Beginning at least as early as the
Han Dynasty (206 BC - 230 AD), the Chinese started to wear charms
as pendants around their necks, to
hang from their waists, or to attach to rafters of houses,
temples, pagodas or other important structures. Some scholars
work charms were among the first to be used for dress
ornamentation and decoration purposes.
Over the centuries, Chinese charms for various purposes and of
different shapes gradually developed. Some were meant to be part
of daily wear. Others were worn only on special holidays or for
Some of these more specialized types of charms, all with loop or
eyelets and meant to be worn as opposed to carried, are discussed in
detail in their own sections. For example, fish
charms were worn by children and adults to
help protect and inspire them as they faced various life crises. Lock charms were worn by children for protection
as well as to promote good luck, wealth, rank and longevity. Peach charms were also worn to promote longevity
as were gourd charms. Spade charms were meant to imitate an ancient
form of shovel money.
The following are Chinese charms of a different type but which also
loops for wearing as pendants on necklaces or hung
Han Dynasty Charms
While it is not known when the first true charm appeared in China,
most scholars agree that a fairly large number had appeared by the time
of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).
This charm is considered by many
scholars to be among the first true charms of the Han Dynasty.
There is a large loop at one end and a small tab with a hole at the
other. It is uncertain how this charm was worn, though. It
may have been worn as a necklace or hung from the waist. Some
believe, on the other hand, that it may have been used as a button or
fastener on a garment.
The inscription (far left) is read clockwise. beginning with the
character to the left of the hole, as ri
jin (日入千金). The meaning is "may you earn a 1,000
The inscription (near left) on the other side of the charm is read in
the same manner as chang wu xiang
wang (长毋相忘). The meaning is "do not forget your
The charm therefore expresses the wish that you "do not forget your
friends when you earn much gold everyday".
There is another version of this charm with different
inscriptions. One side has the Chinese chu xiong qu yang (除凶去央) which
means "do away with evil and dispel calamity". The other side has
the inscription bi bing mo dang
(辟兵莫当) which translates as "avoid hostilities and ward off sickness".
Chinese Charms with Single Loop
This is an example of an old Chinese charm which shows quite a bit
of wear. It has a loop at the top and was probably worn as a
pendant on a necklace or perhaps hung from the waist.
Unlike most Chinese charms, there is no central hole.
The inscription is read top to bottom and right to left as chang ming fu gui (长命富贵) which is
one of the most popular charm inscriptions. The translation is
"longevity, wealth and honor".
The fu (富)
character for "wealth" is missing its top vertical stroke which implies
that the wealth is "unlimited".
The reverse side shows a
tree behind a very large flower in the center of the charm. This
very large flower blossom is probably a peony. The
peony has a very interesting
mythology in China and has come to
symbolize longevity and prosperity which is consistent with the meaning
of the inscription on the obverse side of this charm. (For more
information on the
peony mythology and meaning please see open-work
If you look carefully, you will also see two birds, probably magpies,
sitting on the tips of the tree branches
at approximately the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions. Magpies
symbolize happiness because the first character in the word for magpie (xi que 喜鹊) is xi (喜)
which means happy. Since there are two magpies facing each other,
they become the
symbol for "double happiness" (shuang
Also, a pair of magpies symbolize marriage. This is based on an
ancient legend that two heavenly lovers, the Oxherd and
the Weaver Girl (Weaving
Maiden), are allowed to meet each other once a year on the seventh day
of the seventh month (known as qixi
七夕, the Double Seven, or Sisters Festival) by crossing a celestial
river on a bridge made of magpies.
But, the symbolism goes even deeper. Just
below the branches at about the 7 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions are
two flowers which are different is size and style to the very large
central flower. These flowers are probably plum blossoms so it is
understood that the tree behind the large central flower is in fact a
plum blossom tree. In Chinese, one can say "there is a happy bird
(magpie) on the tip of the plum branch" as xi shang mei shao (喜上梅稍) which
sounds exactly like saying xi shang
mei shao (喜上眉稍) which means "happiness up
to one's eyebrows". This is a Chinese expression meaning "very
happy". The reverse side of this old
charm therefore expresses the desire for longevity, wealth, and
happiness through the use of symbols.
This charm has a length of 40 mm and a width of 27 mm. The weight
is 7.3 grams.
The inscription on this charm is read clockwise as wu zi deng ke, fu shou shuang quan
(五子登科福寿双全) which translates as "may your five sons achieve great
success in the imperial
examinations" and "happiness and longevity both
In the very center of the charm is the character for happiness (fu 福)
written in seal script.
The reverse side also has written at the top the Chinese character
fu (福) meaning good
fortune or happiness. The character at the bottom is xi (喜) which also means
happiness. The character in the center is shou (寿), meaning
longevity, written in seal
On the right is a deer.
The Chinese believe that the deer lives
to a very great age and, therefore, has become an emblem of long
life. Also, the Chinese character for deer (鹿) and
that for the salary a government official
The deer thus symbolizes the wish expressed on the obverse side to live
a long life and to
be successful in passing the examinations to become a government
The figure to the left is Shou,
God of Longevity,
who is always shown with a walking stick and is
frequently accompanied by the deer.
The God of Longevity, the shou
longevity character in the center of the piece, the fu happiness character at the top,
and the xi happiness
character at the bottom all mimic the "happiness and longevity both
complete" inscription on the obverse side of the charm.
This charm is 56 mm in length and 47 mm at its maximum width.
This charm with the nice patina has an eight character inscription
expressing the desire for a long life accompanied by wealth, honor and
Beginning at the nine o'clock position and reading clockwise, the first
four characters translate as "Longevity as great as the
Mountain" (shou bi nan shan 寿
Continuing to read clockwise, the next four characters translate
as "Longevity, wealth and honor" (chang
In the very center of the charm, and inside the circle,
is the Chinese character shou
(寿) meaning "longevity".
The reverse side of the charm displays the bagua (八卦) or
At the very center of the charm is the taiji
yin yang (阴
阳) known as the "supreme ultimate" symbol.
This charm has a length of 51 mm, a maximum width of 40 mm, and weight
of 32 grams.
The "Five Blessings" were
first mentioned in the ancient Chinese classic "Book of History" (shujing
书经 or shangshu 尚书) dating to
the 6th century BC.
The "Five Blessings", which are also known as the "Five Happinesses"
and the "Five Good Fortunes", include longevity (shou 寿), wealth (fu 富), 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 at the left represents "health and composure" with "health" (kang 康) on one side and
"composure" (ning 宁)
The "Five Happinesses" are frequently symbolized by five bats because
the word for "bat" (fu
蝠) has the same pronunciation as the word for "happiness" (fu 福). Examples
of this visual pun may be seen at Gourd Charms and Chinese House.
This charm has a length of 34 mm, a width of 24 mm, and a weight of
One of the more popular folk charms depicted a boy riding a qilin (麒麟)
West as the Chinese "unicorn".
This scene is known as qi lin song zi
(麒麟送子) which translates
as "the qilin (unicorn)
delivers boys (or children)".
In a certain sense, it is similar to the stork delivering children in
But, sons delivered by a qilin
were considered to be destined to become high government officials so
these charms were worn by women hoping that they would bear healthy
The wear shown on this particular charm demonstrates that it served
this function over a long period of time.
"Unicorn" is actually a misnomer because the mythical qilin actually had two horns, not
one, as depicted here. The qilin
was usually described as having the torso of a deer with fish scales,
the bushy tail of an ox or bear, and hooves.
The word for qilin (麒
麟) has the same pronunciation as the Chinese
word meaning a man of 60 or 70 (qi 耆) so there
is the implied meaning of a child living to a very old age.
The boy is shown carrying a lotus
hand. The word for lotus (lianhua
莲花) has the same pronunication as the word
for "continuous" (lian 连).
The implied wish is for the "continuous" birth of boy babies.
There are other auspicious symbols. At the three o'clock position
is a ruyi (如意) sceptre representing power and
authority. At the five o'clock position is a "flaming pearl" signifying
perfection and enlightenment. The six o'clock position has a silver ingot (sycee) representing wealth and at
the seven o'clock position is a coral
symbolizing longevity and and official government position.
These auspicious symbols take on additional importance when we examine
the other side of the charm.
The reverse side of the charm shows a crane (he 鹤) standing on one
The wings are spread and the crane is looking back at the one o'clock
A crane standing on a rock signifies a person being successful in
attaining a high official position in the government.
The crane is believed to live a very long time and is thus a symbol for
There is another play on words here. "To stand alone" (duli 独立), such
as the crane pictured here, has the same pronunciation as "individual
独力). The implied meaning is that a person
can stand alone at the top by relying on his own diligence in his
studies and in so doing be successful in passing the civil service examinations
and becoming a government minister.
The strange shaped rock that the crane stands on is known as a "longevity stone"
because of its age.
At the lower left are waves and foam representing the sea. The
longevity rock juts out over the sea. This is yet another visual
The Chinese word for "standing alone before the tide" is duli chao
(独立潮). The word for "tide" (chao 潮)
for court or government (chao 朝).
The hidden meaning is of a high government official "standing alone
before the emperor".
This charm has a length of 66.5 mm and a maximum width of 51 mm.
As is the case with the other charms displayed above, this charm has a
single hole or loop at the top to allow it to be hung from the neck or
The charm has a very large ji
(吉) Chinese character in the middle which means "lucky" or "auspicious".
At the bottom of the charm is depicted a lotus. The lotus is one
of the most prominent Chinese Buddhist
symbols and stands for purity
The Chinese character for lotus is lian
(莲). There is another Chinese character (连)
which means "in succession one after
another". The hidden meaning of this charm is therefore that good
luck should occur one after another or continuously.
The reverse side of this charm is equally interesting.
The single Chinese character in the middle is di (迪) which means enlighten.
The lotus (lian 莲)
the other character (lian
with the same pronunciation to give the meaning of enlightenment
happening one after another or continuously.
This charm has a length of 67 mm and a maximum width of 48 mm.
This pendant charm was meant
to bring good luck to those participating in the imperial examination
system to become government officials.
星), the God of Examinations
and the Star of Literature, is shown holding a writing brush in his
right hand and standing on one leg on the head of the mythical sea
turtle ao (鳌).
The ancient Chinese
believed that the earth was supported by this very large turtle.
The other side of this charm displays an ancient saying from a famous
writer of the Song Dynasty.
This pendant charm appears to
be composed of two cash coins which are round with square holes in the
middle. Chinese cash coins
symbolize wealth and prosperity.
The charm is shaped in this manner because it resembles a "gourd" which
is another popular Chinese charm type with a number of auspicious
The inscription on the top "coin" reads tong xin he yi (同心合意) which means
"to be of one mind".
The inscription on the bottom "coin", which is identical to a famous
coin from the Wang Mang era of the Xin Dynasty (7-23 AD), reads da quan wu shi (大
泉五十) and translates as "large coin 50".
The symbols on the reverse side of the charm include a crescent moon
above the square hole, the sun to the left, and the Big Dipper star
constellation to the right and below the hole.
This small charm is discussed in greater detail at Gourd
Chinese Charms with the Chinese Character Gua (to hang)
Like the charm above,
this one also has a canopy on top.
However, it has three holes or loops instead of one.
Also, the charm has a round circular hole in the middle.
large Chinese character at the top is gua
(挂) which means "to hang". Since this looped charm was obviously
made to be worn or hung on a wall, rafter, lantern, etc., I am unclear
as to why this character is on the charm.
The inscription surrounding the round central hole is read
as chang ming fu guai jin yu man tang
(长命富贵金玉满堂) which translates as "longevity, wealth and honor", "let gold
and jade fill your halls".
The reverse side
also has the gua
(挂) character on the canopy meaning "to hang".
To the right of the round central hole is a deer. The Chinese
character for deer (鹿)
a government official (禄) are both pronounced lu. This is another example
using a picture as a symbol with a hidden meaning. The
wish for a top government
office with a high salary, and a wish for longevity.
There are other examples on this charm of using symbols with hidden
meanings. Just below the deer's front hoof is an "upside down"
bat. In Chinese, saying the
words "an upside down bat" (fu dao
pronounced exactly the same as saying the words "happiness has arrived"
(fu dao 福到).
Another symbol with a hidden
meaning is the crab depicted
between the tree and the center hole, at
about the 9
o'clock position. The Chinese word for
and the Chinese word for harmony (协)
are both pronounced xie. Displaying a crab is
therefore expressing a wish for harmony.
Located at the bottom of the charm and near the tree is the lingzhi
芝) or "fungus of immortality". The deer is believed to be the
only animal able to find this magical plant.
Finally, the tree on the left is a pine
tree which is an evergreen and
therefore a strong symbol of longevity.
The charm has a length of 68.6 mm and a
maximum width of 50 mm.
This old charm also has a canopy on top with the gua
(挂) character meaning "to hang". One of
its three eyelets, however, has broken off.
There is a four character inscription encircling the central round hole
which reads chang ming bai sui
(长命百岁) which translates as "long life of 100 years".
The reverse side of the charm also has the gua (挂)
character "to hang".
The four character inscription is fu
gui chang jiu (富贵长久) which means "wealth and honor for a long
The fu (富)
which implies that wealth
should be without limits.
The length is 67 mm . Normally, the greatest width of a charm of
this type is across the eyelets. Because one of the eyelets is
missing, the greatest width is 44.5 mm across the round portion of the
charm below the canopy.
This is a very interesting
The upper part is similar to other pendant charms in that it has the
(挂), meaning "to hang", as well as the three holes or loops.
However, the lower portion has what appears to be one very large and
Chinese character. Actually, these are four Chinese characters
that have been combined into one.
The Chinese refer to this as lian zi
gua pai (连字挂牌) which means a pendant with characters linked or
The four Chinese characters are zhao
cai jin bao (招財進寶) which
roughly translates as "money and treasures will be plentiful" or
"attracts wealth and treasure".
The zhao (招),
meaning "attract", is at the lower right. The cai (財), meaning
"wealth" or "money", is just to the left of the zhao (招), and
becomes the right part of the cai (財) character.
jin (進) is at
left with its very bottom stroke extending all the way across and
holding all the characters together.
But where is the bao (寶),
The upper part of the bao (寶)
cai and jin characters. The bottom
part (貝) of the bao (寶)
(貝) of the cai
character (財) in the very middle of
While it is a little unclear because of wear, a yuanbao (元宝) is pictured at the
bottom of the charm. A yuanbao was a boat-shaped
丝) made of gold or silver and weighing 1 to 100 ounces. Yuan bao were used
as a form of money in ancient China. The yuanbao or sycee thus symbolizes "wealth".
This is the other side of the
At the very top is the Chinese character gua
(挂) meaning "to hang".
The larger complex character occupying the main body of the charm is
example of linked Chinese characters or lian zi
gua pai (连字挂牌).
In this case, there are three Chinese characters stacked on top of each
The character at the top is huang
(黄) which means "yellow". The character just below it is jin (金) meaning "gold" or
"precious". You will notice that the bottom "legs" of the huang (黄) character
jin (金) character.
(huang jin 黄金)
mean "yellow gold" or, simply, "gold".
The Chinese character at the bottom is wan (萬) which means "ten
thousand". The bottom part of the jin (金) character
To completely understand the implied meaning of the inscription,
however, one must also notice that located to the right and left of the
huang (黄) character
are two crescent-shaped objects. These symbols depict
gold ingots (yuanbao)representing "wealth". It is the same symbol that is
the bottom of the other side of the charm.
In Chinese, one says "two" as liang
(两). So the charm displays "two" yuan bao (gold ingots).
But the same character liang
(两) can mean a Chinese "ounce", also known as a tael. The tael was used as
the measure of weight for the gold yuan
bao and silver sycee.
Therefore, the entire inscription is read as huang jin wan liang (黄金万两)
This charm has a length of 54 mm and a maximum width of 42 mm.
The weight is 23.8 grams.
There is an interesting connection between this ancient bronze charm
and Chinese woodblock prints.
The Chinese have a long
of hanging colorful woodblock prints on the walls and doors of their
homes particularly during the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) and
These Chinese popular prints include many themes and are generally
known as nianhua (年画) or New
Year (Spring Festival) pictures.
One type displays an auspicious inscription on a diamond-shaped red
paper such as the example at the left.
You will notice that the inscription is zhao cai jin bao (招财进宝), the same
as that on the bronze charm above, and that it
is written in exactly the same linked character style(lian
This is another blockprint
The inscription is huang
jin wan (黄金万) and it
also written in the same style as the inscription on the other side of
charm described above.
While this paper print lacks the two yuan bao (gold ingot) symbols
portrayed on the bronze charm, the meaning clearly expresses the wish
for much weath.
These two auspicious prints were very popular in ancient China and it
is said that they could be found hanging in almost every
home up to the end of the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty.
The technique of linking or joining Chinese characters into new and
mystical symbolic forms reached an even greater extreme under the
Daoists (Taoists) in the
creation of Daoist magic
符文). Examples of amulets with Daoist magic writing can be seen at
Daoist (Taoist) Charms.
This is another charm with the gua (挂)
character meaning "to hang".
The reverse side of this old zodiac charm shows quite a bit of
wear. The 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac surround the outside
The Earthly Branch associated with each animal is shown encircling the
For additional information on the 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac and
the 12 Earthly Branches please visit old
Chinese zodiac charms.
This charm measures 67 mm in length and 49 mm in width at its "ears".
Vase Shape Pendant Charms
This type of charm is rarely seen because of its unusual shape.
The charm is in the shape of a vase or bottle.
The vase symbolizes
"peace" because the Chinese word for vase (ping 瓶)
as the word for peace (ping
It is difficult to see because of the wear but each side of the charm
has a four character inscription written vertically.
The inscription at the far left reads tian
jiu (天长地久) which means "as eternal and unchanging as
The inscription at the near left is chang
gui (长命富贵) which translates as "longevity, wealth and
This charm dates from the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911).
The length is 77.8 mm, the width is 23 mm and the weight is 20.1 grams.
Wearing or Hanging
This is an interesting old Taoist (Daoist) charm, with a single
the top, that displays two of the "Eight Immortals".
The obverse side is an amulet in that its purpose is to suppress evil
spirits and avert misfortune. The Taoist Immortal is Lu Dongbin
(Lu Tung-Pin 吕洞宾). In his left hand is his magic devil-slaying
sword which can slay any ghost
or demon. In his right hand is a
whisk which allows him to walk on clouds or fly to heaven whenever he
The inscription is read top to bottom as zhu shen hui bi (诸神回避) which
translates as "evade all the spirits".
At the very top of the charm, just below the hole, is a lotus.
The Chinese word for "lotus" (lian 莲) is pronounced exactly the
same as the word for "continuous" (lian 连) so the hidden or implied
meaning is that the inscription on the charm should continue forever.
The reverse side expresses the
wish for good
fortune and happiness. The Taoist Immortal is Zhong Kui (钟馗) with
a sword in
his right hand. He is famous as a fearsome slayer of evil
demons. The projections from each side of his hat are
"demon-seeking" devices that can point to unseen and lurking dangers.
The inscription is read top to bottom as qu xie jiang fu
(驱邪降福) meaning "Expel evil and send down good
Just to the left of the sword at about the 11 o'clock position is a bat
flying upside-down. Zhong Kui is usually depicted with a bat so
this further confirms that he is the immortal on the charm. In
Chinese, the word for "bat" (fu
蝠) and the word for "happiness" (fu 福) are pronounced
exactly the same. If you say "upside-down bat" in
Chinese (蝠倒), it sounds exactly the same as
saying "happiness has arrived" (福到).
Also, there is a lotus design
just below the loop at the top. As
mentioned above, the lotus symbol means that expelling evil and
receiving good fortune and happiness should continue.