(刘海) is one of the most popular
members of the Chinese pantheon of charm figures and represents
prosperity and wealth. There are a couple of versions of the
story which have come down through history.
was a Minister of State during the
10th century in China. He was also a Taoist
One version of the story says that he became
good friends with
a three-legged toad who had the fabulous ability to whisk its owner to
any destination.¹ This particular toad had a love not only
for water but also for gold. If the toad happened to escape down
well, Liu Hai could make him come out by means of a line baited with
The second version of the story is that the toad actually lived in a
deep pool and exuded a poisonous vapor which harmed the people.
Liu Hai is said to have hooked this ugly and venous creature with gold
coins and then destroyed it.
The story of Liu Hai is frequently told as "Liu Hai playing with the
Golden Toad". There is a hidden meaning here. The Chinese
word for "toad" is chanchu
(蟾蜍). Sometimes, Chinese will only say the first character chan (蟾). In some Chinese
dialects, the character chan
has a pronunciation very similar to qian
which means "coin". Therefore, a storyteller reciting "Liu
Hai playing with the Golden Toad"
be heard by listeners as "Liu Hai playing with the gold coins".
(For other examples of hidden meanings concerning ancient Chinese
charms please see the hidden meaning of
Chinese charm symbols.)
In this specimen, the obverse of the
charm depicts Liu
Hai on the right
waving a string
of coins above his head. The Three-Legged Toad is shown at the
bottom. Other lucky symbols include a pair of peaches to the left of the hole
and a bat to the left of the
In Chinese mythology, the Three-Legged Toad is said to only exist in
the moon which it swallows
during the lunar eclipse. Since this
Three-Legged Toad is located so remote, it symbolizes the
In the first version of the story, the depiction of Liu Hai and
the Three-Legged Toad on charms is regarded as most auspicious and
conducive to good fortune. The second version of the story,
however, hints at the moral that money is the fatal attraction which
can lure a person to his ruin.
In either case, Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad has become a popular
and powerful symbol of prosperity depicted on Chinese charms.
The inscription surrounding the
circular hole reads jin yu man tang,
chang ming fu gui (金玉满堂长命富贵) which translates as "may gold and
jade fill your halls" and "longevity, wealth and honor".
The diameter of this charm is 44 mm and the weight is 19.8 grams.
For further details on the symbolism of the Eight Treasures, please see
my discussion on eight treasures charms.
This is another charm depicting Liu Hai and the
Liu Hai is again shown on the right waving a string of coins at the
Three-Legged Toad which is located on the bottom of the charm.
There are no other symbols on the obverse side of this example.
The diameter of this charm is about 45 mm and the weight is 21.3 grams.
The reverse side of this charm
appears to show a portrait of Liu Hai.
However, it is possible that this is actually a portrait of the
"Laughing Buddha" known as budai
(布袋) in Chinese and Hotei in
Japanese. Budai was a
Zen Buddhist monk who lived in China
during the Liang Dynasty
AD) and is always shown smiling and laughing with a large pot belly
symbolizing happiness, good luck and abundance.
This is the reverse side of an old and large Chinese charm.
The scene shows a young Liu Hai playing with the Three-Legged Toad.
The concentric half-circles at the very bottom represent waves in the
water. You will also note the bamboo branches at the right.
The obverse side of the charm displays Daoist magic writing (the
characters at the extreme right and left) and a Chinese character
inscription seeking assistance from the God of Thunder.