Taboo can be defined as a prohibition that excludes something from use, approach, or mention. This may be on the grounds it is considered sacred, has the ability to inspire fear, or is thought to be disgusting or disagreeable.

Chinese culture has, even from ancient times, incorporated a large number of taboos. In The Book of Rites it was noted that when one visits another state or kingdom, it is wise to be aware of the local taboos. The Book of Rites of the Zhou Dynasty also mentioned the fact that educating oneself on what people in a particular location disliked could help in avoiding taboos and understanding local customs.

Many ancient taboos were related to religion and worship. At one point in time, water was thought to be a sacred and powerful spirit. People were not permitted to sharpen knives by a well for fear that the God of Water may take revenge and inflict disaster.

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Ancient people also had a well-developed fear of ghosts, and as such there were many taboos surrounding funerals. For example, if a neighboring household was holding a funeral, it was considered best not to husk rice in case the ghost would be attracted to one’s own home.

Other taboos were related to the solar eclipse and the last day of the month in the Chinese lunar calendar. These taboos originated in people’ worship of the sun, moon and stars. The last day of the month was considered particularly unlucky.

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Activities that were prohibited included troops being dispatched to fight, officials going to work, evening singing, and sexual relations. It was thought that these acts would bring disaster. There were still more taboos-associated with animals, colors, numbers and even certain utensils. Chinese culture has historically been very rich in terms of taboos.

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