Animals (A-Z)

Bat

Bats fulive in caves, which represent portals to the beyond. 

A bat can be a visual pun for "good fortune" or happiness both characters are pronounced fu. Often bats are shown flying upside down because the character daofor "upside-down" and the character daomeaning "to have arrived" are both pronounced dao. Consequently if a person were to say "the bat is flying upside down" this could be portrayed as "happiness has arrived" Also "a bat descending from the sky" fuzi tianlaisounds like "happiness descends from heaven" fuzi tianlai .

Furthermore Two facing bats mean double good fortune or happiness. Some charms display five bats which stand for the "Five Blessings", namely wealth, health, virtue, composure and longevity. Also the desire to die naturally in old age. 

The design of many traditional Chinese houses consists of five bats around the Chinese character for "longevity" shou this represents the expression wu fu peng shou   or "five fortunes surround longevity". 

Lastly, A Chinese coin with central square hole is referred to as an "eye coin" yanqian . qianis the Chinese word for coin or money and it is is pronounced the same as the word for "before" qian . For this reason, a picture of a bat on an "eye coin" creates a visual pun "bat on the coin" fu zai yan qian this sounds the same as "happiness is before your eyes" fu zai yan qian.

Bear

The bear xiongis a rare animal to be shown on Chinese charms and amulets however it is a powerful animal. The Chinese believe the bear can invoke fear in humans and evil spirits However, the bear is often shown alongside an eagle. An eagle or hawk yingand bear xiongtogether sound like the word "hero" yingxiong .

Boar / Pig

There are old customs surrounding the pig, to have male children wear pig shaped hats and shoes. The parents believe this would avoid misfortune by fooling evil spirits into thinking the child was a pig. 

The pig or boar zhutraditionally symbolizes the prosperity and good fortune of a family, as they could afford such a quality food source.

The pig is also one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac

Carp - The chinese character for carp liis pronounced the same as the characters for profit liand the character for ‘power’ or ‘strength’ li . 

The carp also produces many eggs and therefore is a symbol for many children.

Two carps signify a happy marriage.

A very common image is of a carp swimming against a current and leaping to reach a spawning ground. This is in reference to the legend liyutiaolongmen . The legend suggests that if a carp can leap over the mythical ‘Dragon Gate’ it will become a dragon. This shows this is a fable for the effort required to overcome obstacles in life.

The carp is also used in medicine and is referenced in famous story of Wang Xiang and filial piety.

Cat - The cat maois the protector of silkworms as it can ward off rats and mice, both rats and mice attack the silkworms.

The cat also symbolizes the wish for a long life because it is pronounced the same as the word for an eighty year old "octogenarian" mao .

Cicida - The cicada is a symbol of immortality and rebirth because it survives underground for a long period of time. Once it emerges it flies into the sky.

Crab - The crabis the Chinese word for both crab and Harmony. They are both pronounced xie. 

Often the crab symbol is used on charms, this expresses a desire for peace. For example the large charm tian xia tai ping   shown at Peace Coins and Charms.

The crab is also used to symbolize success in the imperial examination system also use the crab to symbolize success., Because the Chinese word for the crab's shell jiaalso means "first" as in achieving the highest score in the examination to become a government official.

An example of this hidden meaning can be seen at Eight Treasures.

Crane he- The crane is a symbol of longevity as the Chinese believe it to live to a very old age and the crane’s white feathers also represent old age.

An alone crane represents success in becoming a high government official and is seen on pendant Charms. Cranes are also embroidered on the robes of government officials.

Many myths depict immortals and spirits riding on cranes. Souls of the dead are also said to have been carried to heaven by cranes.

The pronunciation of the crane is the same as that for the word "harmony" he , the crane is shown on charms which imply a good, harmonious marriage.

In recent times , the "crane" is referred to as the "national bird of China". However, the "crane" also now refers to the large machines used to lift heavy objects China's major construction boom!

Deer - The Chinese believe deer live to an old age and, as a result, the deer has become a symbol for long life it is also is often seen at the side of Shou, the God of Longevity.

Deer are one of the most frequent animals depicted on charms. The Chinese character for deer iswhich is pronounced lu. The Chinese character , also refers to the salary of a government official, it is also pronounced lu. Beauces of this picture of a deer is therefore expressing hope for a top government office, with a very high salary.

The deer is also traditionally believed to be the only animal capable of finding the magical lingzhi fungus of immortality.

The deer is also often is used as a verbal pun to refer to the due to the deer having the same pronunciation of God of Prosperity lu

Dog - The dog gouis part of the Chinese zodiac. It is one of the 12 animals.

Dragonfly - The dragonfly qingtingis the symbol of the summer. The dragonfly represents the ideal of pureness of character such as in the Confucian. The pronunciation is very similar to the word for "clear" or "pure" qing .

Mandarin Ducks - Mandarin ducks yuanyangor xirepresent conjugal affection, fidelity, peace and prosperity. This is because they are often seen in pairs and when they find a partner, they mate for life.

Eagle / hawk

The pronunciation of eagle or hawk is yingwhich is the same as hero yingxiong . Therefore eagle/hawk symbolizes hero.

Heron/Egret

The heron or egret luhas multiple associations with other words due to their similar pronunciation. For example the Chinese word lumeans ‘path’ or ‘road’ - therefore heron/egret can represent ‘path’ or way’. Similarly, the same pronunciation of ‘officials salary’ lumeans the heron/egret can also be translated to symbolize wealth.

Horse

The horse mais usually portrayed as the bearer of good things and is symbolized by speed, power and perseverance. An example of this is the Yellow River Diagrams, which were delivered to the legendary Chinese leader Fuxi by a galloping horse, who had these scrolls tied onto its back and symbolizes the origins of Chinese culture. The horse is one of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac but can also be associated as a symbol for the Mongols Yuan Dynasty whose culture is vividly reflected by the horse.

Elephant

The Chinese character for ‘elephant’ xiangis pronounced the same as the Chinese word for ‘auspicious’ or lucky’ xiangmeaning the elephant is recognized as an auspicious animal.

A ‘treasure’ vase bao pingis sometimes seen being carried on the back of the elephant. The words ‘vase’ pingand ‘peace’ pingan   have the same pronunciation. The inferred meaning is ‘may you have good luck elephant and peace’ vase.

The elephant is also seen on the ancient and popular Chess board in ‘Elephant Chess’ also known as ‘Chinese Chess’ and

Fish

The Chinese character for fish yuis frequently associated with the wish for ‘more’, in terms of ‘more’ good luck, good fortune, long life and children. This is because the pronunciation is the same as the Chinese character for ‘abundance’ or ‘surplus’ yu . 

To express the desire for ‘having more happiness year after year’ a string of Chinese characters with different symbolism is used, inclucing that of a fish yuto represent more yuhappiness.

Fish are also highly reproductive and therefore also symbolize fertility in marriage whilst a pair of fish shuang yurepresent happiness in marriage.

Fish symbols are rare on real Chinese coins however fish charms are fairly common.

Five poisons

The five poisonsare represented as five animals which counteract pernicious influences by tackling poison with poison. The five animals are the snake, scorpion, centipede, toad and spider. The spider is sometimes replaced by the lizard and the toad is sometimes called the ‘three legged toad’.

Frog

The frog wahas the same pronunciation as the word for baby waand therefore represents fertility.

Goat

The goat refers to an ancient myth involving a great famine in Guangzhou Canton, Guangdong Province which was discussed at Five Goat Coin.

Goldfish

Goldfish jinyurepresents wealth because its two characters means gold and jade. The second character yu also has the same pronunciation as the word for ‘abundance’ or ‘surplus’.

Monkey

The monkey houis one of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. Ma shang feng houis a Chinese inscription where a monkey is seen riding a horse, and the monkey is a visual pun for this. The fourth character hou means ‘monkey’ but another character also pronounced houmeans a marquis i.e. high official therefore this combination means the monkey on a horse is a visual pun for an immediate promotion.

Lion

History and Development of the Chinese Image of Lion

The image of stone sculptural lion first appeared in China during Eastern Han Period with the coming of Buddhism in China from India.

The stone lion image we see today is the accumulation of more than 2000 years of artistic creativity and development. The artistic image of lion forms an important part of China’s unique cultural heritage.

Stone image of lion in the Eastern Han period is rendered in a realistic way emphasizing agility of movement and the power of the head. The tail is also enhanced with extra length to create a unity of strength and action.

By the time of Northern and Southern Dynasties, stone sculptural image of lion assumed the role of guardian and protector. Therefore the image of lion emphasizes an overall presentation of power and authority. The style of expression became more symbolic rather than realistic – the features on the face especially the mouth are exaggerated. The details on the fur and the muscles on the legs are decorated with symbolic patterns to inspire awe and mystery.

Tang Dynasty brings the art of stone sculptural lion to its peak. Lions of the Tang Dynasty are executed with top skill blending refinement of details and robustness in perfect balance and harmony. Sculptural technique is highly developed with the incoming of foreign ideas and inspiration through the Silk Road; artisans not only display great skill of the art but also show tremendous creativity and style. The lions produced in this period project an overflowing emotion of energy and grandeur which reflect the richness of the metropolis of Xian. Lions are realistically portrayed with dramatic emphasis to show forth dramatic power and strength.

Song Dynasty is a period when China suffered most humiliation in terms of territory reduction as a result of nomadic invasion in the North. The capital was forced to move to the South. The government was tragically weak in military strategy and manipulated by petty revengeful mean people who were interested in solidifying their own influence and power rather than building up a strong nation. As a result, many talents and educated scholars left the court and devoted their time and energy in other pursuits such as art and literature. Perhaps it is due to this quiet undercurrent of melancholy of the nation’s military weakness, and indignation from knowing that the nation’s affairs and welfare being in the hands of corrupt people, Song Dynasty art forms and expressions, though exceptionally fine, lack the dynamics we see in Tang Dynasty art. The lions made during this period still retain the normal vigor and power in form but human characteristics are added to the lions to convey different human emotions.

Yuan and Ming periods are called the transitional period for the artistic form of lions in China. The main characteristics of Ming Dynasty lions are:

1 The head is proportionally much bigger with a short forehead. 

2 The legs are large and circular. The fur is depicted in neat circular swirls showing a lot of details in craftsmanship. The ears are very often depicted with a slight curve on the tips blending harmoniously with the curly furs. 

3 All the facial features are exaggerated and have more of a round form.

By the time of Qing Dynasty, sets of formulaic details representing different emotions and characteristics are established. Part of these formulaic details include:

1 Protruding eyeballs to stress strong emotion. 

2 Eyes arranged in position like the Chinese numeral 8 represent the emotion of concerns and worries. 

3 Eyes arranged in a straight-line position represent the emotion of mildness and gentleness. 

4 Eyes arranged in position like an upside down Chinese numeral 8 represent strength and greatness. 

5 Large head with open mouth symbolizes peace and good omens. 

6 Tips of the lips curved up symbolize happiness, tips of lips in straight line position symbolize that the lion is tamed and tips of lips curved down means anger.

Apart from the facial details listed above, the decorative patterns and movements of each body part also have definite symbolic meaning. Further more, the form and details of an imperial lions are different from domestic lions.

In addition to domestic lions, there are lions found in Buddhist temple, and lions found in Taoist temples. All these lions have different set of symbols representing different beliefs and aspirations.

To summarize, the image of Northern lions is more stern and heavy looking whereas Southern lions are much more lively and sweet. Lions from South West and South East China incorporated a lot of local ethnic elements which show a reflection of man’s naivete and flirtation with mystery.

Flowers, Fruit, Vegetation, Plants & Nature (A-Z)

Apple

An apple may be perceived from its original Chinese symbol as ‘peace’, due to the the word being pronounced as ping for both apple and peace, even though they are spelt differently.

Apricot

A symbol of success derived from the thought that the imperial examination system within China in ancient times honored their first successful candidates in an apricot grove.

Bamboo

Upright, strong and resilient but with the ability to flex gracefully, this is a plant aligned with Confucian scholars as it shares their attributes. Bamboo also has the ability to protect as, once placed in a fire, the bamboo sounds like firecrackers - enough to scare anyone.

Bran

Symbolising fertility and wealth fu zithis will be found at many Chinese weddings, as when pronounced the word sounds the same as ‘ich son’ thereby wishing the couple children who will become wealthy.

Cabbage

Pronounced the same as oney’ or ealth’ baicaior qingcai , this has come to symbolise wealth.

Calamus

A plant with sword like leaves chang pu , which if hung over doors and gates is believed to protect against disease, misfortune and evil.

Cassia

Beautiful yellow flowers on an evergreen bush gui , representing the desire for many sons who will attain high office or success within the imperial examination system.

Chestnut

An auspicious good luck word liziwhich relates to creating a family.

Chrysanthemum

Being a symbol of the tenth month of the lunar calendar this signifies virtue over adversity ju .

Clouds

The word used for cloud is not dissimilar to that for good luck and therefore has an auspicious meaning xiangyun .

Cypress

The leaves of this tree have traditionally been used at weddings bai .

Date

The date fruit zaoor Chinese Jujube, is pronounced the same as the word for ‘early’ or ‘soon.’ This conveys that something is going to happen soon, because of this dates are often placed on beds of brides. Wood from the date tree was also often used to build beds for children.

Dumplings

Chinese dumplings jiaozican symbolize many different things, for example dumpings stuffed with dates show a hope for the ‘early’ birth of sons. They also resemble a crescent half moon shape and the wish of a year of abundance. The word itself can also be broken down. Jiaozi can have the hidden meaning of the wish for a large family because broken down the word has two meanings jiao"to have sexual intercourse" and zi"son" or "child"

The word dumpling jiaozialso has the same pronunciation of the first paper money jiaoziThis was used during the Song Dynasty in early China.

 

Four Plants of Virtue

Also known as the Four Gentlemen, the Four Plants of Virtue sijunziinclude the orchid, plum, chrysanthemum and bamboo.

The plants each represent one of the seasons. The orchid, spring. The bamboo, summer. The chrysanthemum, autumn and the plum represents winter. Together they represent a year.  The bamboo and the plum together also stand for friendship.

Immortality

Immortality Fungus Lingzhiknown otherwise as the glossy ganoderma, the fungus of immortality grows on trunks and roots of trees. The reason the lingzhi has its name and is associated with longevity is because it does not decay or die like other fungi, instead it becomes woody and can survive for a long time. It was also believed to grow on the "Three Islands of the Immortals".

Longevity Stone

Longevity Stones are odd shaped rocks that are shown next to the Lingzhifungus of immortality on charms. Also, because of their age the convey the meaning of a long life.

Lotus

Buddha is often shown seated on a lotus, the lotus is considered a sacred Buddhist symbol one of Eight Auspicious Symbols It represents detachment from worldly cares 

lianhuaor hehuaare the chinese words for Lotus. Lian also means continuousand he is also the pronunciation for the word harmony"continuous harmony" can also be a meaning for the Lotus.  Shown together A lotus stem & lotus pod symbolize marital harmony and sexual union.  Lotus seeds lianzi   represent a hidden meaning of "continuous birth of children" because the lian sounds like "continuous"  The zi has the same pronunciation as ziwhich is the word for son or child zi . As seen above on this page.

Moon

Often "moon" or "crescent" is a symbol which is found on old Chinese coins. Also according to Chinese mythology, the Three-Legged Toad lives on the moon and according to Daoist legend, the "Moon Hare" "Jade Rabbit" that makes the elixir of immortality lives on the moon.

Mountain

Because of their expanse & height they convey the meaning of limitless. Mountains shanare the places closest to the gods.

Mugwort

Also known as artemisia leaf, Mugwort aiis a member of the Eight Treasures. because of its medicinal properties, It is a symbol for longevity. In ancient china, mugwort was attached to doors and gates, Its aroma is also believed to repel insects and its leaves resemble tiger paws, this was believed to provide protection.

Onion

The onion congsignifies intelligence, it has the same pronunciation as the word for "intelligent" or "clever" congming 

Orange

Because of their gold color, Oranges symbolize good fortune aswell as riches. The chinese character for the orange is juwhich is includes jimeaning "lucky or auspicious" and mu , meaning "tree". These two components of the character imply that the orange is a "good luck" fruit.

Orchid

One of the Four Gentlemen the orchid stands for beauty, humility, refinement and modesty.

Osmanthus

The blossom Osmanthus guican mean "honor" or "precious" It is pronounced the as the word "valuable" or "precious".

Peach

The peach taohas many meanings and symoblizes marriage, justince and specifially Daoist immortality longevity. It also signifies the second month of the lunar calendar.  The peach is one of the Three Plenties Three Abundances.  Peach wood was also used to make many important items such as amulets, arrows and swords in ancient China. This is because the word peach is pronounced the same and the chinese word for ‘run away’ and ‘flee’

Peanut

The peanut huashengsymbolizes the wish for many children it is an opportune symbol, its second character shengmeans to "give birth".

Pearl

The pearl has a resmblance to the moon and is often shown with flames, these signify magic and may represent the wish-granting pearl of buddhism. 

Dragons are often shown chasing a "pearl" or jewel object. It may be seen as a metaphor for enlightenment or perfection.  The dragon and pearl symbolizes an endless cycle of transformation.  As a dragon devours the pearl, it is seen as a waning moon. As a dragon regurgitates the pearl, more and more of the pearl can be seen and the pearl then appears as a waxing moon.  Other meanings can refer to pure intentions and riches, the flaming pearl is also one of the Eight Treasures.

Peony

Firstly a peonyin a vase pinghas the hidden meaning of "wealth and honor" and "peace" pingan.

The tree peony or mudansymbolizes longevity, happiness, eternal beauty and loyalty. It also signifies the 3rd month of the lunar calendar due to it often growing as doubles, the peony appears to the Chinese like strings of cash coins and therefore has come to symbolize prosperity and wealth. Because of this another name for the peony is fuguihuawhich means "flower of wealth and honor". A charm using the peony as a symbol for "wealth and honor" may be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.

Persimmon

The persimmon shiis opportune because of its orange colour and round shape. The persimmon is as a visual pun rebus as it has the same pronunciation as the word for "matters, affairs or events" shi . Persimmon is also the word for an "official" or "gentleman" shi .

Pine

The pine tree songis a common symbol for longevity. This is because it can endure severw winters and is an evergreen. The pine is also a member of the Three Friends in Winter and represents solitude. Pine can also offer protection when planted near graves, this is due to the mythical creature Wang Xiang , who devours the brains of the dead is afraid of pine.

Plum

The plum meisymbolizes hope and courage, it blossoms first and bravely stands against the dangers of winter before others. The plum also signifies the first month of the lunar calendar and is a member of the ‘Three Friends of Winter’

The plum blossom has five petals and symbolizes the "five blessings" wufu , also known as the "five happinesses" or "five good fortunes". These five blessings refer to virtue , longevity , wealth , healthand to die a natural death in old age.

Pomegranate

The pomegranate shiliuis a member of the Three Abundances Three Plenties. The pomegranate has many seeds and this represents fertility, offspring and descendants. It also signifies the sixth month of the lunar calendar. The pomegranate is an important symbol in Chinese marriages.

The first character shiis pronounced the same as the word for "generations" shiand therefore strengthens the meaning as generations of descendants.

Pumpkin

The pumpkin nangua   symbolizes the wish for sons because it sounds like "boy" nan .

Star

Stars have a relationship with moon, cloud, and dragon symbols. "Stars" or dots are sometimes found on ancient Chinese coins.

Willow

Its branches were and were used in exorcisms and in "sweeping tombs" during the Qingming Festivalor "Festival of the Tombs" The branches are considered magical. During the festival young men wore green willow branches in their hair in the belief that it would prevent them from being changed into a brown dog in a future existence.

Because of similarity in pronunciation to the Chinese word "to part" li , willow branches also represent parting, since they were traditionally given to friends departing for distant lands. The willow is also associated with the life of scholars and poets who drew inspiration while strolling among them.