Moths in Chinese Culture

Eastern cultures generally have a very different way of viewing the world than we do in the western world. Consider eastern music for example. While we are used to using semitones as intervals eastern scales typically break these into quarter tones to produce a completely different sound.

While in America our first instinct may be to kill moths we encounter, the insect has an important connection to humans with Chinese culture. We’ll review how moth symbolism within Chinese cultures is unique, its origins and the learnings we can take from it.

The Qingming Festival

Held in April, the Qingming Festival (known in English as the ‘Tomb-Sweeping Day’) is a day for remembering ancestors. Qingming is a public holiday throughout China where relatives pay tribute to lost relatives through song and dance, dedicated family events and even offering tributes (wine, chopsticks, etc) at their tombstones.

Qingming was established in the 8th century and has been a public holiday in China since 2008. It’s also practiced in Taiwan and parts of Singapore.

Qingming and Moths

The Chinese have long found an abundance of moths to be synonymous with Qingming, and the signficance is profound. The Chinese believe that moths represent souls of loved ones we have lost. Reports are also often heard of moths landing on photos of deceased relatives.

The killing of a moth is generally frowned upon in China, but it is a considerable taboo during Qingming for this reason.

So, you might ask, where does this spiritual connection with moths originate?

Taoist Origins

One of China’s most prominent religions is Taoism. Taoism focuses on being one with nature, with natural law being the key to one’s salvation.

Taoism places significant importance on paying respect to deceased elders, mainly due to their belief that they continue to look over us. Although ancestral worship is not an entirely unique practice within any religion it is particularly emphasised in Taoism and Confucianism.

As the connection with nature is so imperative, the possibility for a loved one’s soul to take the form of a moth is a relatively common belief. This emobiment is rooted deep within Taoist beliefs, and goes a long way to explaining common encounters with moths at funerals or shortly after one’s passing.

Do you have anything to add on Chinese moth significance? Comment below to let us know!

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