The ancient Chinese strongly
believed in the need to seek the assistance of gods and spirits to
bring good fortune in the form of wealth and sons, and to provide
protection from demons. For this
reason, the Chinese used the charms
and amulets which are discussed in
great detail throughout this website.
they desired for their
houses, temples and
to be sited and oriented in a way that would put them in harmony
with the yin yang and qi forces of the heavens and the
earth. To meet this end, they developed a system known as feng
shui (fengshui 风水) or
"Feng" (风) means wind and "shui" (水)
While the principles of feng shui are vitally important prior to
the construction of
a structure, it is equally important that the appropriate
charm and amulet accoutrements be placed during and after
construction in order to
promote good fortune and avoid disasters.
This article will briefly introduce the essential elements of feng shui
to ensure harmony with nature and will also discuss the charms, amulets
and other protective and "good luck" objects which have been used for
hundreds of years in traditional Chinese houses to promote good fortune
and avoid misfortune.
The Chinese have long believed in
the primal life force known as qi
(ch'i 气 ). When qi
naturally in a person, there is good health. When there are
obstacles to the flow and the qi
becomes stagnant, there is disease.
To cure the body, an acupuncturist will correct the flow of qi through the use of needles
applied to acupuncture meridians.
Similarly, qi flows through
the earth like underground streams which can constantly change their
channels based on a number of factors. If the flow of qi is disrupted by changes to the
surface of the earth by man or nature, bad things can happen.
As is the case with the acupuncturist, the proper practice of feng shui
can help the earth's qi flow
freely along its hidden veins and dragon lines with minimal obstruction
by manipulating the location and orientation of houses, temples,
pagodas, tombs, etc.
The feng shui practitioner
frequently relies on a
called a luo
pan (罗盘) or luojing
Shown here is a small earthenware figure of a man holding a luo pan. This
figurine was excavated in 1985 from a tomb in Linchuan Prefecture
(临川县) in Jiangxi (江西) Province. Chinese archeologists have dated
the tomb to the year 1198 AD of the Southern Song Dynasty which means
Chinese practitioners were using the luopan
at least as early as this time period.
Written in black ink on the base of this tomb figure is 张仙人 which means "Zhang the
A luo pan has a number of
concentric rings with a south-pointing
needle set within a yin-yang
symbol in the center. The concentric
rings represent the various relationships of heaven and earth as
expressed through the symbols of the taiji
(yin and yang), four
seasons, Five Elements, Eight Trigrams (bagua), nine
twelve "Earthly Branches", twenty-eight
constellations or mansions, and sixty-year
cycle. A proper understanding of
relationships will determine the merits of a prospective building site.
For example, a very good site would be one with a south-facing slope
having a lake or river in
front and a mountain range at the rear.
Charms and Amulets Placed during
Once a house is properly sited
according to feng shui principles, house construction can begin.
During the building process, "charm" objects are usually installed to
that the structure is conducive to summoning good fortune.
Similarly, certain "amulet" objects are placed to provide protection
Since the breaking of the
means disturbing the soil, appropriate offerings must
be made to the local deities.
The construction process also involves making offerings, burning
and affixing inscriptions in order to
secure good luck and prosperity.
To appease the "Earth God" (tudi
gong 土地公 or fu de zheng shen
福德正神) and to repel evil spirits, there are offerings of fruit
At the left is a porcelain sculpture of the "Earth God" which dates
from the Ming Dynasty and is in the collection of the Xiamen
Museum located in Xiamen (厦门), also known as Amoy, in Fujian
written with Chinese characters and
magic characters are also placed in the soil.
blood is sprinkled over the site to repel evil
Sometimes there is a
or "resisting stone" (shigandang
石敢当) placed with the
"the stone of Taishan dares to resist"
gandang 泰山石敢当), or simply
"Taishan is here" (taishan
zai ci 泰山在此).
Tai Shan (taishan
泰山), located in Shandong
Province, is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of China and its stones
are believed to
ward off evil, catastrophe and other unlucky influences.
An example of a Tai Shan "resisting stone" is shown at the left.
This "resisting stone" is embedded in a wall and the inscription reads
"the stone of Taishan dares to resist" (taishanshi
Proper positioning of the main gate is critical because this determines
the ultimate placement of the ridgepole.
The ridgepole is the main cross beam located at
the top of the house
which provides major support for the roof. It is one of the most
critical components of a house and its installation requires a special
ridgepole is usually painted an
color and a charm
with the "Eight Trigrams" or bagua
sometimes including the taiji
(太极) symbol, is commonly attached.
An example of an Eight Trigrams charm is shown at the left.
three-lined symbol. Each of the three lines can
either be continuous or broken. A straight line represents yang (阳) and
yin (阴). Yin
the Chinese term for the basic polarities of the universe, such as
male/female, light/dark, strong/weak, etc. There are eight
possible combinations of these trigrams and they are known collectively
as the Eight Trigrams or bagua
The two holes on this particular charm indicate that it may have been
attached to a ridgepole sometime in its past.
The charm has a diameter of 39 mm and a weight of 11.5 grams.
(For a detailed discussion of this
type of charm, please see The Book of Changes and
Red paper and cloth banners are hung from the
ridgepole during its
hoisting. These banners have such auspicious sayings as:
The Protector Jiang Taigong is
here (jiang tai gong zai
ci 姜太公在此) (Jiang Taigong was a great Zhou Dynasty military
The male and female phoenix are
(feng huang zai
In addition to the banners, other objects symbolizing
prosperity are frequently attached to the ridgepole such as:
A bamboo sieve
because its many
square holes are the same shape (口) as the Chinese character for
will scare evil spirits away.
Red chopsticks are sometimes
attached to the ridgepole. The
color red is
considered very auspicious and the chopsticks
symbolize the hope for having many
children quickly. This is because the pronunciation of
sounds the same as saying "fast"(kuai
快) "sons" (zi
There may be times when carpenters and
masons feel they have not been treated
properly. If workers feel they have been mistreated in
any way, they might
seek revenge by secretly hiding objects within the framework of the
building which would bring misfortune
to the familiy.
Some of these objects are made simply of paper or
straw. For example, a paper drawing, or a figurine
straw, hidden in the infrastructure could become a ghost which would
haunt the house. Or, a small straw man together
with a match could in the future cause a fire which would destroy the
Other objects which can be secretly hidden and can bring
misfortune include a broken rice bowl with a pair of
chopsticks, or the tail of a pig, or a cart with
cash coins headed away from the house. All of these would portend
hardship for the family.
On the other hand, if the builders feel they were well treated they
hide objects believed to bring good luck. For example, it is
believed that copper cash coins
their inscription (obverse) side facing downward and placed on one of
beams of the ceiling will bring wealth to a family.
Promoting Good Fortune and Averting
Misfortune After Construction
To counter any possible
vengeance by the carpenters and masons, as
well as shortcomings regarding the feng shui of the location, a
family might install a variety of objects as a means of defense.
or "spirit walls" are placed in courtyards in front of
The image at the left is an old photograph of a
traditional Chinese house in Beijing (Peking), known as a siheyuan (四合院) or "Chinese
quadrangle", where the buildings surround an internal courtyard.
A "screen wall" can be seen in front of the entrance to one of the
The Chinese believe that there exist spirits intent on causing
harm. There are also ghosts who do not have anyone who will offer
sacrifices for them and, as a consequence, will try to create
calamities and disasters for a family.
Ghosts like to travel in straight lines and a "screen wall"
requires them to go around to gain entrance to an interior room.
It is also believed that a ghost approaching a "screen wall" will see
its own image or shadow on the wall and be scared away.
An earthenware statue of
the "Roof-Tile General" (wajiangjun
瓦将军) might be placed on
the roof to neutralize any negative influences from nearby roofs or
The image at the left is an example of a Roof-Tile General, approximately
height, dating from the Qing (Ch'ing)
Dynasty (1644-1911) and displayed at an exhibition of
ancient artifacts from Jinmen (金门).
A cloth bearing a government
official's seal (yin fu zi
印幅子) is sometimes hung in
Because a government
official's orders and proclamations convey great
authority among the living, it is believed to also carry such
among evil spirits.
concave or "inverting" mirror, is often hung
above a doorway. It is believed that a ghost will flee if it sees
its own reflection. Since a concave mirror will invert the image
of the ghost, it is believed that it will also "overturn" any evil
Another very popular form of protection is to place images of
famous generals, immortals and gods throughout the house.
It is quite common for
traditional Chinese houses to display images of the "door gods".
The "door gods" or "gate gods"
门神) are fiercesome-looking
Chinese usually seen brandishing weapons such as swords
or, as shown here,
The "door gods" are
based on a story originating from the 3rd
Century BC of Shen Tu (神荼) and Yu Lei (郁
垒) who were ordered by the Emperor of
Heaven (Tiandi 天帝) to protect
humans from evil spirits.
As seen in the picture at the left, their images
are frequently hung on both sides of a door or gate.
Images of the Daoist
are also very popular and often seen in old Chinese houses.
They are considered symbols of longevity, happiness and prosperity.
At the left is an illustration of the famous story "The Eight Immortals
Cross the Sea" (ba xian guo hai
member of the group is seen as a folk hero with special magical skills
able to live an eternally carefree and fun-loving life.
Some members of the group are only legends while others were
actual historical figures.
For example, the immortal in the red robe holding a feather fan
above his head is the historical Han Zhongli.
who is the immortal riding the donkey or mule to the right of the boat.
Han Zhongli (汉锺离), also known as Zhongli Quan (锺离权), is one of the
Daoist Eight Immortals
shown in the above
He is believed to have been an army general during the Han Dynasty (206
BC - 220 AD).
As represented by the small bronze statue at the left, he is usually
as a bearded old man, with tufts of hair coiled on each side of his
who enjoyed drinking wine.
Han Zhongli is usually shown carrying a feather fan, as can be seen
here, which he used to revive the dead.
This statue, which dates from the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911), is
42 mm in height and 18 mm in width.
The small bronze statue at the
left is Zhang
Guolao (张果老), also known as the "Elder Zhang Guo", who is
another of the Eight
Immortals illustrated above in "The
Zhang Guolao was a Daoist hermit who lived during the Tang Dynasty
He is frequently shown riding a donkey or mule, sometimes
carrying an ancient Chinese musical instrument known as a yugu (鱼鼓)
Zhang Guolao is shown here holding his yugu or "fish drum" which was a tube-shaped
bamboo musical instrument that was beaten with two rods.
Zhang Guolao had the ability to make himself
invisible. He also
could take his mule, fold it and place it in his bamboo wallet.
When he needed the mule, he would take it out of his wallet, spray
water on it from his mouth, and the mule would regain its original form.
This house statue is also from the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty. It
has a height of 39 mm and a width of 27 mm.
This is another representation of Zhang
Guolao (张果老) but in the form of a charm.
The obverse side (far left) of this old Chinese charm has the
inscription zhang guo lao xian
(张果老仙) which translates as "the immortal Zhang
The reverse side (near left) depicts Zhang Guolao riding his donkey or
carrying his musical instrument the yugu (鱼鼓).
This charm has a diameter of 34 mm and a weight of 12 grams.
An image of the God of
Guan Yu (关羽)
(关公) (Emperor Guan), is also commonly
seen in Chinese
houses. The God of War fights evil with a large broadsword.
Pictures of another fearsome slayer of evil spirits wielding his sword
and seen in Chinese
houses is Zhong
Kui (钟馗), the "Demon Slayer".
Zhang Daoling (张
道陵), the "Celestial Master" who established the first
organized Daoist religious sect known as the "Five Bushels of Rice"
("Five Pecks of Rice" or Wudou Mi
Dao 五斗米道), is believed to have the power to expel demons and
his image is, therefore, commonly seen hanging on walls of Chinese
As mentioned earlier, the "Eight Trigrams" or bagua is considered to be a
powerful symbol that is detested
by evil spirits. Besides being attached
construction of a house, an Eight Trigram amulet is frequently
placed on a main gate or door.
An example of such an amulet
displaying the Eight Trigrams is shown here.
The inscription (far left) reads zhan
gui (斩治邪鬼) which means
"behead and punish the demons".
This amulet has a diameter of 21 mm and a weight of 4.4 grams.
The image of a tiger is
sometimes hung over a door. Cleverly
forming the wrinkles on the tiger's forehead is the Chinese character
wang (王) which means
"king". This is another authority figure which further enhances
the power of the tiger to drive away evil
An image of a human figure is sometimes shown either riding or standing
next to a tiger.
This is the
"Polar Diety" who is also known as the "Purple Polar Star" and the
Diety is usually shown with a banner stating "the purple polar star
shines directly" (zi wei gao zhao
紫微高照) to scare away demons.
An example of such a paper print is shown here from the collection of
History in Taipei, Taiwan.
Besides seeking protection from the
supernatural, a family will
incorporate measures against natural enemies. Summertime, for
example, brings a host of
dangerous pests such as snakes, scorpions, spiders, etc. These
poisonous animals are collectively known as "The
to the traditional Chinese
calendar, the fifth day of the
fifth month is the most dangerous time for these pests.
will nail a "Five Poison" amulet, such as the one at the left, on a
door or gate as a form of protection.
If you look closely at the inscription side of this
amulet (far left), you
can see the depression left by a nail at the upper left corner of the
For a detailed discussion of this amulet please see Five Poison
Families also like to hang sweet
flag (calamus) on doors and gates during the
summer because its
leaves resemble "swords".
Chinese will take every
measure possible to promote "good
fortune" for the family and may nail a good luck
charm, such as the one on the left, on a gate or wall.
The inscription reads chang ming fu
"longevity, wealth and honor".
The reverse side of the charm states that it is made of "fine
silver" (纹银) and was made in Hong Kong (香港) by He Bao Xiang (河宝样).
This charm was probably made during the 1890's.
The charm has a diameter of 18.5 mm and a weight of 1.5 grams.
This is another "good
The four small holes indicate that it, too, was probably mounted to a
wall or gate at sometime in the past.
This particular charm was made during the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty at the
mint in Jiangsu Province.
The obverse side (far left) has the inscription qian long tong bao (乾隆通宝)
which is the same inscription found on the cash coins cast during the
reign of Emperor Gao Zong (1736-1795)
The reverse side has the auspicious inscription fu shou tong tian (福寿同天) which
translates as "good fortune and longevity on the same day".
While this charm very closely resembles a Qing Dynasty cash coin,
actually much larger. The charm has a diameter of 38 mm and a
weight of 10.6 grams.
One of the most popular "good
luck" motifs found in old Chinese houses consists of five bats (fu 蝠) surrounding the
Chinese character shou (壽)
which means "longevity".
At the left is an example of an old Chinese "open
charm with this design and which is known to the Chinese as wu fu peng shou
or "five fortunes surround longevity".
At the very center is a large and very stylized shou (壽) character
Surrounding this character are five bats. A bat (fu 蝠) is a visual pun or rebus for "good
fortune" or happiness (fu 福)
because both characters have exactly the same pronunciation.
The "five bats" represent the "Five
as the "Five Happinesses" or "Five Good Fortunes". The "five
longevity (寿), wealth (富), health and
composure (康宁), virtue (修好德), and the desire to die a natural death in
old age (考
This old bronze charm has a diameter of 71 mm.
The bat and longevity symbols are sometimes incorporated directly into
the design of a house. An outstanding example of a Qing Dynasty
carved wooden window with the theme "Four Happinesses surround
longevity" (si fu peng shou 四福捧寿) is discussed in detail at "Four Happinesses Window".
Woodblock prints, paper cutouts and "couplets" are also very commonly
hanging on walls and doors of traditional Chinese homes.
Perhaps the most frequently seen print is that of
Zaojun (灶君), also known as
Zaowang (灶王), who is the
"Kitchen God" or "Stove God".
Despite the name, Zaojun is not
concerned with cooking but, rather, is the god in charge of the
As can be seen at the left,
his image is frequently placed in an altar where offerings of incense,
candles, and food are made in his honor.
The parallel couplets written on red paper to the right and left of
Zaojun read shang tian yan hao shi
(上天言好事) and hui gong jiang ji xiang
(回宫降吉祥) which translates as "ascend to heaven and speak of good deeds"
and "return to your palace and bring good fortune".
The inscription above Zaojun reads si
an (四季平安) which means "peace for
the four seasons".
observes all activities of the family
Just before the lunar new year ("Chinese New Year" nongli xinnian 农历新年 or "Spring
Festival" chunjie 春节) on the
twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month,
the family will burn the print allowing Zaojun to ascend to heaven on
the smoke in order to report on the family's good and bad deeds of the
past year to the Jade Emperor of Heaven (yuhuang 玉皇, yudi 玉帝). Good or bad fortune
the new year is dependent on Zaojun's report. So, to maximize
prospects for a good report, the head of the household will smear sugar
paste over Zaojun's mouth, or place a glass of wine in front of Zaojun,
before burning the print.
Then, at the start of the New Year, a new print of Zaojun is pasted on
wall so that he can continue his work of observing and reporting and
thereby ensuring "good fortune" for the family.
Also for the New Year, Chinese
families will hang nianhua
(年画) or "New
Year's pictures" inside the house. Most of these are pictures
associated with good fortune.
At the left is an example of a New Year's picture with an
auspicious inscription on a diamond-shaped red
The inscription is zhao
cai jin bao (招财进宝) which
roughly translates as "money and treasures will be plentiful" or
"attracts wealth and treasure".
The inscription is written in a unique linked character style (lian
pai 连字挂牌) which is discussed at Ancient Chinese Pendant
On the outside gate or door are
hung duilian (对联) or "New
Year's couplets". These are Chinese phrases written on
red strips of paper and pasted vertically on each side of the front
gate. These are also known as "spring couplets" (chunlian 春联) and
"door couplets" (menlian 门联)
and are derived from the peachwood
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Chinese Charms and Coins