, people called the officers who worked for the government and framed others “the crows.”

In literature, the crow is the symbol of a dark mind, greed, dirt and a cruelty as bad as a vulture’s. It is also a code meaning harsh, cold, depressing, the ending of a day, and an ill omen. In this paradigm, as soon as we see the word crow it is surely to cause us to associate with those negative things immediately. And that makes us feel our hearts shrink.

“Crow Terrace” was the nickname of the “Cypress Terrace” of the imperial prison of the Son dynasty. There were many cypresses in the yard, and lots of crow’s nests on the trees. In the history books, people would rather call this hated prison the “Crow Terrace” than its formal name. The famous poet Su Tung-po, who people loved very much, was restrained there for five years. The poet was not only framed by “the crows,” but also suffered the cawing every day.

For a common farmer family, crows nested on the tree in their yard are “the trouble at elbow and armpit.” Besides cawing and leaving droppings on the wall and roof, they rummage in your yard. More than that, Chinese believe that they will bring some unluckiness to your family. So, Chinese people will demolish the nests and shoo the birds away with slingshots.

The common saying “all crows are black!” is absolutely a negative in Chinese, for it has the same meaning as “evil people are bad all over the world.” This old saying has already been passed on over thousands of years. The irrefutable fact is that the Chinese are used to regarding the word crow as a pronoun for dirty, squalid and sordid.

I don’t know when this began and where it came from—a way of logical thinking or superstition?—it’s still a secret for most Chinese, but it is a tradition. I just suppose the reason of those black birds were disgusting could be caused by their figure, colour, sound, and their behaviors—none makes them seem noble.