Kaifeng, the capital of seven ancient Chinese dynasties, is a famous cultural city with more than 2,300 years of history. Its large number of places of historical interest has attracted many visitors and its special and mysterious folk customs have made this historical city very poetic. Children wearing 100-family clothes and eating 100-family meals are two of the interesting customs in Kaifeng.
"Baijia Clothes" or 100-family clothes are baby clothes made from small pieces of cloth contributed by 100 families. The family members would be particularly happy if a baby is born in a family that lacks boys, and the baby’s grandfather and grandmother would report the good news to their neighbors and beg 100 friends and relatives for pieces of cloths. They are particularly willing to beg families whose surnames are “Liu,” “Chen,” and “Cheng,” because the homonyms of those surnames are lucky words in Chinese, and the elderly believe this will play a significant role in blessing the baby to grow up safe and healthy. Therefore, the elderly would value each small piece of cloth or old piece of cloth from those families. People do not care about the size and the pattern of the cloth but prefer blue, because the homonym of “blue” in Chinese means “stop,” and people believe the blue cloth can prevent babies from being taken away by demons.
People would sew the pieces of cloth from the 100 families together to make “Baijia Clothes” for babies. The elderly say there are rules to the sewing such as the method of composing the cloth and patterns on the clothes. The openings of the clothes should not be put on the chest but should be put on the sides, and the clothes are also known as Taoist robes. The elderly usually leave an opening at the bottom of the clothes as “the place of hiding souls” when sewing the 100-family clothes, and the mother would sew up the opening one month after the birth of the baby, indicating that the soul of the baby will stay beside the mother forever, and the parents will no longer need to worry about their baby.
100-family clothes were also called “Lianyi” or collecting clothes. A hermit surnamed Yi requested pieces of cloth from people and sewed them together to make clothes named Lianyi, according to the “Yunxian Miscellany.” An expert named Chen Yumen believes that there are two sources of the 100-family clothes. Chen said, “The first source is the number one scholar in Chinese opera. Most of such scholars in opera are poor and they usually wear clothes with patches before they win the title of number one scholar. Therefore, clothes with patches are considered as the symbol of achieving great success in the future. It is also known as ‘clothes of wealth and rank.’ The second source is the ‘Baixiu Clothes’ worn by monks and nuns, indicating that the baby who wears such clothes is under the protection of Buddha and is able to turn ill luck into good in the future.” Therefore, 100-family clothes and the custom of wearing them to avoid evil and disasters existed among ordinary people. There is a folk saying in Kaifeng, “a baby can live for 77 years as long as they wear 100-family clothes.” All these explanations are aimed at blessing the babies.
Apart from wearing 100-family clothes, there is another baby-related custom called “Baijia Meals,” or 100-family meals. This is aimed at blessing the babies to grow up safe and healthy. In families that spoil their children, the grandfather would hold his grandson and pretend to be a beggar and beg along the streets. They usually beg for food from 100 families and mix the foods together to feed the baby. People say through this, the baby will be under the protection of the 100 families and free from disasters.
After having the 100-family meal, the infant’s grandmother will steam 100 coin-sized buns and put them in a basket and walk in the village or along the road with it. Whenever she meets a child, she will give a bun to the child. When she has given out all 100 buns, she believes the disasters are all “chewed up” by the others, and the infant will grow up safe and healthy. So the custom is also called “chewing up disasters” and is very popular in the villages. No matter if they know each other, when encountering a begging grandparent with a grandson, people will generously help them, and when encountering the elderly giving out buns, people are always willing to receive.
Although there is no scientific basis in the custom of wearing the 100-family clothes and having 100-family meals, they show the masses’ common virtue of caring and helping each other. The reason why these customs came into being was perhaps because of the poor living and medical conditions in the past. In the past, a child may not receive proper medical treatment when falling ill and many children died very young. People did not know how to handle natural disasters and diseases so they adopted the method of wearing the 100-family clothes and having 100-family meals, hoping their children would receive more protection from more people. Along with the development of society and the improvement in medical conditions, these protective customs have lost their original meaning and only act as a method to entertain the children and improve the relationship among people.