Legend and mythology are prevalent in the decorations used to enhance the beauty of Chinese furnishings and architecture. The following is a list of many of the animal, insect and plant symbols frequently used and their meanings.
ARTEMESIA - The aromatic artemesia plant is one of the "Eight Precious Things." The symbol is used to drive away disease, and when hung over a door it will disperse evil influence.
BADGER AND MAGPIE
- These animals, when depicted together, symbolize a blessing of happiness.
BAMBOO - Bamboo is an emblem of longevity, and is one of the 'Three Friends of Winter'. It is often depicted with pine trees and prunus (wild cherry.)
- Emblem of good fortune. When something is depicted upside down it means it has arrived, so the common depiction of an upside-down bat symbolizes good fortune has arrived. The Wu Fu, or Five Bats of Happiness, stand for the five blessings: long life, riches, health, love and a natural death.
- The bear normally is used as a symbol for Man.
- With Plum Blossoms symbolizes long life and beauty. With a cat means a wish to live to 70 or 80 years
- The carp represents advantage, or benefit in business. Sometimes portrayed with a dragon, referring to a phrase used by the Chinese in ancient times for man who obtains a high official position: "Carp jumping up to or over the dragon gate". The dragon gate represents "the door to the court". Nowadays, Chinese uses it to congratulate or to compliment one with unusual ability into a good future.
CAT - The cat is the protector of silkworms, and disperses evil spirits. Because of their good eyesight, they are said to be able to see spirits in the dark.
CHRYSANTHEMUM - Together with plum, peony and lotus symbolizes the four seasons. It is the emblem of autumn and symbol of joviality. It is also a symbol of long life, or duration.
- The cicada represents immortality, or life after death.
COCKEREL - Protection against bad astral influences. It also frightens ghosts away at sunrise by its crowing. A cock also represents
achievement and fame.
CRANE - An emblem of longevity and superhuman wisdom. Cranes are the flying steeds of the immortals, their other celestial locomotion being clouds. The crane is also believed to carry the souls of the dead to the Western Heaven. Cranes flying into the sky symbolize a rise in status.
- The cricket symbolizes a fighting spirit.
- The deer is the only animal able to find the sacred fungus of immortality. Represents "official emolument." The God of Longevity usually depicted mounted on a stag or standing by his side.
The dog symbolizes honesty-
They are straightforward, brave, chivalrous, prudent, responsible, humble
and loyal. They are upright and pure instinctively, honest and friendly,
sympathetic, and frank without any scheming. They are acute in intuition,
honest and prefer upholding justice, and are respected by others.
- A microcosm containing heaven and earth. Scrolling double-gourds, bats and the character "shou" show a wish for long life and many sons.
- The dove represents fidelity and longevity.
DRAGON - The dragon is the imperial emblem of the Emperors from the Han period, the coat of arms being two dragons contesting the fiery pearl. There is a theory that during the Yuan and Ming periods decoration of a five-clawed dragon was for imperial use only. Certain objects have had the fifth claw carefully removed, thereby downgrading the status of the piece, perhaps because these objects had been stolen from the palace. Four claws indicates a prince, and three or less an official.
- Symbol of conjugal fidelity. Pairs of Mandarin ducks swimming amongst waterweeds are particularly
favored as a design on 14th century blue and white Chinese porcelain.
- The eagle represents strength.
ELEPHANT - Strength and astuteness, as well as high moral standards.
- Long life without setbacks.
FISH - Symbol for wealth. A pair of fish symbolizes marriage, conjugal felicity, fertility and tenacity. (Also see Carp)
- One of the four basic occupations (the others being the woodcutter, peasant and the scholar.)
GOOSE - The goose symbolizes a blissful marriage.
- Emblem of speed and perseverance. The legend of the eight horses of Mu Wang is often used as a decorative motif.
LION - Also known as "Dogs of Fu" or "Fu Dogs," they were symbols of superhuman strength and as protectors and mounts of holy beings. They are emblems of valour and energy. Fu dogs are often depicted in pairs: The male has a paw on a brocaded ball which represents the jewel of the law, a pearl, or an egg enclosing a cub. The female has a small cub at her feet, which is oftentimes biting the mother's tongue.
- Symbol of purity and perfection, and an emblem of summer and fruitfulness. It is one of the Eight Treasures of Buddhism.
- The monkey drives away evil spirits. The monkey is often seen holding a peach, which it stole
from the garden of Xi-wang-mu.
- The onion represents cleverness.
- Pandas are often used as a symbol of Man.
- The peach is also known as the "fairy fruit." It was the peach that gave immortality to the Immortals and was the elixir of life to the Daoists. It is also a symbol for marriage, spring and immortality. The peach tree of the Gods was said to blossom once every 3000 years and the fruit of eternal life took another 3000 years to ripen.
- An emblem of beauty and dignity. The tail feathers used from the Ming dynasty to show official rank.
- The concrete essence of the moon. Emblem of genius in obscurity, also a sign of beauty and purity.
- King of flowers. An omen of good fortune. Emblem of love and affection and feminine beauty, as well as the sign of spring.
PHEASANT - The imperial symbol of authority, also used as a symbol of office.
PHOENIX - Emblem of the Empress and of beauty. Only appears in time of peace and prosperity. Ranks second of the four supernatural creatures, the dragon being the first, the unicorn third and the tortoise fourth. A train of small birds is always in attendance when the phoenix flies.
- Symbolizes fertility and, being full of seeds, numerous male progeny.
- Emblem of courage because of its pugnacious character.
- The snake represents cunning, evil and supernatural power.
THREE-LEGGED TOAD - Existed only on the moon, which it swallowed during the eclipse. Symbol of the unattainable. Liu Hai, an immortal, apparently possessed a three-legged toad.
TIGER - The tiger represents strength and military prowess.
TORTOISE - Longevity and immortality.
- Buddhist symbol of meekness. Also a sign of spring. Believed to have the powers to expel demons.
The Chinese Dynasties