Chinese Art Symbols

Although many diverse cultures have carved jade, it is really the Chinese who have raised it to the level of an art. The master Chinese carvers grew more bold and ambitious with the discovery of jadeite jade several hundred year ago. The colors of jadeite jade were more diverse and vivid than the soapy, bland tones of nephrite jade. Using the material very wisely, they have created some of the most extraordinary gemstome carvings in the world.

Symbolism is key in Chinese culture. Everything has a meaning. Most art symbols are taken directly from nature and are an essential aspect of Chinese art. Most pieces follow classical patterns and motifs; listed below are some of the more common symbols and a brief description.

As a Chinese decorative motif, the apple blossom is considered a symbol of feminine beauty.

In Chinese, the word for Apple and Peace are similarly pronounced as “Ping.”  The giving of the gift of apples, whether real or symbolic, is considered an offering of the idea of eternal peace and harmony and is comparable to the salutation “peace be with you”.

The fruit of the apricot is symbolic of the delicate grace and appeal of the female. The eyes of the Chinese beauties are often compared to the almond shaped seed within the fruit.

Apricot blossoms symbolize the wish for successful passing of examinations.

Sung Tzu-ching, President of the Board Works and a celebrated author once wrote "The scholar has reaped the reward that is due, And homeward returns on his wearying steed; When the blossoming apricots come into view, He urges his charger to bear him with speed."

The fruit of the apricot is symbolic of the delicate grace and appeal of the female. The eyes of the Chinese beauties are often compared to the almond shaped seed within the fruit.

Apricot blossoms symbolize the wish for successful passing of examinations.

Sung Tzu-ching, President of the Board Works and a celebrated author once wrote "The scholar has reaped the reward that is due, And homeward returns on his wearying steed; When the blossoming apricots come into view, He urges his charger to bear him with speed."

In ancient China, archery was a very important requirement for hunting, warfare, and sport. Archer's rings have been found in China in tombs dating from 4000 years ago. One of the earliest archers ring found, which was made of jade, was in a tomb of the Yin Dynasty.

Traditionally the ring was worn on the thumb of the stronger arm to protect the archer’s finger when drawing back the string of the bow. It was a popular gift among nobles and is a symbol of an emperor’s power.

It was necessary to have a model of an axe handle to create another one as it is was necessary to have a go between to arrange a marriage. Thus, the axe is symbolic of the “marriage go-between.”

The axe is also associated as the foremost weapon of the Buddhist deities. It also pertains to Lu Ban, a famous Chinese mechanic, who lived in the State of Lu about 500BC and is now worshipped as the God of Carpenters.

The axe is also one of the Twelve Ornaments which
were embroidered on the robes of Heads of State
and were symbols of authority and power.

Bamboo is a symbol of longevity and durability. Growing abundantly throughout parts of China, bamboo has been revered throughout the ages for its resilience and intregrity. It endures harsh cold and wind, yet it always returns to its natural vertical position.

Its appearance may seem flimsy, but bamboo is strong and durable. Thus bamboo has become a symbol for longevity and is an example and symbol to us all that the way to a long happy like is to go with the flow endure the hardships and look forward to calm and easy days.

Those who advise on the practice of Feng Shui recommened placing a bamboo plant near the entrance of your home, so you and yours will will have a long life.

To the Chinese the bat is symbolic of longevity and happiness. In Chinese, the word for bat and happiness are similarly pronounced as ‘Fu.’

One of the most popular bat designs is the five bat motif; representing the five blessings wished upon self and others – old age, wealth, health, love of virtue and natural death.

The bat is used so very often as an art symbol that it can appear very plainly and simply or quite ornate and curved.

Other Bat Art Motifs

  • Bats Upside Down - Blessings have arrived
  • Pair of Bats - Double blessings
  • Bats & Clouds - May you have good fortune
  • Bats Descending From Sky - Blessings descending from heaven
  • Red Bats Flying in Sky - May your blessings be as vast as the sky
  • Bat & Gourds - May you have both blessings and wealth
  • Bats & Peaches - May you possess both blessings and longevity
  • Bats & Mushroom - Wishing blessings of longevity

The bear was more common in China in ancient times. One cna still find the black, grizzly and panda bear in parts of China.

There is a legend that one of the Chou Emperors dreamt that a bear entered his home and sat by the side of his bed in a chair and told of unforeseen events and advised of affairs of state.

The bear is a symbol of stength, courage and bravery.

Bees were mostly kept by monks that utilized the honey and wax for foods and candles. The Chinese bee is depicted with a gentle character. In China the word for bee and wasp are the same and is a symbol of industriousness and prudence.  A depiction of a group of bee means a well orchestrated industry. 

When given as a gift, in a work of art, it can be a gesture of encouragement to rise higher in one’s field of work or study.

Throughout history, bells have played an important role in many cultural arenas; namely religious and military. In china formal bells were often commissioned by the emperor for use in assembling the people to receive the emperor's 'imperial will'.

There were four types of tongued bells that were used for military purposes. Therefore the bell became a symbol of reverence and respect

Wind-bells, which were hung on the eaves of tmeples, were said to disperse evil spirits when the bells would ring.

The pig/boar is a popular symbol of wealth and prosperity, especially for businesses. The wild boar s symbolic of the wealth of the forest.

It is also the last animal in the Chinese Zodiac. Those born under this sign are honest and straightforward. They are chivalrous and intelligent. They are most compatible
with the rabbit, ram and horse, and should avoid the snake, monkey and boar.

A Jade carving of a pig would make a wonderful gift for someone born in the year of the pig. These years are: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007... Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The broom is a surprisingly important item and motif in Chinese culture.  In addition to the basic interpretation of the ability to keep the house clean of dirt, the broom represents the power, wisdom, and insight to sweep away the filth of worry, hassles, and mundane difficulties.

In works of art there can be found animals or wise people holding a broom.  When given to another, the symbol of the broom can be a gesture of forgiveness, letting go, or the sweeping away of negative feelings.

There is a peticular type of inedible citron that resembles the classic position of Buddha's hand with the index and little finger pointing upward. The Chinese call this fruit the “Buddha’s hand.” This unusual, inedible fruit is extremely fragrant and often used for ceremonial offerings and scenting rooms.  They are placed in porcelain bowls

It is also symbol for wealth as it gives the impression of a hand grasping for money.

A Buddha’s hand in combination with a peach and pomegranate form a motif known as the “Three Abundances” – blessings of long life and many children.

The famous Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was transformed into a butterfly and found great delight flying from flower to flower sipping on divine nectar. Hence the butterfly became an emblem of joy.

The same philosopher tells of a story where he was playfully chasing after a butterfly and finds himself wandering into a private garden. In the garden is a beautiful woman. He is so taken by her beauty that he is determined the work hard and try to make her his wife.

The butterfly is a symbol of love, especially young love. Butterflies symbolize the undying tie between lovers making it a wonderful wedding or anniversary gift.

The cat is a symbol of wishes of longevity. In Chinese, the word ‘cat’ is the same as the word for an eighty year old man. 

In a Jade carving, a cat will often appear with a butterfly which makes an appropriate gift in wishing for long life and the double cat carving signifies marrital bliss.

An important flower in China, the chrysanthemum represents autumn and is the flower of the ninth moon.

It also symbolizes joviality because of the pleasure and healing that this plant offers. Out of the innumerable varieties of these flowers one can cultivate tonics, sedatives, cosmetics, and tea.

It is the large variety of Katydid that is mostly known; the male sings what is assumed to be a perpetual love song. Cicada is the emblem of immortality and resurrection, it is also a symbol of happiness and eternal youth as it lives for 17 years, longer than any other insect.

The Po Ku T’u—compilation of symbols and ornaments—says “the tiny creature though it be, it may nevertheless serve to illustrate great ideas, signifying as it does the restraint of cupidity and vice.”

Chinese cash—or coin—is very popular both, as an amulet or an ornament being the symbol of prosperity and wealth. Coins are rather common and are worn to ward off evil.

A coin shaped object of jade, a disc with round or square hole, is an emblem of rank and two coins hung over the entrance of a shop is supposed to attract prosperity and wealth to the commercial establishment.  A round jade disk with a round hole in the middle was once a badge of rank called a bi (pronounced ‘bee’). 

Coins are thought to ward off evil spirits; protecting those who wear them or hang them above their bed. Three coins are often tied together with a red ribbon- the color of good fortune in Chinese culture.

The shape of the coin is usually round with a square center cut out; representing heaven as round and earth square in the middle. Throughout different dynasties the shape of the coin has changed to reflect the respective leaders.

Feng shui practitioners often use coins and jade to balance the energies and bring good fortune to a home. When strategically placed, jade and coins are believed to clear the energy within the home as well as those dwelling therein.

The coin motif adds to the symbolic depth of a piece of jade jewelry. The coin is a recurring theme in Jadeite carvings and add the charm of prosperity to the overall meaning of a piece. The uniqueness of each jade carving will surely be a reflection of the uniqueness of the individual who wears it.

The marine shell is an insignia of royalty and a symbol of a prosperous voyage. It is also regarded as an emblem of the Buddha preaching the laws of his doctrine and it is referred to as The Footprints of Buddha. The conch is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism, representing the subtle teachings of Buddha.

Like the curls of the Buddha, the shells are innumerable throughout many lands, and were considered holy whirls moving from left to right, or east to west in sympathy with the Sun in its daily course through heaven.

The crane is endowed with many mythical attributes; it is the most celebrated bird. It lives an unusually long life and is a symbol of longevity. A white crane was embroidered on court robes.  Symbolizing longevity the crane at 600 years of age may drink but it no longer eats declining the continuity of its life.

The crane manifests an unusual interest in human affairs; its figure with outspread wings was customary to be placed on the coffin of the deceased it being the conveyor of the soul to the Western Heaven.

Crickets are known for their combating spirit and courage. They are used in a game; caught and confronted with each other to fight though the game seldom ended tragically by a loss of life or limb.

Crickets are fun. They are the symbol of courage and the symbol of summer. 

Crows, both in black or white-necked, are found in large numbers in China. Crow, the name is an indicator of the raucous sound it makes.

The red or golden crow with three feet is known to be a dweller of the Sun and it is the symbol of filial piety; known to take care of its elderly disabled parents.

The white-winged raven—as known in China—is in fact an omen of evil, because of its harsh crow sound like ka, the word for bite in Chinese. The cawing of a crow to the south at 3 and 7 AM is felicitous; at 7 and 11 AM portends wind and rain.

The miniature Chinese cherries are too sour to eat but can be made into preserves with honey. However the tree, its leaves, roots, branches, flowers, and pips being astringent are known to have cosmetic and medicinal properties.

The cherry tree has become the symbol for beauty; poets sing of it rich color of ruby and sapphire. The famous beauty, Fan Su, the concubine of the poet Po Chu-I, with her brilliant red lips comparable to that of the color of the cherry has become the well known emblem of the fair sex.  

The deer is the only animal that can find the sacred fungus of immortality and has therefore become the symbol of longevity. The horn of the deer holds an important place in Chinese Materia Medica; they are sorted as “old’ or “young.” The internal parts are made into pills and sold to heal rickets and other infantile diseases. Chinese people eat harts-horn in large quantities at a great expense to prolong their life.

The dog is much valued for its fidelity.  Chinese people believe that if a strange dog follows one it means that it is a good omen and the person shall attain great wealth.

The oldest representation of dogs is engraved on a bronze vase in the Field Museum of Chinese Pottery. Carvings of dogs were made out of jade well before the Christian era.  The Emperor Ling Ti pampered his dogs more than the Western Culture does at present. Small Pekingese dogs were the favorite, but tinier the dogs the more they were favored.   “The dog is a creature that keeps watch…”

The dog is the eleventh animal in the Chinese zodiac. The person born during this time will possess the best traits in human nature.

Their main virtue being loyalty, the dog person will be there to aid friends and loved ones every time without fail. They possess great sensitivity and empathy for others, especially if there is an injustice that has occurred.  These people are honest, intelligent, and straightforward -not afraid to take on responsibility.  The year of the dog personality can sometimes be selfish and stubborn. When they are out of balance they tend to be fault finding with sharp words. The following are year of the dog: 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018… Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The Buddhist lion is a recurring symbol in Chinese art and legend. The Empress Tzu Hsi laid down the rule: The Lion Dog shall have short legs not to wander far off, body like that of a hunting dog, lively and pompous yet, timid to avoid danger; the color golden sable (like a lion), striped like a dragon to suit costumes. It should wash its face like a cat—dainty. The Dog of Fo shall be courageous and fierce.

The Chinese word for Buddha is Fo and when Buddhist tales of the religious significance of lions reached China (where at this point the animal was unknown), devotional statues of it were modeled after the countries native dogs. 

Becoming known as “dog of fo” they were placed on either side of the entrance as protectors for sacred Buddhist temples. After this point they also became guardians to tombs, official buildings and homes.

The most common dove in China is the Turtle-dove; it is the symbol of long life. It was an ancient custom to present old persons with a jadestone scepter  one foot long adorned at one end with the figure of a dove. The “pigeon-staff” is a symbol of protracted longevity and filial duty.

In the Book of Odes are the following lines:
The Turtle-dove is in the mulberry tree, /And her young ones are seven in number; /The virtuous man, the princely one, /Is uniformly correct in his deportment.

Since the Second Century BC the five clawed dragon has been the symbol of imperial power, vigilance and safe-guard; during the ceremony of the seating the Emperor he carries a gold-embroidered dragon on a yellow satin umbrella. The dragon is also the symbol of strength and goodness. 

The Dragon Boat Festival on the 5th day of the 5th moon on a boat ornamented with a dragon-head is a traditional remembrance of a courtier of virtue and fidelity.  Yet, its image also conveys the power of transformation from visible to indivisible: in the spring it ascends in the skies; in the autumn it buries itself in the watery depths. It covers itself with mud in the autumnal equinox and emerges in the spring announcing the awakening of nature’s energies.

This ancient fanciful creature represents life itself - for it is thought to be the backdrop of each transformation taking place. The dragon is said to be able to change form at will; this is one reason why it has many different representations in jade carvings.

For example, Jade carvings of fish transforming into dragons represent the time of life when a young person takes what they have learned in their studies and enters the larger world as an adult.

The serpentine dragon of the east, which symbolizes fertility, is often coupled with the phoenix for blessings of marital bliss and procreation. The dragon, more often than not, is depicted in jade carvings reaching for, holding or guarding the pearl of wisdom which represents enlightened knowledge.

The dragon is the fifth and only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac. Years of the dragon are: 1916, 1928, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024. Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac Signs.

Year of the dragon personality is a highly enthusiastic, larger than life, healthy, and stubborn persona. Dragon people are flamboyant, attractive, and full of strength and vitality. They draw others into their natural leadership and see the potential that lies within even the smallest projects. They are able to accomplish their highest goals once they can harness their tremendous energy, intellect, and talents. Dragon people also set high standards for themselves and others. They are highly charitable and often aid friends and family in times of need.

There is great mystic and depth within the dragon symbol. Owning a jade dragon pendant can be a personal confirmation to ones own journey of transformation.

The duck is the emblem of felicity and is commonly depicted with the lotus. The Mandarin Duck has exceptionally beautiful plumage distinguishing it from the average duck.

This water fowl manifest an unusual attachment to its mate; separated they pine away and die. Hence they have become the symbol of conjugal fidelity.

A jade duck makes a wonderful anniversary or wedding gift.

Eagles and falcons are considered ying—the swooping gesture of the raptor—for their raptorial qualities of boldness, strength, and keen vision. The feathers of these birds believed to have medical benefits; they are believed to have the power to cure smallpox.

Falcon banners are still borne in Turkestan and live hawks—one other predatory bird—is carried as the emblem of authority.

A surface view of the eight trigrams reveals they are a symbol of Eastern philosophy.

Three unbroken lines stacked upon each other represent the Yang, male principle; broken lines are Yin, the female principle. Combination and variation of broken or unbroken lines represent the evolution of nature and its cyclic changes : 1,heaven, 2, water, 3, fire, 4, thunder, 5, wind,  6,moon,  7,mountain, and 8,earth; the interpretation of each blessings with the symbolic meaning for each sign, such as pleasure, flexibility, etc.

Within each trigram there is yin and yang thus the trigrams represent the 8 types of consciousness: Sense, Think, Feel, Will, Body, Soul, Spirit & Awareness.

A plaque of the 8 trigrams and the symbol of Yin-Yang the symbol of creation in its center shield the wearer from misfortune assuring prosperity. Such a plaque may be tacked upon the door for good fortune.

The elephant is believed to understand human speech, it is herbivorous, and drinks wine. It fears serpents, fire and smoke, and lions.

The elephant symbolizes strength, sagacity, and prudence. It also represents power or energy. It is also one of the Seven Treasures of Buddhism and is sacred to Buddhism. Near the cities of Beijing and Nanking gigantic monoliths of elephants line the way to the tombs of the Ming Emperors. There is also a myth associating the elephant with fertility.

Buddha formulated his view of life into a twelve, linked, continuous chains called the “Wheel of Life,” also called “Becoming.” This chain is one of the insignias of some Buddhist deities. It is considered a symbol of longevity, true love, and "wheel" of life.

In Jade carvings and other Chinese art, the endless knot symbolizes infinity or eternity.  It is known as the lovers’ knot of eternal love.

Fire
Fire is the second of the Five Elements and by its powerful attribute Buddhist deities have halos of fire surrounding them. It is emblematic of danger, speed, anger, ferocity, and lust.

Effigies of colored paper are burned by the grave-side with the hope of the assistance in entering the spirit-world. A bride is lifted over burning coal to facilitate child-birth; and lanterns are a significant token in the social and spiritual life of the Chinese people. There are a great variety of lanterns with a small flame: cubical, circular, square, thin or oblong, etc. Some have Chinese characters with the motif of happiness, longevity, gladness.  

Firecrackers
Firecrackers are symbols for the New Year. They are set off on New Year’s Day to scare off bad luck from the old year and usher in peace and blessings for the year to come.

Originally, bamboo was lit on fire to make the snapping and cracking noises that were believed to ward off negative spirits.

It is the emblem of wealth and abundance, harmony and connubial bliss. Also, it is the symbol of regeneration and freedom. The fish is a most beloved and preferred symbol in Chinese culture especially in art.

The carp is admired for perseverance against the current of the water and according to legends letters of the alphabet have been found on its insides revealing an epistolary capability. The sturgeon of the Yellow River may successfully transform into a dragon indicating its ability to pass academic examinations.     

Fish in general are a symbol of harmonious marriage and blessings of many children or great abundance in one’s life.

Freshwater fish are mainly used in Jade carvings such as the carp, catfish, freshwater perch, mandarin, and goldfish.

It might be made of the tail of a yak or ox, may be made from white horse hair or flex attached to a plain or carved wooden handle. It is used in Buddhist religious rites and wave away flies.

Buddha says not to kill even mosquitoes but to brush them away.

Its origin is India; many Buddhists images are represented holding a flywhisk. It is symbolic of leadership, and mercy.

The fox is a transformation of a lewd woman of yore punished for her vices therefore the fox has the power of transformation. A possessed man (by the fox) can commit extravagances and even have the power to heal.
The fox is an uncanny creature capable of numberless mischief and those that fall under its spell are rather unfortunate. On the other hand, a “fox god” as such is able to find lost or misplaced documents.   

Craftiness, cunning, "mischief" in love affairs.

The Chinese do not distinguish between toad and frog; they are both plentiful in rice-paddies where the tiny spawn is considered to be the “heavenly chicken.” It might be used for heart remedy as it is put through a process to extract the healing fluid.

The three legged toad is auspicious to good fortune and the symbol of money-making.

Good fortune in gambling or money-making. The Three-Legged Frog symbolizes 'magic' for the 'unattainable'.

The mushroom is a “plant of long life” or “plant of immortality.” It is also called the “divine” plant.” When dried it lasts without spoilage for years and grows near the root of trees.

In the abodes of Immortals, so says the fable, the sacred fungus grew and wine flowed from the fountain of jade. A great variety of fungus—mushroom—is considered to have medicinal properties.   

The mushroom or fungus is the symbol of longevity or immortality.The mushroom is considered a divine plant and its seeds are greatly respected by Taoist mystics as holy food for revealing the truth of all that is good. Many species of mushrooms are cultivated and used as food, tonic, and medicine to achieve healing for a longer life.

A common motif in jade carvings, the mushroom is often carved in jade in combination with other jade symbols. For example, the mushroom can be found in the mouth of a deer which is said to be the only animal able to find the “magic mushroom.”  Often, the Buddha is depicted holding the long stem of a mushroom which can represent the attainment of immortality; the ability to go beyond the ego state of being. 

The lamb represents filial respect; it kneels respectfully when taking its mother’s milk. The goat is also called the hill-sheep and it is a very popular animal in China.

However, the sheep is not as common as the goat and it is not revered. The wool is used but the mutton is not a very popular meal.  

The Chinese sign-symbol of a sheep is like a conventional picture of a ram with horns, feet and tail. There is a great deal of similarity between the sheep and the goat. Both represent abundance carrying stalks of grain in their mouth presenting them to the people: “May famine and death never visit your markets.”

The domestic sheep is the broad-tailed species and is not so common as the goat. The wild sheep looks more like a ram or a deer than a sheep.

Gourd is the symbol of mystery and necromancy.

It has the power to set spirits free from the body, it is a representation of Li Tieguai - one of the Eight Immortals in Taoism who shows his power in setting his spirit free by holding the gourd in his hand while smoke rises gracefully from it.

The image of a gourd worn around the neck or wrist is used as a charm to evoke longevity.

Children have gourds attached to their back to keep them afloat should the boat sink or if they fall overboard. It is a useful receptacle for medicine and can be used as a sign for a Chinese pharmacy. Figures in the shape of gourds can be used for a lantern or if small as a charm or amulet to ward off evil. It is also a useful and practical thing.    

The heart is the prince or ruler of the body and is the keeper of intelligence. As the seat of the intellect, the heart is one of the Eight Treasures in Buddhism.

The Chinese believe that the heart is pierced by a number of “eyes” or apertures, which pass right through, and these “passages” in good mental and physical health are supposed to be clear. The heart symbolizes the sacred Wheel of Life.       

It is one of the five centers of emotional feelings; cycle of love.

The horse has a long, rich history with mankind and has been the backbone for civil advancement.

The horse is revered for its speed and perseverance.

The eight steeds of the fifth dynasty are often used as an art symbol; with these eight steeds—each with a distinguishing name—King Mu was through the Empire driven by his charioteer.

The image of the King of Horses in clay though quite ugly in wayside shrines, it is worshipped by horse-breeders. The deity is supposed to be able to protect cattle from evil spirits.

The horse is the seventh sign in the Chinese Zodiac and is symbolic of endurance, stability, speed, and loyalty.

The symbol of the horse is the seventh sign in the Chinese Zodiac for the years of 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, ... Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The dragon is able to reduce to the size of the silk-worm or enlarge itself to fill the space between the heaven and earth. It can bury itself in the depths of the fountains and has magical powers of geomancy—drawing lines in the ground that can affect the outcome of events.

The Chinese truly believe in its existence; their history is inundated with legends about the dragon. The stories about dragons are quite elaborate and obscure; difficult to grasp by Western mentality.

Also symbolic of young dragons and playfulness.

The Ju-I scepter is a symbol for Lao-Tzu, the revered founder of Taoism. It is often represented in the form of a short blunt sword used to ‘point the way'.

A short sword with a sword guard was used by the ancients for protection. It is now given as a gift with good wishes for prosperity.

It appears in the hands of idols as the symbol of cleanliness and brightness shedding brilliant light on all surrounding objects. It is a symbol of guiding light and guarding against the unexpected.

Hence it is the emblem of the Buddha and his doctrines and a "scepter" symbolic of Buddhist principals.

The ju-I scepter is also a symbol of the sacred fungus or ‘plant of long life.’ Both can be found within many jade carvings.

This symbolic pattern has been a steadfast theme in Chinese art from the beginnings of archaic pictographs representing thunder and clouds. These continuous patterns create a mesmerizing prayer that connects the artist and viewer with the natural world.

The simplest ornament and one most frequently applied not only ancient but modern art is this meander or key pattern. Also known as the “thunder pattern” since the Chinese believes that it evolved from pictographs of clouds and thunder.

To an agricultural people like the Chinese of yore this emblem possessed a supreme importance. Rain was heaven-sent gift of abundance.

Known as “she who hears prayers,” also as “great mercy, great pity…salvation from misery, salvation from woe,” Kwan Yin is the Goddess of the Southern Sea and the Goddess of Mercy. She is associated with powers to restore eyesight and heal the sick. She is worshipped as the personification of compassion, healer of pain and suffering, and the inspiration of pure love and serenity.

Images of her can be found in temples, homes, and shrines. The image of Kuan Yin is a reminder of one’s true nature which is where love and compassion dwell freely.

Although her father condemned her to death, her presence put out the fires of hell and she returned to the living. There are thousands of incarnations of this divinity always dressed in white flowing robes. She rules over the divine supremacy of the forces of nature.

The leaf is one of the Eight Ordinary Symbols within the Eight Treasures of Buddhism.  Foliage abounds in many artistic works; the image of leaf represents the natural world and the joy and contentment that one can find within oneself while amongst nature.

There are eight trees whose leaves have medicinal attributes and might even channel immortality on those that eat them. The cassia-tree also grows on the moon; the man, Wu Tang, committed a sin and was banished to the moon by the gods; his task to hew the tree that healed upon the blows of the ax.

A leaf on a fillet is used as a decorative ornament on porcelain as an emblem of felicity.

The lion is the master of the feline species. In Buddhism the lion is the defender of law and protector of sacred buildings hence lion figures at the entrance of temples and official buildings.

However, the lion in Chinese tradition is not fierce and menacing. It is shown holding flowers and a ball alluding to a playful quality. 

It is referred to as the “sacred lotus” and parts of the lotus are cooked and eaten, others are made into medicine. The lotus is a symbol of purity and perfection; it grows out of mud yet it remains pure and so the Buddha is born into this world yet remains above it.

The pattern of its flower-petals resembles spokes of the wheel signifying the perpetual cycle of existence. The Buddha is seen sitting on a lotus. It is an emblem of summer and fruitfulness, purity and enlightenment.

Many variations of the lotus can be found in jade carvings; some emphasizing the blossom while other emphasize the seeds. The lotus blossom represents the blooming of ones spiritual journey and achievements. Jade carvings emphasizing the seeds symbolize ones potential in life or that of reproductive abundance.

Often, Buddhist deities are carved either sitting upon, under or holding the lotus flower. This symbol often found in combination with many other symbols.

The Eighteen Lohan is the personal disciples of the Buddha. Arhat or Arhatship is having attained Nirvana enabled by certain supernatural powers. The Arhat or Lohan is then assigned a station of guardianship of Buddhism.

The Lohan is represented in a fixed pose with his distinctive badge such as a book or staff or beads signifying his role as the guard of the Buddha.

The most revered instrument is the lute. It has eight attributes: happiness, sweetness, elegance, subtlety, sadness, softness, resonance, and strength.

Strict guidelines must be followed in the making of a lute from specific measurements and type of tree used for its wood and prepared for this musical instrument. It is a string instrument with a melancholy sound that produces thoughts of fidelity and purity with a determination of the mind.

Though the monkey maybe worshipped to some extent, generally the monkey is regarded as the emblem of ugliness and trickery. The monkey is believed to have the general control of hobgoblins, witches, and elves.

Also, it is supposed to be able to bestow health, protection against malicious sprits, and bring success.  

The monkey is the ninth animal in the Chinese zodiac. Those born during the year of the monkey are the most versatile out of any sign in the zodiac.

Curious and clever, they are able to master any subject they study. These quick witted individuals crave fun and stimulating activity. Honest in their dealings, they are very good at problem solving though easily hurt when others don’t understand their type of playfulness. With their serene self confidence they need to be aware of their tendency to look down upon others.

The following are year of the monkey: 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016… Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The moon represents the essence of the female or yin qualities in nature. (The sun embodies the masculine.) This luminary is often depicted in Chinese paintings as grayish-pink disk among the clouds with curling waves underneath and its influence on the ocean tide is well known. The Chinese calendar is still in use side by side with the Gregorian calendar.

The Chinese also associate the roundness of the moon with the cohesion of the family. The moon festival celebrates the importance of family which takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Families gather together to enjoy one another’s company as well as round foods such as moon cakes, pomelos, and persimmons.

There are many legends about the moon such as the one with the unlucky Heavenly Dog Star that swallows the moon at the time of the eclipse; the people create a lot of noise to scare the evil spirit away.

The ox represents spring and agriculture and the “meeting of the spring” is the farmer’s holiday at which time the “beating of the Spring Ox” takes place. The so-called Spring Ox is made of clay and is beaten with sticks to stimulate the revival of spring. An ancient custom of making a mud-ball in the winter and breaking it in the spring might be the origin of the custom of the Spring Ox. 

A large bronze statue of a water-buffalo is seen on the bank of the Summer Palace Lake at Peiping in the hope and belief that the sacred and powerful animal will repress the evil spirits that might disturb the lakes, rivers and seas.

This down to earth selfless soul is kind in nature and filled with a bounty of common sense.  Security and freedom from debt is the ox’s main objective in life. This person is not swayed by fancy trends and get rich schemes but reaches their goal through fortitude and methodical hard work.

The ox speaks little yet when they do speak their minds they are articulate and eloquent.  Though patients is one of their strong virtues, they will only be pushed so far before their mild manner is taken over by intense anger.

The following are those of the year of the ox: 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021. Click here for more Chinese Zodiac info.

The symbolic nature of the palm is of retirement and a life free from the hassles of normal existence.

The state of being retired is illustrated by a figure sitting under a palm-tree, a cottage perched on the top of the high cliff in the recesses of a mountain hidden underneath an overhanging cliff. This image is quite appealing to the Chinese people; thinking very highly of retired life, being away from the turmoil of the everyday business of living as ideal.  

The leaves of the palm are used to make fans; another type of palm has fibrous brown bracts that are made into matting, cordage, brushes and so on.

Known as the Fairy Fruit the peach might have originated in China. Peach has a prominent place in the realm of the prolific culture of Chinese superstitions. It is the emblem of marriage; symbol of immortality and springtime. The myth says that the peach-tree of the gods blossomed once in three thousand years and the fruit ripened for another three thousand years.

The fruit has magical medicinal powers and its stones/seeds are made into amulets for the protection of children. The God of Longevity is seen seated on a peach and its juice or “peach charm” is sprayed on the door to prevent evil from entering.

The most felicitous time to marry is in the springtime in the month when the peach-tree blossoms.

The wood of the pear-tree might have been used for wood-cuts and wood-block printing hence the association with intellect, also, the Duke of Shao around 1,000 B.C. was seen to conduct court and created the image of wise and benevolent governance.

The sixth Emperor of China founded the college of music in a pear tree orchard therefore the members of the theatrical profession are known as “brethren of the pear orchard.”

The pear tree has a life-span of hundreds of years and it has become the symbol of longevity.

The pearl is the emblem of genius in obscurity or incognito. Also, it is compared to feminine beauty and purity.

Artificial or cultured pearls from China are considered to be of great value comparable to the ones grown in oysters or mussels. According to ancient fabulists or tellers of fables the “night-shining-pearl” is the absolute essence of the moon. In ancient times the pearl-shell was used as money.

In Buddhist as well as Taoist sects, it represents the discovery of wholeness and wisdom within oneself.

The Pi (pronounced 'bee'), being one of the earliest symbolic carvings, represented the sun or heaven. It was used as a device to communicate with the heavens as well as in other ritualistic ceremonies.  In later dynasties, the Pi was symbolic of power and authority - much of that power was thought to come through the essence of jade…as it is considered the stone of heaven.

Pi Kan is a deified spirit of a sage of the 12th century B.C.; he was punished by a wicked tyrant and condemned to death. His heart was then used as an illustration of intelligence; in ancient time the Chinese believed that it was the heart that contained the intellect of a person. Therefore the heart became the symbol for the “perforated disc” known as Pi.

This divinity is also known as the Star-god of Affluence and worshipped on the 20th day of the 7th moon mostly by poor people and gamblers. An inexhaustible casket full of gold and silver and other sources of wealth are associated with this much-adored deity.

The pig/boar is a popular symbol of wealth and prosperity, especially for businesses. The wild boar s symbolic of the wealth of the forest.

It is also the last animal in the Chinese Zodiac. Those born under this sign are honest and straightforward. They are chivalrous and intelligent. They are most compatible
with the rabbit, ram and horse, and should avoid the snake, monkey and boar.

A Jade carving of a pig would make a wonderful gift for someone born in the year of the pig. These years are: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007... Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The Evergreen Pine is considered to be the emblem for longevity. Also, because it does not whither it is the metaphor for friendship that prevails through hardship.

The sap was used to make into amber when the tree is a thousand years old. The rare all white pine is revered in China; the only country it is known to grow.

Images of the phoenix have appeared for over 3000 years and are considered the ' the Empress of all birds'. It is described “as resembling a wild swan d a unicorn aft, it has the throat of a swallow, the bill of a fowl, the neck of a snake, the tail of a fish, and so on. . This gentle and benevolent creature is said to only appear in times of peace and prosperity.

The phoenix symbolizes high virtue, power, and the sun or yang principle of brightness and activity. It is second among supernatural creatures along with the dragon, unicorn, and tortoise. The image of the phoenix adorns the empress of China’s crown and clothing.

The Phoenix is a mythological creature in Chinese art, whether painting or sculpture, and it is a metaphor in many a myths.

The Phoenix appears only in times of peace and prosperity; it presides over the southern quadrant of heavens and it is the symbol of sun or the yang principle of warmth and summer.

The plum, peony, lotus, and chrysanthemum are symbolic of the four seasons. The plum is the symbol of winter; the fruit is equally prized for its blossoms and fruits. The plum blossom has been celebrated in numberless verses. The tree is fertile until it reaches an unusually long life-span.

The white plum-blossoms are strikingly beautiful on blue and white china-ware. The plum blossom has been selected by the Central Political Council as the “National Flower.”  Pine, prunus and bamboo are known as the "three friends" because they stay green in the winter. Often shown together, all three symbolize longevity and vitality.

Pomegranate, or Punica granata, is not indigenous to China. It was brought from Afghanistan and was mostly appreciated for its flowery branches in a multitude of single and double blossoms ranging from pale pink to deep red.

The flowers are used with iron for hair-dye, the root is boiled into a healing tonic, and the astringent dried peel is used for its medicinal value in rheumatism and dysentery.  “The pomegranate gleams with fiery light; the pear shines bright and pure, a frosty white.” This adage tells of the wish for many children. It is the symbol of fertility and the hope for many offspring and that offspring will behave in a manner honorable to the family.

The quail is used in gaming; two quails are enticed to battle each other and the owner of the winner gets the prize. The quail is the symbol of courage and pugnacity.  

The rabbit is a symbol of longevity. It is said in Buddhist legend that the rabbit offered itself as a willing sacrifice. Therefore it was rewarded for its devotion by being given the capability to transmigrate to the moon. The moon being very important to the rabbit for breeding. Even earlier than the Han Dynasty some believed that rabbit lived on the moon.

The rabbit is the fourth sign in the Chinese Zodiac. These years are:1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011 ... Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

Even though the rat is considered mean and timid, its characteristics of industry and prosperity and its ability to locate, acquire, and hoard abundant quantities of food; it has become the symbol for the two traits the Chinese admire. 

The rat symbol is the first in the Chinese Zodiac Signs.
1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, ...

Please click here for more information on the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The lamb represents filial respect; it kneels respectfully when taking its mother’s milk. The goat is also called the hill-sheep and it is a very popular animal in China.

However, the sheep is not as common as the goat and it is not revered. The wool is used but the mutton is not a very popular meal.  

The Chinese sign-symbol of a sheep is like a conventional picture of a ram with horns, feet and tail. There is a great deal of similarity between the sheep and the goat. Both represent abundance carrying stalks of grain in their mouth presenting them to the people: “May famine and death never visit your markets.”

The domestic sheep is the broad-tailed species and is not so common as the goat. The wild sheep looks more like a ram or a deer than a sheep.

Rice is the most important agricultural crop and food product in China. It was one of the ‘Twelve Ornaments’ that adorned the robes of noblemen during many dynasties. Its image has also appeared on naval uniforms and coins. Rice is a symbol of abundance and harmony within the family and country.

Glutinous rice dumplings are made for the Fifth Moon Feast, puffed rice is consumed by people with tender constitution, and sweetmeats are also made from rice. Rice-flowers are used as a dentifrice and the stalk for bandage. Rice straw is utilized in paper-making, matting, sandals, rope, thatch, etc.

The round rice-cakes symbolize pleasure, by its shape the family circle, and peace and harmony. The rice-plant may be regarded the national emblem.     

The rooster is symbolic of beginnings and the dawning of a new day. It is also the tenth animal in the Chinese zodiac.

People born during the year of the rooster are deep thinkers who are capable and multi-talented. They like to keep busy but tend to be devoted beyond their capabilities which can lead them to feel disappointed in themselves when they cannot accomplish all they have promised. These people are a bit eccentric with emotions that swing very high and very low.

Because of their strong independent spirit they have a difficult time accepting advice from others. Rooster people tend to be perfectionist in all they do and feel the best about themselves when their well dressed. When they are partnered with the right person they are the most loyal, trusting, and supportive sign of all. The following are year of the rooster: 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017… Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

The lamb represents filial respect; it kneels respectfully when taking its mother’s milk. The goat is also called the hill-sheep and it is a very popular animal in China.

However, the sheep is not as common as the goat and it is not revered. The wool is used but the mutton is not a very popular meal.  

The Chinese sign-symbol of a sheep is like a conventional picture of a ram with horns, feet and tail. There is a great deal of similarity between the sheep and the goat. Both represent abundance carrying stalks of grain in their mouth presenting them to the people: “May famine and death never visit your markets.”

The domestic sheep is the broad-tailed species and is not so common as the goat. The wild sheep looks more like a ram or a deer than a sheep.

The snake is typically symbolic of evil and cunning. However, it is also revered for its supernatual powers and its friendship with the benevolent dragon.

It is said to be quite unlucky to injure or kill a snake that has made its home under your house, and to free a captured snake one would be rewarded.

The snake is the sixth sign in the Chinese Zodiac. These years are:1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025 ... Please click here for more information about the Chinese Zodiac signs.

During the mid 17th century the Qing Dynasty forbade the smoking of tobacco, but the use of powdered tobacco (snuff) was acceptable because it was thought to hold medicinal qualities. Considered an effective remedy for many ailments, snuff was dispensed in a bottle as were most other medicines.

In the beginning, the popularity of snuff and the acquisition of the beautifully ornate bottles were left to the elite but over time all classes of society enjoyed the use of snuff and the collection of bottles that one could afford. The quality material and artistic craftsmanship of snuff bottles was a show of social standing.

There was a high demand for snuff bottles well into the 19th century but the fashion fell with the Dynasty after the revolution and the establishment of the Republic in 1912. There are a growing number of collectors of these mini works of art.

The spider, as long as it is not of the poisonous variety, is considered a good omen indicating that joyful events are about to take place. it is also a protector against evil spirits.

The long-tailed birds such as the stork and pine, peacock, duck, quail or partridge, fowl and pheasant, etc. are the emblems of longevity.

The Buddha states that the fully emancipated knows no restraints or obstructions and it is considered great merit to release living creatures such as birds. The nature of fish and bird is considered interchangeable by the unfettered liberty of its environment. 

From ancient folklore the symbol of the stork is a blessed bird that carries the soul of a fallen soldier to heaven. It is also the symbol of a messenger of God.

The sun is symbolic of the ultimate yang/male principle. The rising of the sun is meant as a wish for a rise in career, business, or prosperity.

The Sun is defined by the solid and complete, hence the symbol of the sovereign upon earth. The great luminary is represented as the essence of the masculine principle in nature and source of all brightness. The red crow with three feet is the tenant of the solar disc, and it has three feet because three (3) is the emblem of the masculine principle of which the sun is the essence.

A large red sun in front of an official building protects it from noxious influences and alludes to the pure and bright principle of Yang to suggest a pure and just administration.

Tael is used as a weight of measurement most commonly with fine metals. An image in many jade carvings is of a gold tael block symbolizing wealth and abundance.

To Chinese people the tiger is deemed to be the king of all wild beasts. It is the emblem of magisterial dignity and sternness; model of courage and fierceness, danger and terror. Families use the image of the tiger to protect themselves and their home throughout the year. Tiger claw charms made out of Jade are worn by children for protection.

In ancient times its head was painted on shields of soldiers and on covers of port holes of forts. Tigers were embroidered on court robes as the insignia of grades of military officers. Chinese soldiers dressed in imitation tiger skins with tails and all and shouted with the roar of the tiger. Its body parts are considered to have medicinal powers and its prowess could scare evil demons away.  |

The tiger is the third animal of the Chinese zodiac and people who fall into this zodiac have a magnetic charm with a prestigious air about them. These people have opposing extreme qualities that make them very attractive to others.  They are passionate and playful, as well as jealous and possessive. They are sensitive deep thinkers with great capacity for sympathy yet they are extremely short tempered and indecisive. Their bravery and courage welcomes the unpredictable to cross their path. Tiger people have a great sense of humor and are truly optimistic about life. The following are year of the tiger: 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010…

Please click here to learn more about the Chinese Zodiac Signs.

The tortoise is a symbol of the universe as well as longevity and steadfastness.  The divine tortoise has a snake’s head and dragon’s neck. Divers tell of tales of the longevity of the tortoise; “when a tortoise has lived 300 years it is no bigger than a coin; when 3000 years old it is a foot two inches long, its color is blue with green rims. The shell of the tortoise has great strength; a Hindu legend depicts a tortoise supporting an elephant on its back.

The tortoise is thought to hold the secrets of the universe; its shell the dome of the sky and its flat underside the earth.

There is a lore that tells of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing that it was originally supported by live tortoises with the belief that the animals lived a thousand years without food and air and have the gift of preserving wood from decay.

The umbrella is one of the Eight Treasures in Buddhism.  In Chinese culture the umbrella was given to a popular person of office on their departure from district.

In China the umbrella is called the “kittysol.” In ancient times it was made of silk, and was carried in processions, but at present it is made of bamboo and oiled paper. It is still considered a great gift.

If it is given as the token of respect and purity the umbrella is made of red silk or satin the names inscribed in gold by the donors.This gift was a symbol of respect, protection, and high rank.

It is a unique creature of good omen, and the symbol of longevity, grandeur, felicity, illustrious offspring, and wise administration. This mythical creature is known to walk on water and on its back it carried a mystic map from which the written language of China is said to have evolved.

The unicorn is supposed to combine and posses al the good attributes of all hirsute animals; its skin has five colors: red, yellow, blue, white, and black. The unicorn envelopes itself with benevolence, and crowns itself with rectitude. The scholar, Ts’ai Yung says, “It is said to attain the age of a thousand years, and to be the noblest form of animal creation the emblem of perfect good.

The willow is much valued and appreciated for its generous shade. Its osiers are—flexible twigs—used in basket weaving, and ropes; even for tea for those who cannot afford the expensive kind. The bark and leaves are used as remedies for certain illnesses.

The willow is the Buddhist symbol of meekness, although it inspired poetry and paintings for its beauty, suppleness, and frailty having become the emblem of the fair sex. The well known English porcelain “willow-pattern” is based on a fable of a young lady and her love. It depicts the imprisonment of Koong-see, whose father, the old mandarin, forbids her to see her lover. However, the lovers transformed into doves and became the symbol of beautiful in life and undivided in death.     

More importantly, the willow tree is believed to hold power over demons and its branches are often used in many different spiritual applications.

The Yin and Yang are the negative and positive principles of universal life; the Chinese principal of cosmic duality. Pictorially represented by the symbol of an egg showing yolk and white or a circle divided in black and white.  The two distinct colors, dark and light, illustrate the two principles.

Yang signifies Heaven, Sun, light, Vigor, Male, and the Monad. Yin, on the other hand, symbolizes Earth, Moon, Darkness, Quiescence, Female, and Duad. Valleys and streams possess the Yin quality. The Yin and Yang together constitute the eternal reason or principle of heaven and earth, the origin of all things human and divine.