One of the most commonly seen Chinese “good luck” pictures is the “Four Happiness Boys” (si xi wa 四喜娃). This is the image of two boys which are connected in such a way as to give the illusion there are four boys.
This motif dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD).
A picture of the “Four Happiness Boys” is often given as a wedding gift in the hope that the newlyweds will have many children.
Sometimes the picture is given when there is a birth to wish the child happiness and good fortune.
The Chinese inscription on the image of the “Four Happiness Boys” displayed here reads tong xi (同喜) which means “shared happiness”.
For two thousand years, in order to become a government official, with the accompanying wealth and prestige, one had to do well in the very difficult imperial examinations which were based on such ancient Confucian texts as the “Four Books” and the “Five Classics”.
A child prodigy by the name of Jie Jin (解缙), who lived in Jishui Prefecture in Jiangnan Province, was able to master these books when he was only five years old!
This was such an extraordinary achievement that the emperor invited Jie Jin to participate in the examinations which he easily passed.
Jie Jin was then assigned to a special school to further his studies.
Unfortunately, one teacher was jealous of Jie Jin’s abilities and purposely tried to make things difficult for him.
One assignment required Jie Jin to draw a picture of a bountiful harvest. He drew a picture of a ruyi sceptre and the “fungus of immortality” (ruyi lingzhi 如意灵芝), both being very auspicious objects, but the teacher was not satisfied. Jie Jin then drew a picture based on the saying “beckoning and acquiring good fortune” (ying fu na ji 迎福纳吉) but the teacher again expressed disappointment.
Sensing the teacher’s hostile attitude, Jie Jin then drew a figure with two heads and eight limbs. The teacher immediately proceeded to scold him in front of his classmates for drawing such a deformed creature.
Jie Jin then calmly explained that the image was of four boys connected together at the waist and that the image expressed the meaning of “four happinesses joined together” (si xi he ju 四喜合局). The “four happinesses” were the wedding night, success in the imperial exams, encountering a friend far from home, and rain after a long drought.
The teacher was so impressed that he never bothered Jie Jin again.