© 2017 Elena PROPISNOVA
2017 № 2 (14)
Key words: China, traditional oriental medicine, yuesao, postnatal confinement, motherhood, tradition
Abstract: The article focuses on the tradition of Chinese postnatal confinement – “zuo yuezi”. Its main principles and factors that contributed to its revival in modern China are reviewed. The article analyzes how the tradition transforms in our times and how this process is perceived by young mothers.
The article explores the phenomenon of a Chinese tradition called “zuo yuezi”. In accordance with this tradition women, who have just given birth, should stay home during the first 30 days after the birth of the baby. The observance of “zuo yuezi” requires the implementation of a number of rules, such as:
- ban on leaving the house,
- prohibition of sexual activity,
- ban on drinking chilled beverages and eating too cold food containing lots of “yin” energy,
- recommendation to avoid the energy of “yin” and any contact with cold, for example, not to wash head throughout the restrictive period and to avoid air conditioning,
- washing is possible only in special herbal decoctions.
In the article possible rational grounds of the tradition are examined. For example, the prohibition to wash the head and to take a shower during the entire confinement period, may have originated in northern China in the distant past. As the water quickly froze because of the cold climate, washing could easily provoke catching a cold. Also, the duration of the “zuo yuezi” period can be easily related to the duration of postpartum hemorrhage.
The article also considers the modern state of “zuo yuezi” implementation in China. In 1994, the first “zuo yuezi” center appeared in Taiwan. In 2011, according to state statistics, there were 120 such centers (Brenhouse 2011). In mainland China, the number of centers reached 700 in 2013, and the revenue generated by them reached $ 484 million (Levin 2015). In addition to “sitting” within a month in such a center, a young mother can consider an option of recruiting an experienced nanny – “yuesao” or just regularly order a special traditional meal through a specialized delivery service.
In general, Chinese young mothers have at their disposal a whole arsenal of tools designed to facilitate their compliance with the rules of “zuo yuezi” and adaptation to a new life with a baby. And this arsenal is a huge, actively developing business. The article analyzes what preconditions have caused such a rapid flourishing of this business in our days.
The modern surge of interest in the tradition and its rethinking can be explained by some socio-political factors. Such as the consequences of “one family – one child” policy that was applied in China before January 2016. Due to this policy all Chinese parents are unexperienced parents, in need of a support, ready to bear significant costs for their offspring. At the same time, they cannot count on the help of their own parents – due to the global trend of having children at a later age. Also, the modern interpretation of the tradition application gives possibility of demonstrating one’s status to others.
Thus, there are prerequisites for the ancient tradition to come alive again. But strict adherence to traditions implies quite severe restrictions. Some of them seem unnecessary and unpleasant to many young mothers. For example, the requirement not to wash head for a month. If hotels and “yuesao” adhered to strict observance of the tradition’s rules, they would lose most of the potential customers. Therefore, they make indulgences, in order to maximize the comfort of their clients.
The fact is that the development of the business ensuring the observance of “zuo yuezi” has saved the tradition itself from becoming an anachronism. In other words, if modern Chinese mothers did not have the opportunity to spend a month “sitting” in comfort, and beyond the pressure of family members, they could completely refuse to comply with it.
As for the attitude of young mothers to the tradition of “zuo yueji”, it largely differs. Some believe that a month of restriction benefits their body. Others enjoy being in the center of attention, surrounded from head to foot with care. But there are also negative opinions. And some mothers choose a complete refusal to observe the custom.
There is a tendency to abandon the most unreasonable requirements of the tradition. The practices such as abstaining from bathing, drinking large amounts of wine and sesame oil, banning simple water drinking, reading and crying are based on superstition and require rethinking from the standpoint of modern scientific views. Modern young mothers in China are not delighted with strict, thoughtless and unquestioning execution of postulates. Many are inclined to the option of flexible observance of the tradition.
In general, the existence and prosperity of this kind of tradition makes one think about rational justifications for the need for the young mother to observe certain restrictions. For example, pay attention to the fact that young mothers should be provided with some rest and proper nutrition after childbirth.
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This article is available in full version in Russian