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.