and Official Rank
have traditionally had a very strong belief
in the efficacy of charms which could bring good luck to oneself and
family, and of
amulets to dispel evil influences.
For this reason, the majority of old Chinese charms include four or
character inscriptions (legends) that wish for good luck, good fortune,
longevity, a large family, and success in the imperial examination
system resulting in promotion to an official government position.
A number of these "good luck" charms are displayed and explained
in detail below.
Success in the Imperial
In ancient China, being successful
in the imperial examination system would result in being appointed to
an official government position which ensured a comfortable life of
wealth and influence. The examination system existed for
approximately 1300 years and finally ended just before the collapse of
the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty in 1911.
A successful candidate would also bring honor to his entire extended
family. Therefore, it was very common for Chinese parents to
acquire charms in the belief that they could assist in having their
son, or sons, meet with success in the examinations.
In addition to an auspicious inscription (legend) written in Chinese
characters expressing hope for success, these charms also relied on
traditional Chinese symbols to make a similar statement using pictures
and visual puns.
Examples of such charms are presented in the section below and are
accompanied by an
explanation of the hidden meaning of their symbols and pictures.
This pendant charm displays Kuixing
who is known as the God of Examinations or the Star of
Literature. He was believed to have been influential in assisting
candidates to pass the imperial civil service examination.
He is frequently depicted as an ugly man with short horns. In his
right hand he holds a writing brush. Many times he is shown
holding a scholar's hat or a peck measure in his left hand.
The short horns on his head represent "success" by alluding
to the analogy of
the carp fish jumping over the
mythical Dragon Gate
and becoming a dragon. (Please see Fish Charms
for more information.)
As is the case here, Kuixing
is usually shown standing on one leg on the head of a very large fish
or a mythical turtle known as the ao (鳌). The ancient Chinese
believed that the earth was supported by this very large sea turtle.
Beginning in the Tang and Song dynasties, the palaces of Chinese
emperors had stone steps which included a carving of an ao. The list of successful
candidates in the examinations were posted in front of these steps and
the person who placed first in the examination had the honor to stand
on the head of the ao.
The Chinese expression "to stand alone on the head of the ao" (du zhan ao tou 独占鳌头), therefore,
came to signify being first on the list of successful candidates.
The reverse side has what the charm
proclaims is an "ancient sentence" (gu ju 古句).
In reality, this ancient saying or poem is attributed to Song Zi Jing
(Sung Tzu-ching 宋子京) who lived during the years 998-1061 of the Song
Dynasty and was a celebrated writer and the head of the Board of Works.
The sentence is written in vertical columns, top to bottom, starting at
the right, and reads as follows:
一色杏花红十里壮元归去马如飞 yi se xing hua hong shi li zhuang
yuan gui qu ma ru fei
This sentence can be interpreted to mean that a scholar who had just
attained the honor of coming in first in the final
sees an expansive field of
blossoming red apricot
flowers which prompts him to make his horse
gallop even faster on his way home.
The blooming apricots is an allusion to the very first celebration
honoring successful graduates of the final examination which was
allegedly held in an apricot grove.
This charm has a length of 56 mm, a maximum width of 41 mm, and a
weight of 20.6 grams.
This is another charm concerned
with success in the imperial examinations which to more fully
understand requires knowing a little about Chinese myth and the moon.
The charm shows an elegantly dressed female carrying in her right hand
from the cassia tree (gui shu
桂树), sometimes incorrectly referred to as the cinnamon tree. At
the very top of the charm are two Chinese characters
which read right to left as chan gong
(蟾宫). Chan (蟾)
(宫) means "palace" so the expression means "toad
What is the "toad palace" (chan gong
The reference is to an ancient story dating back to the dawn of Chinese
history and the reign of the "sage-king" Emperor Yao (尧) (2358-2258 BC).
Houyi (后羿) was an expert
archer who saved the earth from burning by shooting down nine of the
ten "suns" which were represented by "three-legged birds" (san zu wu 三足乌) called "sun
Houyi's wife Chang'e (嫦娥) found the pill (or
elixir) of immortality which Houyi
had hidden, ate it, and then floated
to the moon where she is destined to live for eternity.
companion on the
moon is the "Moon Hare" or "Jade Rabbit" (yu tu 玉兔) who, next to a large and
magical cassia (cinnamon) tree (gui
shu 桂树), works eternally pounding cassia leaves, flowers and
bark with mortar and pestle trying to recreate the pill of immortality
so that Chang'e can float
back to earth to reunite with her husband.
In the meantime, Chang'e,
also known as the "Moon Goddess", lives is a cold palace (guang han gong 广寒宫) built among
Some versions of the story describe that the Queen Mother of the West
punished Chang'e for
stealing the pill (or elixir) by transforming her into a toad (chanchu 蟾蜍). Over the
centuries that followed, the Chinese gradually associated the "toad"
with the "moon" and eventually the expression "toad palace" came to
simply refer to the "moon".
The reverse side of the charm has
two Chinese characters at the top of the canopy which are read right to
left as tian fu (天府) meaning
The main body of the charm has an inscription written in vertical
columns beginning at the right as follows:
付与仙朗第一枝 (fu yu
xian lang di yi zhi)
The inscription literally translates as "to give to" (fu yu 付与)
an "immortal young gentleman" (xian lang 仙朗)
"the first branch" (di yizhi 第
The "immortality" alludes to the story of Houyi and Chang'e mentioned above but in this
case is also referring the "eternal" fame a man can achieve through his
To understand the meaning of the inscription one must
the "branch" in the inscription is a branch from the "cassia" (gui 桂)
same pronunciation as the word for "high rank" (gui 贵).
"To be given the first branch" (di yizhi 第
一枝) therefore has the hidden or
implied meaning of "to be given the first rank" which comes with the
distinction of achieving success in the imperial or Hanlin examination.
Chinese have the expression deng ke (登科) which means to be
announced as a successful candidate in the examination system.
similar expression is "to pluck" or "break off"
the cassia (zhe gui 折桂)
which means to "grasp" a "high government office or rank" (gui 贵)
or, more specifically, to obtain the third degree known as the jin shi (进士).
The most literary expression with this same meaning, however, is chan gong zhe gui (蟾宫折桂)
from the toad palace".
Furthermore, the register or tablet upon which the names of the
examination candidates are written is called the "cassia register" (guiji 桂籍).
The charm therefore illustrates a young woman or wife or, perhaps even Chang'e herself, giving a cassia
branch which is an allegory referring to
giving a high government office as a result of a person's success in
the imperial examinations.
But this charm can also be interpreted on another level.
There is a similar expression of xiao deng
ke (小登科). "Xiao"
the deng ke
does not refer to an announcement of success in the examinations but
rather to marriage!
The charm can thus also be interpreted as celebrating another major
achievement in a man's life because marriage
was a first step in
fulfilling the Confucian responsibilites of producing
children to continue the ancestral lineage and to carry out
Finally, the two Chinese characters written vertically on the left side
of the charm read mei gong
(眉公). Mei Gong was the
"assumed" or "style" (hao 号)
name of Chen Ji Ru (陈继儒) who lived during the years 1558-1639 and was a
very famous calligrapher of the Ming
The inscription on the charm is therefore attributed to Chen Ji Ru.
This charm has a length of 65.2 mm and a maximum width of 49 mm.
This is a very large charm expressing the wish to obtain promotion
to an official office.
The obverse side has the four Chinese characters jia
guan jin lu (嘉官进禄). The
meaning is "may office and salary be bestowed upon you".
a common and auspicious inscription of the Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and
Qing (Ch'ing) (1644 - 1911 AD) dynasties.
Reportedly, the saying
came from a historical text of the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234 AD) where
it was stated "When the phoenix
flies outside, envoys will arrive, when
inside, office and salary will be
The reverse side of this charm, unfortunately, is very
The Chinese like to use verbal and visual puns. The character for
cloud (云) and the character for luck and fortune (运) are both
The cloud is also shaped like a ruyi
sceptre which has the meaning of "as you wish".
the character for
deer (鹿) is pronounced lu
which is exactly the same pronunciation as the character (禄)
on the obverse side referring to the salary of a government official.
Even more interesting, the deer is often used to refer to the God of
Prosperity. This is because Lu
(禄), the God of Prosperity, is also
pronounced the same as the character for deer.
Therefore, the pictures say "good luck" (cloud) in obtaining an
"official's salary" (deer) "as you wish"
(ruyi shape of cloud) which
mimics the inscription in Chinese characters on the obverse side.
While most Chinese numismatists feel the animal symbol depicted on this
charm is a deer, they are those who offer alternative
interpretations. Some have proposed that the animal is actually a
rhinoceros. The horn
rhino has traditionally been highly
prized for its medicinal value. It is believed to be able to cure
a wide range of illnesses and is considered to be an antidote to
poison. A single or pair of rhino horns is also one of the eight treasures. The rhino,
however, is not frequently seen depicted in
other forms of the Chinese arts so this interpretation regarding this
particular charm is still open to
However, an old Chinese charm depicting the rhinoceros is discussed here.
Another interpretation is that the animal
is a water buffalo or
This type of charm first appeared during the Song Dynasty. There
is a motif in Chinese ceramics known as the "Wu buffalo gasping at the
moon" (wu niu chuan yue
吴牛喘月). The ancient kingdom of Wu (222 - 280 AD) existed in the
area of the Changjiang (Yangtze) and Huai Rivers. For this
reason, the water
buffalo of this area have been historically referred to as "Wu
buffalo". Under the
intense heat of the summer sun, water buffalo were often seen gasping
for air. Even during summer nights the buffalo would sometimes
mistake the moon for the sun and continue to gasp for air. It is
believed that this art motif has a hidden meaning in that it alludes to
the suffering of the Chinese of the Northern Song (960 - 1127 AD)
during the time they were ruled by the Nuzhen nationality which
established the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234 AD).
The diameter of this charm is 61 mm.
This is another large charm
with the same inscription and theme as the charm above but
incorporating several additional symbols.
In this case, the four-character inscription is written in two columns
above the round hole and below the canopy. The inscription, which
is the same as that on the charm above, is read (top, bottom, top,
bottom) beginning at the right as jia
guan jin lu (加官进禄).
There is one difference in the inscription. The first character
on this charm is written as "加" (jia) instead of "嘉" (jia). The character "加" (jia) has the meaning "to appoint"
or "to raise to" so the translation of the inscription is still "may
This charm also has a very large deer lying down below the hole. The
head of the deer is just to the left of the hole and is pointing at the
inscription. As mentioned above, the character for
deer (lu 鹿) has the
same pronunciation as the
character for the salary of a government official (lu 禄)
Just above the head of the deer, near the rim at the ten o'clock
position, is a silver
丝 or yuanbao 元宝)
which symbolizes wealth.
The symbol that resembles an "X" at the two o'clock position is
actually a pair of castanets
yang ban (阴阳板). It is believed that Chinese castanets were
derived from the jade tablets used to authorize access to the imperial
At the three o'clock position near the rim is a rhinoceros horn (xi
jiao 犀角) which is a symbol for happiness
because the first
is pronounced the
same as the character for happiness (xi
You will notice that the deer has a saddle which is just below the
round hole. On the saddle is drawn a monkey. The character for
猴) has the same pronunciation as the character which means "a
official)" (hou 侯).
This rebus involving a "high official" also refers back to the
inscription which includes the character for an "official" or
"mandarin" (guan 官).
The hidden meaning is the wish to be appointed to a high office (the
pun composed of "monkey" and "marquis") and receive a large government
salary (the pun consisting of the "deer" and "salary").
There are actually two versions of this charm known to exist.
At the left is the second variety.
The major difference is that this specimen has less ornamentation
between the various symbols.
In this image, the silver ingot above the deer's head can be more
easily seen, as can the pair of castanets and the rhinoceros horn on
the right side of the charm.
Both these charms show considerable wear and would date from the Song
Dynasty (960-1279 AD).
The reverse side of this charm
displays along the rim the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
This charm has a diameter of 55 mm and a weight of 33 grams.
This is another old charm
expressing the desire for success in the examination system and
promotion to an official position that
has fun playing with the hidden meanings and sounds of Chinese
animals and plants.
The inscription on the obverse side is read top to bottom and right to
left. It reads xi bao san yuan
(喜报三元). Xi (喜)
Bao (报) means "to
report". San (三)
(元) refers to the imperial
examinations. A rough translation would be "good news
triple first in the imperial examinations".
For reference purposes, the top rankings in the
three examinations were:
jie yuan (解元) which
means first on the list for the second degree. This would be the
top scholar in the rural areas.
hui yuan (会元) which
means first on the list of the examination for jin shi (进士). This
would be the top scholar in the second round or capital examinations.
zhuang yuan (状元) which
means the highest graduate of the Hanlin Academy. This would be
the top scholar in the third and final round of imperial examinations.
This is the reverse side of the
charm. At the very top,
which is a bird that belongs to the
family as crows, ravens and jays. The
Chinese for magpie is xi que
(喜鹊). You will note that the first character is the same xi (喜) meaning
"happiness" which is the character at the top of the obverse
side. To the Chinese, a chattering magpie signifies "good news"
and an "upside down" magpie would mean that the "good news" has
"arrived" (please see Hidden Meaning of
Symbols for further explanation).
At the very bottom is
a leopard. The Chinese
for leopard is bao (豹) which
has the same
pronunciation as "to report" (报) which is the character at
the bottom of the
To the right are
three branches or twigs which is the same position as
the san (三), meaning three,
on the obverse side.
Finally, to the left
fruits. The Chinese for "round" is yuan (园) which is the same
pronunciation as yuan (元),
on the left
of the obverse
Also, the character 园 for "round" has the same character 元 for
"examinations" in its
Additionally, the Chinese for "fruit" (果) has the meaning of
"results" such as in an examination.
Finally, the three round-shaped fruits appear to be pomegranates.
To the Chinese, the large number of seeds of the pomegranate symbolize
many male children earning fame, fortune and rank.
Therefore, the pictures depicted on the reverse
side (magpie, leopard, three, "round" fruits) can be read as xi bao san yuan which is the same
reading as the inscription on the obverse side.
The charm has a diameter of 53 mm and a weight of 29.6 grams.
The inscription on the obverse side (far left) is feng yun ji hui (风云际会) which
literally means a "meeting of wind and clouds" but here is referring to
a "gathering of the talented and able".
The inscription on the reverse side (near left) is jin bang ti ming (金榜题名) which means
a "golden list of those who have obtained a degree".
The entire inscription can thus be understood to mean a "gathering of
the talented and able who have been successful in the imperial
This small charm has a diameter of 15.5 mm and a weight of 1.1 grams.
This charm expresses the desire
for a large family with many sons and the wish that they will all be
successful in achieving the rank of a high government position.
The inscription wu
zi deng ke (五子登科) means "may your five sons achieve great
success in the imperial examinations".
The greatest achievement a
Chinese family could hope for was to have a son (or five sons!) be
successful in the
examinations and achieve a high government office which would then
bring wealth and honor to the family.
It was believed that
the ideal family size was five sons and two daughters. Chinese
parents have traditionally favored sons for several reasons. Sons
are responsible for continuing the ancestral lineage and carrying out
ancestor worship. Also, when
sons grow up they are responsible for taking care of their
parents. When daughters grown up, they marry, leave home and then
are responsible for taking care of their in-laws.
This is the other side of this charm which expresses
the sentiment for a long life, wealth and
a good government position.
The inscription reads chang ming fu
"longevity, wealth and honor".
It is also interesting that the character meaning "wealth" (fu 富) at the
right of the square hole is missing the very top vertical stroke.
It is possible that this was done intentionally. Since the fu character has no "head" or
"top", the amount of wealth would be without limit.
The charm has a diameter of 29.8 mm and weighs 12.3 grams.
Good Luck, Wealth and Happiness "According to your Wishes"
One of the largest general
categories of Chinese charms include those seeking "good luck", wealth
happiness "according to your wishes" such as the charms discussed below.
This is a very interesting four character charm with the
subject of good luck and happiness.
The obverse side has four
characters written in ancient seal script.
The legend is read top to bottom and right to left as ji qing ru yi (吉庆如意). The
first character is ji (吉)
is qing (庆) which
means "good luck" or "congratulate". The last two characters are ruyi (如意) which means
"according to your wishes". The
entire inscription can be roughly translated in English to mean "may
your happiness be according to your wishes".
The charm is 60 mm in diameter.
The reverse side has no inscription and, at first glance, seems to
have a random nondescript design pattern. It is, however, rich in
At the very top is a Chinese halberd
戟) which is an ancient infantry weapon consisting of a shaft (seen
running horizontally from about the 1 o'clock position) with a spear
and crescent shaped blade on the other
end. (The halberd is outlined in black in the image below.)
Chinese word for
"lucky" or "auspicious" in the inscription on the obverse side are both
pronounced ji. The
Chinese word (级) for steps or ranks (as in grades of officers) is also
To the right of the square hole is a stone chime (qing 磬) which was an ancient
musical instrument. It was usually made of jade and looked a
little like a triangular plate. If you look at the charm you will
see what appears to be a pair of wings at about the 3 o'clock
position. This is the stone chime. It has a hole at its
very top where it would be suspended by a string so that it would
vibrate with sound when struck. (The stone chime is
outlined in redin the image below.)
"stone chime" (磬) and the
pronunciation of the character
for "congratulate" (庆) in the inscription on the obverse side are both
If you look carefully at about the
9 o'clock position you will see the
head of an S-shaped object which extends downward to about the middle
bottom of the charm. This object is called a ruyi
ruyi is outlined in blue in
the image to the left.)
The ruyi was an ancient
sceptre, usually made of jade, which represented power and
authority. Originally, it was actually a
short sword with a sword-guard used for self-defense and
gesturing. It now symbolizes good wishes and prosperity.
the "ruyi" sceptre
are exactly the same as those of the ruyi (如意) in the
inscription on the obverse side meaning "according to your wishes".
Therefore, the pictures on the reverse side (ji=halberd, qing=stone chime, ruyi=ruyi sceptre) say the same
thing in symbols as the Chinese characters on the obverse side (ji=吉, qing=庆, ruyi=如意), namely "may
your happiness be according
to your wishes".
Since the pronunciation of halberd (ji
戟) is the same for both "happiness" (ji 吉) and
"rank" (ji 级),
mean "may your rank
be according to your wishes".
The pictures are a little difficult to discern because they are all
wrapped or tied with "fillets"
ribbons around charms and other objects to represent rays
or aura. The ribbons are usually red because red (hong 红) is emblematic of good
luck. For more on the symbolic meaning of ribbons please see the
entry "ribbons and fillets" at Hidden
Meaning of Chinese Charm Symbols.
For another example of a charm with the halberd, stone chime and
sceptre symbols please see the large "eight
charm in the
The old charm at the left shows considerable wear reflecting many, many
years of use.
The inscription is actually a very popular Chinese saying.
The inscription, written top to bottom and right to left, is wan shi ru yi (万事如意) which means
"may things go as you wish" or "may everything go smoothly".
The reverse side of the charm depicts a dragon on the right and a
phoenix on the left.
The combination of a dragon and phoenix is a symbol for another
auspicious saying, namely long feng
cheng xiang (龙凤呈样) which means "prosperity brought by the
and phoenix" or, more generally, may you have excellent good fortune.
At the very bottom of the charm can be seen an ocean with waves.
The charm has a diameter of 52 mm and a weight of 28.4 grams.
This is another "according to your wishes" charm.
The inscription reads sheng cai ru yi
(生财如意) which translates as "become wealthy according to your wishes".
The reverse side of the charm
displays a number of symbols.
At the 12 o'clock position is the curved blade of a Chinese halberd (ji
戟) which was described above. The
shaft of the halberd extends downwards to about the 3 o'clock position.
The Chinese word for "halberd" (戟) and the
Chinese word for "lucky" (吉) are both pronounced
At the 11 o'clock position is the head of a ruyi
sceptre (如意) similar to the one discussed above. The
shaft of the sceptre angles up and extends across the top of the charm
to the one o'clock position.
The Chinese word for ruyi
sceptre (如意) and the Chinese
expression for "according to your wishes" (如意) are the same.
These two symbols can thus be interpreted to mean "good luck according
to your wishes".
Unfortunately, I am not able to identify the other symbols on this
charm with certainty.
I think the shaft of the halberd extends down into a vase. The Chinese word for
vase (ping 瓶)
for peace (pingan 平安) and thus symbolizes the wish
I have not seen the symbol or symbols located below the square hole on
any other charm. If you can identify these symbols, I would be
most grateful if you would contact
The charm has a diameter of 21.3 mm and a weight of 3.6 grams.
This charm has a very auspicious inscription which is read clockwise,
beginning at the top, as da ji da li
(大吉大利). Each character is oriented with its bottom
next to the square hole which explains why, for example, the da (大) character
The Chinese word ji li (吉
利) means "lucky" or "auspicious". TheChinese character da (大) means "great", and appears
twice, so the inscription translates as "very good luck" or "great
This charm is made of lead and was made in Dali in Yunnan Province
during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The diameter is 23 mm and the weight is 4 grams.
Longevity, Wealth and Honor
The Chinese have always esteemed
and honored those who have reached old age. It is no surprise,
then, that a large number of charms express the desire to live a long
life with honor and prosperity.
Several examples of longevity, wealth and honor charms are displayed
and explained in this section.
This is a very old and very
The inscription can be read in two ways although the meaning for both
is the same. Some people read the inscription (top, bottom,
right, left) as fu yan shou chang
(福延寿长). The alternative reading (clockwise starting at the top)
is fu shou yan chang (福寿延长).
The inscription translates as "good fortune and
longevity for a long time".
Another charm with this same inscription written in both Chinese characters and
Daoist "magic writing" is discussed in detail at Daoist (Taoist) Charms.
An outstanding characteristic of this charm is that the entire surface
is covered with the pattern of small squares, referred to as a
"meander", that is
frequently seen on ancient Chinese bronzes and mirrors.
Unfortunately, the wear on the charm makes it difficult to see this
At the left is a close-up of the area between the bottom
character (yan 延)
The pattern of repeating rectangular spirals, that actually covers the
of the obverse side of the charm, can be easily seen here.
The symbols on the reverse
side of the charm are also difficult to see clearly.
At the very top, at the 12 o'clock position, is a circle that
represents the moon (yue 月).
Just below the moon is an "auspicious
祥云). The Chinese word for "cloud" (yun云) has the same pronunciation as the
Chinese word for "luck" or "fortune" (yun 运).
On the right and left sides of the square hole are waves.
At the very bottom of the charm are two rhinoceroses.
The rhinoceros (xi niu 犀牛) is also a symbol for
"happiness" because its pronunciation is similar to the word for
喜). Two rhinoceros therefore represent the familiar
and joyous Chinese expression of "double happiness" (shuang xi 双喜).
The rhinoceros existed in southern China during very ancient times but
then became extinct. The rhino subsequently took on a more
legendary and mythic existence in the minds of the Chinese.
It was believed that the stars in the sky were reflected in
the veins and patterns of a rhinoceros horn. The ancient
Chinese further believed that because of this close association with
the heavens, the horn of the rhinoceros could emit a vapor that could
penetrate water, traverse the sky and communicate directly with the
These special patterns on the rhino horn were believed to appear when
the animal "gazed at the moon".
The Chinese have an expression "the rhinoceros gazing at the moon" (xi niu wang yue 犀牛望
月) which helps to explain the meaning of the symbols on this
charm. If you observe closely, you will notice that the two
rhinoceros have their heads turned and are "gazing" at the moon.
Their horns have the magical power to penetrate the waves on each side
of the charm and communicate directly with the moon located above the
This magical communication of the rhinoceros with the moon, stars and
spirits has, over the centuries, taken on an extended meaning.
The expression "the rhinoceros gazing at the moon" is now used in more
romantic settings. This mystical connection has become a metaphor
indicating a direct connection between the hearts of lovers who, by
gazing at the moon, can be close to one another though they may be
physically separated by great distances.
Another Chinese expression with a similar sentiment is hua qian yue xia (花前月下) which means
"in front of the flowers and under the moon". A charm
illustrating this theme is discussed at Chinese Marriage Charms.
This large charm has a diameter of 63 mm and a weight of 30 grams.
This is an example of a large eight character charm with the
entire inscription on one side. (For another example, please see The Eight Treasures).
The charm has a round central hole instead of a square one.
The inscription, starting at the very top and reading clockwise is chang ming fu gui jin yin man tang (长
命富贵金银满堂). The first
four characters wish for "longevity, wealth and honor". The last
four characters are almost identical to that on the obverse side of the
above charm. Instead of saying "may gold and jade fill your house
(halls)", however, it says "may gold and silver fill your house
This complicated design pattern is
very similar to that on the
reverse side of the large
seal script charm in the "Four Character
Charms" section above. You may want to refer to that other charm
to help differentiate the various symbols.
To the left of the round hole is the Chinese halberd (ji
戟). The shaft of the weapon runs vertically with the
hatchet-shaped blade at the top near the rim at about the 11 o'clock
position. (The halberd is outlined in black in the image below.)
Superimposed over the halberd is the stone chime (qing 磬). The three end points
of this triangular-shaped musical instrument are marked with little
circles. The right end point is at about 12 o'clock, the middle
end point (where the string to suspend the instrument would be tied) is
at about the 10 or 11 o'clock position, and the left end point is at
about the 9 o'clock position. If you connect these three points,
you will see the triangular shaped stone chime musical
instrument. (The stone chime is outlined in redin the image below.)
To the right of the circular hole is the sceptre(ruyi 如意). The
head portion is the roughly triangular shaped object at about the 2
o'clock position. The shaft of the sceptre curves down to where
it ends at the 6 o'clock position. (The ruyi is outlined in blue in
the image to the left.)
As is the case with the similar four-character charm above, the
halberd, stone chime and
sceptre are all wrapped or tied with a fillet (ribbon), which in
reality would be red, denoting "good luck".
The reverse side therefore says in pictures the following:
halberd, stone chime, sceptre = ji (happy
rank) qing (good luck,
congratulate) ruyi (as you
wish). The meaning may
be translated as "may your happiness (or your rank) be according to
The charm is 60 mm in diameter.
The charm on the left has one of the
inscriptions regarding wealth and prosperity. The inscription on
the obverse is jin yu man tang
(金玉满堂). The meaning is "may gold and jade fill your house
I find this inscription to be most interesting and revealing. The
original verse jin yu man tang (金玉满堂) is from the
Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching 道德经), the classic Taoist (Daoist) text
historically attributed to Laozi (老子). The original verse can be
translated as "when gold and jade
fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe". The
implication is that having wealth makes a person feel unsafe because he
will then worry that his money and belongings may be stolen. But,
if a person does not strive for "gold and jade" and, therefore, lacks
wealth and possessions, he will be at peace with the Dao (道).
worries. Therefore, the original meaning of
the verse has become corrupted over time because it is now used on
charms as a fervent desire to have "gold and jade".
The hope for wealth and prosperity, a large family with many sons, and
successful promotion to a government office is expressed on the reverse
side. The four character inscription is qi cai zi lu (妻财子禄) which would
translate as "wife, wealth, sons and emolument (which was the salary a
government official received)".
This charm has a diameter of 28.1 mm and weighs 10 grams.
The obverse side of this charm also has the legend jin yu man tang (金玉满堂), meaning
"may gold and jade fill your house."
The reverse side of this good fortune
charm reads tian guan ci
fu (天官赐福) which translates as "may the Ruler of Heaven bestow
good fortune". Tian Guan
Taoist (Daoist) pantheon known as the san
guan (三官). He kept a
register of the good and evil deeds of the people and bestowed wealth
and good luck.
The diameter is 27.8 mm and the weight is 5.4 grams.
The charm at the left has the inscription chu ru tong tai (出入通泰).
means "to go out" and ru (入)
means "to succeed" and tai (泰)
The inscription expresses the meaning that a person leaves and then
returns having become successful and prosperous.
The meaning of the inscription is more
graphically depicted on the reverse side of the charm.
Above the square hole is a horse
saddle (ma an 马鞍) with the
reins hanging down to the left of the hole.
An ancient Chinese sedan chair (jiao
zi 轿子), which would be carried by bearers, is shown below the
The implied meaning is that a person would leave home on a horse.
would be successful in the imperial
examinations and attain a lucrative
government post, or he would become a wealthy businessman. As a
of his success, he would return home on a sedan chair.
This charm has a diameter of 25.5 mm and a weight of 3 grams.
This is the obverse side of another old Chinese charm with the popular
inscription jin yu man tang (金玉满堂) meaning
"may gold and jade fill your house."
Unlike the charms described above,
however, the reverse side does not have an auspicious saying but
instead displays four symbols of wealth and prosperity.
Above the square hole is a silver
丝 or yuanbao 元宝)
which symbolizes wealth.
To the right of the hole is a precious pearl (bao zhu 宝珠). The pearl is a
symbol of riches and is frequently shown with flames which enhances its
At the left of the square hole is a rhinoceros horn (xijiao 犀角) tied with a ribbon or fillet.
symbolizes happiness because the first
character (xi 犀)
has the same pronunciation as the character for happiness (xi
Below the hole is a chime
stone (qing 磬) which was a
percussion musical instrument in ancient China. A small hole at
the top center allowed it to be hung from a frame and when struck with
a mallet it would produce a sound. The musical instrument
consisted of a set of 8 to 24 of these chime stones tuned to different
pitches. Many of these chime stones were made of jade.
This charm has a diameter of 29 mm and a weight of 7.3 grams.
This old charm is very well made but shows a lot of wear.
The inscription on the obverse is the same as that of the charm above
and reads chang ming fu gui (长
命富贵) meaning "longevity, wealth and honor".
Also, just as the above charm, the fu
(富) character for "wealth" located to the right
of the square hole is missing its top vertical stroke. This is a
subtle way to imply that wealth should be unlimited.
The reverse side
has the inscription fu shou kang ning
translates as "wealth, longevity, health and composure".
This inscription is a reference to the "Five Blessings"
first mentioned in the ancient Chinese classic known as the "Book of
History". The "Five Blessings" include wealth (fu 富), longevity (shou 寿), health and
composure (kangning 康宁),
virtue (xiu hao de 修好德), and
the desire to die a natural death in
old age (lao zhong ming 考
The charm has a diameter of 38.5 mm and weighs 15.6 grams.
This is another ancient Chinese charm with the popular inscription chang ming fu gui (长命富贵)
Similar to the other charms displayed above, the fu
(富) character for "wealth" is missing
the short vertical stroke at the top which suggests that wealth should
be without limits.
The reverse side of the
charm consists of several symbols which combine to form a couple of
To the right of the square hole is a crane (he 鹤) with
its head looking up and to the left.
Below the hole is a tortoise (gui 龟).
Because the patina makes it difficult to see the other symbols clearly,
I have outlined them in the image to the immediate left.
The long black lines with circles represent abranch of peony (mudan 牡丹)
flowers. At the very end of the branch and inside the blue circle
is a rooster or cock (gongji公鸡) which I have outlined in red.
In popular Chinese culture, the crane and the tortoise both symbolize
In Chinese, the peony is also
known as fuguihua (富贵花) which means "flower
of wealth and honor".
The Chinese word for "to crow", as in the crowing of a rooster, is
which has the same pronunciation as the word for "life" (ming 命)
or "longevity (chang
The visual pun or rebus is thus constructed as follows. At
the end of a long (chang 长)
branch is a crowing (ming 命)
rooster. The branch is full of peony or fugui
hua (富贵花) flowers. The
ming fu gui is thus the same as the inscription chang ming fu gui
(长命富贵) on the obverse side.
Other hidden or implied meanings are at play here as well.
The second character in the word for "rooster" (gongji
公鸡) has the same pronunciation as the word for "lucky" or
"auspicious" (ji 吉).
鸣) has the same pronunciation as "merit and
Additionally, the Chinese have the expression "like a crane
standing among chickens" (he li ji qun
鹤立鸡群) which means "to stand head and shoulders above others".
There is one additional visual pun. The "tortoise" (gui 龟) and
the "crane" (he
鹤) together symbolize the popular saying gui he qi shou (龟鹤齐寿)
which translates as "live as long as the tortoise and the crane".
This charm has a diameter of 26 mm and a weight of 3.4 grams.
The subject of this old charm is longevity and I
consider it to be
of the most beautiful in my collection. The calligraphy is
outstanding. The quality of the metal and the casting are also
The four character inscription is read top to bottom and right to
left as gui ling he shou
(龟龄鹤寿) which translates as "live as long as the tortoise and the
crane". Both the tortoise
and the crane are symbols of
While this charm does not actually display images of a tortoise and
crane, there is some historical evidence that the very first depictions
of a tortoise and crane together to signify longevity occurred on
of the Six Dynasties (220 - 589 AD) which had the inscription "live as
long as the tortoise and the crane".
The reverse side shows a pair of dragons,
Between their heads at the top of the piece is a
The diameter is 51 mm and the thickness is 3.5 mm.
This is another old charm which has seen much use over many years.
The obverse side has the inscription fu
全) which means "happiness and longevity both complete".
Both the obverse and reverse sides have a circular border surrounding
the square hole. This symbolizes "wealth" because it is the
traditional shape of the Chinese cash coin which is round with a square
hole in the center.
There is also another level of meaning here. The ancient Chinese
believed that the sky (heavens) was circular and the earth was
square. For a further discussion, please see
the Book of Changes (I Ching) and Bagua Charms.
The reverse side of the charm also shows quite a degree of wear.
The inscription reads tai ping ru yi
(太平如意) which translates as "may you have peace according to your
The diameter of the charm is 41 mm and the weight is 25.5 grams.