Hidden or Implied Meaning of Chinese Charm Symbols
Most old Chinese coins have an inscription of four Chinese characters to identify the historical time of their casting and their monetary value.
Differences between Chinese Coins and Chinese Charms
Differences between Chinese Coins and Chinese Charms
Most Chinese charms also have four (or more) Chinese character inscriptions but the inscription is not meant to identify when the charm was made or its monetary value (which is none). Instead, the inscription is either an auspicious desire, such as for good luck, good fortune, good health, success in the imperial examinations or business, etc., or a wish to avert misfortune from evil ghosts and spirits.
(For additional information on Chinese charm inscriptions, please see Guide to Reading Chinese Characters (Symbols) on Charms and English Translation of Chinese Charm Inscriptions.)
More importantly, and unlike Chinese coins, most Chinese charms also depict a variety of objects meant to enhance the inscriptions with rich symbolic meanings.
The charms of the Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing (Ch'ing) (1644 - 1911 AD) dynasties, in particular, frequently took advantage of this characteristic. The charms may use depictions of animals, plants and other objects to substitute for other words because of their similarity in pronunciation, even though they may not have any other relationship to what is being expressed. This is what I mean by a hidden or implied meaning or visual pun, and what the Chinese refer to as auspicious or lucky pictures (jixiangtuan 吉祥图 案). A more technical term would be a rebus.
Chinese Symbols and Their
Since a fundamental difference between old Chinese coins and charms has to do with the use of symbols, a basic understanding of the language of the symbols is needed to fully appreciate Chinese charms. Listed below, in alphabetical order, is a comprehensive list of objects that include those which have become symbols because of their similar pronunciation to auspicious Chinese words. Also included are other objects frequently seen on charms which have become symbols due to mythology, history or cultural associations.
||An apple can be a
visual pun for peace because the Chinese word for
apple (pingguo 苹果) and the word for peace (pingan
are both pronounced ping.
A persimmon (shi 柿) paired with an apple (pingguo 苹果) forms the rebus "may your matters (shi 事) be safe (pingan 平安)".
||An apricot grove, or
field of apricots,
is a symbol for success in the imperial
examination system because the very first
celebration honoring successful candidates allegedly
took place in an apricot grove.
||The axe (fu 斧) has the
same pronunciation as "happiness" (fu 福) and as a
weapon symbolizes power and the ability to punish.
The axe head is also one of the Twelve Imperial Symbols.
The axe is also the symbol of Lu Ban (鲁班) who is known as the God of Carpenters.
In Buddhism, the axe symbolizes the destruction of evil.
The axe can also refer to a marriage matchmaker.
symbolizes the ideals of a Confucian
scholar because both are perceived as upright, strong
and resilient while still being gentle, graceful and
Bamboo also represents the ideals of the Taoists (Daoists) because it can bend during the worst weather but not break.
The bamboo is a member of the Three Friends in Winter.
Bamboo depicted on a charm is also a pun because the Chinese word for bamboo (zhu 竹) and the Chinese word for "to wish" or "to congratulate" (zhu 祝) are pronounced the same.
Because it has a "hollow center" (kongxu 空虚), bamboo also symbolizes "modesty" (qianxu 谦虚) because the second character for both has the same pronunciation (xu).
Bamboo was traditionally used to frighten away evil spirits, such as the mythical beast Nian (年), because when placed in a fire it would create a loud crackling sound similar to firecrackers.
A charm with the bamboo symbol may be seen at Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad.
Bamboo tallies, a type of token currency that circulated in parts of eastern China during the late Qing Dynasty and early Republican period, are discussed in detail at Bamboo Tallies.
||A picture of a
蝠) can be a
for "good fortune" or happiness (fu 福) because
both characters are pronounced fu. Often
the bat is shown flying upside down because the
倒) for "upside-down" and the character (dao 到) meaning
"to have arrived" are both pronounced dao.
Therefore, if a person were to say "the bat is
flying upside down" a listener could just as
easily hear this as "happiness has arrived" which,
of course, has a very auspicious
connotation. (View charms with"upside down"
bat and eight
treasures, Zhong Kui,
Zhong Kui, Liu Hai, and
Additionally, "a bat descending from the sky" (fuzi tianlai 蝠子天来) sounds exactly like "happiness descends from heaven" (fuzi tianlai 福子天来).
Two bats facing each other mean double good fortune or happiness.
Some charms display five bats which stand for the "Five Blessings", namely longevity, wealth, health and composure, virtue, and the desire to die a natural death in old age. (View five bat charm.)
A very popular design found in many traditional Chinese houses consists of five bats surrounding the Chinese character for "longevity" (shou壽) which represents the expression wu fu peng shou (五 福捧寿) or "five fortunes surround longevity". (See Chinese House and Open Work Charms)
A Chinese charm or coin with a square central hole is sometimes referred to as an "eye coin" (yanqian 眼钱). The Chinese word for coin or money (qian 钱) is pronounced the same as the word for "before" (qian 前). Therefore, a picture of a bat (fu 蝠) on (zai 在) an "eye coin" (yanqian 眼钱) creates a visual pun since saying there is a "bat on the coin" (fu zai yan qian) sounds exactly like saying "happiness is before your eyes" (fu zai yan qian 福在眼前).
Bats live in caves which represent portals to the beyond.
||The bear (xiong 熊) is
often depicted on Chinese charms and amulets but it is
a powerful animal that the Chinese believe can invoke
fear in evil spirits just as well as humans.
However, the bear is sometimes shown with an eagle because eagle or hawk (ying 鹰) and bear (xiong 熊) together sound just like the word "hero" (yingxiong 英雄).
||See entry for pig below.
||Bran (wheat bran) is
an auspicious fertility
symbol at marriages because its pronunciation (fu zi
the same as "rich son" (fu zi 富子) thus representing the wish
that the couple will produce children who will become
||See entry for citron below.
||The butterfly is a
symbol of long life because the second character in
蝴蝶) has exactly the same pronounciation as the
character 耋 (die) which means "70 or
80 years of age".
The butterfly also signifies joy and warmth.
||The cabbage (baicai 白菜 or
is a symbol for wealth because it has the same
pronunciation as the word "money" or "wealth" (cai
||Calamus (chang pu
also known as "sweet flag", is a plant with long and
stiff leaves which resemble swords.
Since swords provide protection, hanging calamus above gates and doors is believed to help protect from evil spirits, disease and misfortune.
fish is a commonly seen visual pun because the
Chinese character for carp (li 鲤) is
pronounced the same as both the character (li 利) for
"profit" and the character (li 力) for
"strength" or "power".
The carp is also a symbol for an abundance of children because it produces many eggs.
A pair of carp symbolizes a harmonious marriage.
A frequently seen image is of a carp swimming and leaping against the current of a river to reach the spawning grounds. This refers to the legend (liyutiaolongmen 鲤鱼跳龙门) that a carp which is able to leap over the mythical "Dragon Gate" will become a dragon. This is an allegory for the persistent effort needed to overcome obstacles.
See a carp fish charm at Fish Charms.
The carp used for medicine was the quest in a famous story of Wang Xiang and filial piety.
See a reference to the carp/dragon allegory and the horns of Kuixing (God of Examinations) at Auspicious Inscriptions.
Additional information can be found at the entry for fish below.
||The cassia is an
evergreen plant with bright yellow flowers that is
sometimes incorrectly referred to as Chinese cinnamon.
The cassia is closely associated with the myth of Chang'e ("Moon Goddess") and the "Moon Hare" ("Jade Rabbit").
In Chinese, cassia (gui 桂) has the same pronunciation as the word for "high rank" (gui 贵).
Cassia and peaches together represent "high rank" and "longevity".
Cassia and seeds (lotus, pomegranate, gourd) together expresses the desire for many sons who will achieve high office.
The cassia represents success in the imperial examination system which is explained in detail at Auspicious Inscriptions.
See also "Cassia and Orchid" Charm.
||A symbol that
resembles an "X" is sometimes found on Chinese
charms. This is actually a pair of wooden
clappers or castanets crossed one over the other.
The Chinese call these castanets or clappers yin yang ban (阴阳板).
It is believed that castanets were originally derived from the narrow tablet (hu 笏) that an official would carry authorizing his access to the imperial palace. Depending upon rank, these tablets were made of jade, ivory, bamboo and shark's skin, or bamboo and jade.
The castanets are also the symbol associated with Cao Guojiu (曹 国舅), one of the Eight Immortals.
A charm displaying a pair of castanets or yin yang ban may be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.
||The cat (mao 猫)
wishes for a long life because it has the same
pronunciation as the word for an 80 year old or
The cat is also the protector of silkworms because it can ward off and kill mice and rats which attack these producers of silk thread.
See the cat at The Five Poisons.
||The Chinese word for
栗子) sounds exactly like saying "establishing" (li
立) "sons" or
子) and therefore is a good luck symbol for creating a
The Chinese refer to the eight-sided holes found on many Tang and Song Dynasty coins as flower or chestnut holes.
The first character in chestnut (li 栗) sounds the same as "etiquette" or "manners" (li 礼) and symbolizes those qualities in women.
|Chopsticks||Chopsticks (kuai zi 筷子) symbolize
the hope for newlyweds to have children quickly
because the pronunciation is the same as "fast" (kuai
快) "sons" (zi 子). (See Chinese
||The chime stone (qing
磬) was a
percussion musical instrument in ancient China.
Each chime stone was flat and shaped similar
to a chevron. A small hole at the top center
allowed the stone to be hung from a frame. The
musical instrument consisted of a set of 8 to 24 of
these chime stones with each tuned to a different
pitch. When struck with a mallet the
chime stone produced a musical sound.
Since many chime stones were made of jade, the chime stone also symbolizes wealth and riches.
The stone chime (qing 磬) has the same pronunciation, and thus the hidden meaning, of to "congratulate" (qing 庆).
The chime stone is also considered one of the Eight Treasures.
See a charm displaying a chime stone at Auspicious Inscriptions.
signifies the tenth month of the lunar calendar.
The chrysanthemum, one of the Four Gentlemen, blooms late and in facing the winter symbolizes people who maintain their virtue despite adversity and temptation.
Chrysanthemum (ju 菊) sometimes is a symbol for "forever" (yongjiu 永久), and thus meaning "longevity", because of the similarity in pronunciation. For the same reason, the chrysanthemum can also stand for the number "nine" (jiu 九).
See the chrysanthemum symbol on an unusual charm at Chinese Boy Charms.
||The cicada is a
symbol of rebirth and immortality because after
surviving underground for a long period of time it
emerges and flies into the sky.
||The citron is a
bright yellow lemon-like fruit with a thick rind and
long finger-like tendrils. Because it resembles
the familiar hand position of the Buddha, the citron
has the auspicious Chinese name of foshou (佛手)
literally means "Buddha's Hand".
The name foshou sounds very similar to the words fu (福 happiness) and shou (寿 longevity) and therefore the citron is a symbol for "happiness and longevity".
The citron is one of the "Three Abundances" (Three Plenties).
referred to as "auspicious clouds" (xiangyun
represent the heavens and also "good luck" because the
Chinese word for cloud (yun 云) is pronounced the same as yun
"luck" or "fortune".
Its form often resembles the auspicious shape of the lingzhi "fungus of immortality".
The cloud is a commonly seen design and when repeated in a pattern symbolizes never-ending fortune.
For a comprehensive discussion of the relationship of the cloud, dragon, star, and moon symbols please visit Charm Symbols: Star, Moon, Cloud and Dragon.
Auspicious clouds may be seen on coins and charms at the following: Auspicious Inscriptions, Chinese Coins with Charm Features, Buddhist Charms, Daoist Charms.
||Chinese coins are a
potent symbol of wealth and prosperity.
The coin is one of the "Eight Treasures".
Ancient Chinese coins are round with a square hole in the middle which reflects the Chinese view of the earth as square and the heavens as a circle ("Circle and Square").
A coin (qian 钱) can be a visual pun for "before your eyes" because the hole in the center is called an "eye" and the coin (qian) has the same pronunciation as the word "before" (qian 前).
An old word for coin is quan (泉). A pair of coins is shuang quan (双泉) which has the same pronunciation as "both complete" (shuang quan 双 全).
See a charm incorporating a "pair of coins" as a visual pun or rebus at Bagua Charms.
For a history, including images, of ancient Chinese coins and other forms of money please visit Chinese Coins.
||Coral (shanhu 珊瑚) is
included as one of the Eight
Treasures and symbolizes longevity and official
As a symbol of longevity, the Chinese have traditionally believed that coral represents an "iron tree" (tieshu 铁树) that grew under the sea and blossomed only once every hundred years.
Red coral is considered particularly auspicious because the Chinese believe the color red signifies good luck, good fortune, and happiness. (See ribbons and fillets for more about the color red.)
Coral resembles deer antlers and deer are symbols of longevity.
Coral is also a symbol of official promotion because a coral button on the hat identified one of the nine grades of government officials.
||The Chinese word for
crab (蟹) and the Chinese word for harmony
both pronounced xie. The crab
symbol is sometimes used on charms which
express a desire for peace such as the
xia tai ping
Coins and Charms.
The crab is also used to symbolize success in the imperial examination system. This is because the Chinese word for the crab's shell (jia 甲) has the additional meaning of "first" as in achieving the highest score in the examination to become a government official.
An example of a charm depicting a crab with this hidden meaning can be seen at Eight Treasures.
||The crane (he 鹤) is
by the Chinese to live to a very old age and therefore
is a symbol of longevity.
The crane's white feathers also represent old age.
A crane standing alone can represent success in becoming a high government official as seen on a charm at Pendant Charms.
To see a crane on other old charms please visit Daoist (Taoist) Charms and Auspicious Inscriptions.
Myths describe spirits and immortals as riding on cranes.
The souls of the dead are said to be carried to the heavens by cranes.
The image of the crane was embroidered on the robes of high government officials.
Because the pronunciation (he) is the same as that for the word "harmony" (he 合), the crane is sometimes shown on charms to imply a good and harmonious marriage.
(Nowadays, the "crane" is humorously referred to as the "national bird of China". In this case, however, the "crane" refers to the large machines used to lift heavy objects to the top of buildings as part of China's major construction boom!)
||Because the Chinese
word for cypress (bai
柏) is pronounced the same as the word for "one
百), the cypress is frequently paired with other
symbols to express "many" or "everything".
Cypress leaves were used in traditional Chinese weddings.
||The date fruit or
Chinese jujube (zao
枣) conveys the meaning that something is going to
happen soon because it has the same pronunciation as
the word for "early" or "soon" (zao 早).
For this reason, dates were placed on bridal beds and the wood of the date tree was used to construct beds for children.
are among the most frequently seen animals on
charms. The Chinese character for deer is 鹿
which is pronounced lu.
The Chinese character 禄, which refers to the
salary a government official receives, is also
A picture of a deer is therefore expressing a wish for
a top government office with a high salary.
The Chinese believe the deer lives to a very great age and, as a result, has become a symbol for long life.
The deer is traditionally believed to be the only animal able to find the magical lingzhi fungus of immortality.
The deer is often seen by the side of Shou, the God of Longevity.
The deer often is used as a verbal pun to refer to the God of Prosperity which has the same pronunciation (lu).
The deer as a symbol used on charms may be seen at the following: Men Plow, Women Weave, Eight Treasures, and Auspicious Inscriptions.
||The dog (gou 狗) is one
the twelve animals of the Chinese
||The Door Gods are
images of two warriors, Shen Tu and Yu Lei, which are
hung on gates or doors to protect against evil spirits
See Peach Charms for more information on the Door Gods.
Images of the Door Gods on the gate of a traditional Chinese house may be seen at The Chinese House, Good Fortune and Harmony with Nature.
(long 龙) is
one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
The dragon is believed to live in the mountains or in the seas and can fly into the heavens.
Unlike the dragons of Europe, the Chinese dragon symbolizes benevolence, prosperity, longevity and the renewal of life.
Ancient Chinese believed the dragon brought rain, good harvests and fertility.
The dragon is the symbol of the emperor when it has five claws.
The dragon is yang and associated with the east and spring.
Conjoined dragon and phoenix represent the union of a man and a woman.
For a more detailed discussion of the dragon symbol please see yinyang and the five elements as the basis for star, moon, cloud and dragon symbols.
Dragon charms with two dragons may be seen at: Open Work Charms and Auspicious Inscriptions.
Charms with a dragon and phoenix may be seen at: Marriage Charms and Auspicious Inscriptions.
A very interesting dragon made of old Chinese coins in the Forbidden City may be seen at: Coin Dragon
||The dragonfly (qingting
蜻蜓) represents the Confucian
ideal of pureness of character because its
pronunciation is similar to the word for "pure" or
"clear" (qing 清).
The dragonfly also symbolizes the season of summer.
||Mandarin ducks (yuanyang
鸳鸯 or xi 鸂)
are believed to mate for life and, therefore, a pair
of mandarin ducks symbolize fidelity, conjugal
affection, peace and prosperity.
(with meat or vegetable stuffing) symbolize wealth or
riches because they are boat-shaped and thus resemble
the silver ingots or sycee used
in ancient China as money.
The word dumpling (jiaozi 饺子) has the same pronunciation as the first paper money (jiaozi 交子) used in China which was during the early Song Dynasty.
Ancient Chinese placed actual coins in dumplings with the wish that whoever found the coins would enjoy prosperity and good luck.
Jiaozi has the hidden meaning of wishing for a large family because jiao (交) means "to have sexual intercourse" and zi (子) means "son" or "child".
Dumplings stuffed with dates express a hope for the "early" birth of sons.
Dumplings resemble the crescent moon and a wish for a year of abundance.
||The eagle or hawk (ying
鹰) symbolizes a "hero" (yingxiong
英雄) because the pronunciation is the same.
See also entry for bear above.
||See entry for heron below.
||The number eight (ba
八) is the most auspicious number because its
pronunciation, particularly in southern dialects, is
very similar to "prosper" or "wealth" (fa cai
||The Eight Immortals
(八仙) are eight daoists who have attained immortality
1) Han Zhongli (汉钟离), also known as Zhongli Quan (锺离权), was a Han Dynasty general and is usually shown carrying a feather fan which he uses to revive the dead.
2) Lu Dongbin (吕 洞宾), known for his drinking and fighting abilities, carries a demon-slaying sword. He also carries a fly whisk which he uses to walk on clouds, fly to heaven, and sweep away ignorance. (See Lu Dongbin Charm.)
3) Zhang Guolao (张果老) rides a donkey, sometimes seated backwards, and carries a tube-shaped bamboo musical instrument called a yugu (鱼鼓).
4) Li Tieguai (李 铁拐), known as "Li with the iron crutch", is a crippled beggar who carries a gourd filled with a magic elixir.
5) He Xiangu (何仙姑) is the only female in the group and usually carries a kitchen ladle, lotus, peach or fly whisk. She is known for her filial devotion, ability to resolve domestic disputes and is seen as the patron of household management.
6) Han Xiangzi (韩湘子) carries a flute and can predict the future and make fruits and flowers grow out of season. He represents youth and is seen as the patron of fortune-tellers.
7) Cao Guojiu (曹国舅) carries a ruyi sceptre or castanets which are two long "clappers" thought to symbolize the ceremonial tables required for admission to the imperial court. How he became an immortal is described in the Ming Dynasty novel "Journey to the West".
8) Lan Caihe (蓝采和), depicted as a male or female or hermaphrodite, usually holds a fruit/flower basket, a bowl or a flute and whose story is also told in "Journey to the West".
||The "Eight Treasures" (babao 八宝), also
known as the "Eight Precious Things" and the "Eight
Auspicious Treasures", may consist of eight ordinary
symbols, the eight precious organs of the Buddha's
body, the eight auspicious signs, or the various
emblems of the eight
Taoist Immortals. The most commonly seen
members of the Eight Treasures include the coin, ruyi sceptre,
stone, lozenge, rhinoceros horn, silver ingot and the flaming pearl.
In Buddhism, the Eight Treasures (Eight Auspicious Symbols) include the lotus (purity/enlightenment), Wheel of the Dharma (knowledge), treasure vase (wealth), conch shell (Buddha's thoughts), victory banner (Buddha's teachings conquer all), endless knot (harmony), parasol (protection) and fish pair (happiness in marriage).
||The elephant is
considered an auspicious animal because the Chinese
character for "elephant" (xiang 象) has the
same pronunciation as the Chinese word for
"auspicious" or "lucky" (xiang 祥).
The elephant is sometimes shown carrying a "treasure" vase (bao ping 宝瓶) on its back. Since the word "vase" (ping 瓶) has the same pronunciation as the word for "peace" (pingan 平 安), the implied meaning is "may you have 'good luck' (elephant) and 'peace' (vase)".
"Elephant Chess" (xiangqi 象棋), also known as "Chinese Chess", is an ancient and popular board game. (Ancient "elephant chess" pieces may be seen at "Old Chinese Chess Pieces".)
character for fish (yu
鱼) is pronounced the same as the Chinese character for
"abundance" or "surplus" (yu 余). The fish symbol is,
therefore, frequently associated with other symbols
and Chinese characters to symbolize the wish for
"more" in the sense of "more" good luck, good fortune,
long life and children. (Please see images at Ancient Chinese Fish Charms and
Open Work Charms.)
As an example, to express the wish for "having more happiness year after year" a charm may use the Chinese character 年 (nian) for year, and also include a picture of a fish, a lotus and a magpie. The fish (yu 鱼) represents "more" (yu 余). The character 莲 for lotus and the character 连 meaning "in succession or one after another", as in expressing year after year, are both pronounced lian. The magpie (xi que 喜鹊) is pronounced the same as happiness . So the fish, lotus, magpie and the Chinese character 年 (year) together would have the implied meaning of "more" "happiness" "year after year".
Because of its reproductive abilities, the fish also represents fertility in marriage.
Two fish, or a pair of fish (shuang yu 双鱼), represent happiness in marriage.
While fish charms are fairly common, it is rare to find a fish symbol on a real Chinese coin although one can be seen at Ancient Chinese Coins with Charm Features.
See carp for additional information on the fish symbol.
(Happinesses, Good Fortunes)
||According to the
ancient Chinese classic the "Book of History" (shujing
书经 or shangshu 尚书),
also known as the "Classic of History", there are
"Five Blessings" (wufu 五福), also known as
the "Five Happinesses" or "Five Good Fortunes", which
refer to longevity (shou
寿), wealth (fu
富), health and
康宁), virtue (xiu
hao de 修好德), and the desire to die a natural
death in old age (lao
zhong ming 考 终命).
Popular among the Chinese people is another set of "five blessings" which consists of good fortune (fu 福), government official salary (lu 禄), longevity (shou 寿), joy (xi 喜) and valuables or property (cai 财).
The "Five Blessings" can be represented by five bats as seen at Gourd Charms, Open Work Charms and Chinese House.
A charm with an inscription referring to the "Five Blessings" may be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.
||The five poisons
also known as the "Five Poisonous Creatures",
refer to five poisonous animals which usually
include the snake, scorpion,
centipede, toad and spider.
Sometimes, the lizard replaces the spider.
The "three-legged toad" is frequently included as one of the five.
The Chinese believe the five poisons counteract pernicious influences by combating poison with poison.
||The fly whisk is a
simple tool used to swat or sweep away flies.
The "fly whisk" became a symbol associated with certain Daoist (Taoist) immortals and Buddhist deities which was used to "sweep away" ignorance.
Lu Dongbin and He Xianghu, both members of the Eight Immortals, are frequently depicted as carrying a fly whisk.
blessings" (si fu
四福) are happiness (xi
喜), salary of a high official (lu 禄), longevity
(shou 寿), and
good luck (good fortune) (fu 福).
||The Four Divine
Creatures, also known as the Four Heraldic Animals,
Four Directional Animals, and Four Symbols (si xiang
symbolize the four directions and an associated season
as follows: Vermillion (Red) Bird (zhuque
and summer; White Tiger (baihu 白虎) west
and autumn; Azure Dragon (qinglong
east and spring; black tortoise coiled
around by a snake known as the Black Tortoise
(Black Warrior) (xuanwu
玄武) north and winter. (See also entries for "Tortoise" and "Snake"
A coin displaying the four directions and the 28 mansions associated with the Four Divine Creatures may be seen at Chinese Astronomy Coins.
|Four Gentlemen or Four
Plants of Virtue
||The Four Gentlemen (sijunzi
also known as the Four Plants of Virtue, include the plum, orchid,
bamboo and chrysanthemum.
Each of these plants represents one of the seasons. The orchid represents spring. The bamboo represents summer. The chrysanthemum represents autumn and the plum represents winter.
The four plants together represent a year.
The plum and bamboo together signify friendship.
|Four Happiness Boys
||A picture of two
boys joined in a clever way to give the illusion that
there are four boys. This "good luck" picture is
frequently given to newlyweds with the wish that they
will have many children. The story and history
is explained at "Four
Happinesses" (si fu
四蝠) comes from a poem by Hong Mai (洪迈
1123-1202) of the Song Dynasty:
1) "Sweet rain after a long drought" (jiu han feng gan yu 久旱逢甘雨)
2) "Meeting an old friend in a faraway place" (ta xiang yu gu zhi 他乡遇故知)
3) "The wedding night" (literally: "the night of lighting a candle in the bridal chamber" (dong fang hua zhu ye 洞房花烛夜)
4) "Having one's name on the list of successful candidates of the imperial examination" (jin bang ti ming shi 金榜题名时)
The "Four Happinesses" is the theme of this old Chinese carved wooden window.
||The frog (wa 蛙) is a
of fertility because it has the same pronunciation as
the word for baby (wa
See also entry for toad.
||Fu Lu Shou refers to
the three Chinese deities of the God of Happiness (Fu), the God of Prosperity
the God of Longevity (Shou).
A "Fu Lu Shou" charm may be seen at Lock Charms.
(Fungus of Immortality)
also known as the glossy ganoderma, is the sacred
fungus of immortality that grows on the trunks or
roots of trees including the pine.
The lingzhi does not decay like other fungus but instead becomes woody and thus can survive for a long time. For this reason, it has become associated with longevity.
It was also believed to grow on the "Three Islands of the Immortals" where immortals lived.
Deer are reputed to be the only animals able to find lingzhi. Deer and crane are sometimes shown holding the lingzhi in their mouth.
To see a charm depicting the lingzhi, deer and pine, please visit Pendant Charms.
||The goat is a
reference to an ancient myth, discussed at Five Goat Coin,
concerning a great famine in Guangzhou (Canton),
Please also see entry for sheep below.
Examinations (Star of Literature)
(魁星) is known as the God of Examinations or the Star
of Literature. He was considered to have been
influential in helping candidates pass the imperial
civil service examinations.
He is depicted as an ugly man (sometimes as a dwarf) with short horns, and holding a writing brush in his right hand and a scholar's hat (or peck measure) in his left. He is usually standing on the head of a large fish or a mythical turtle known as ao (鳌).
The horns on his head represent success by alluding to the analogy of the carp fish jumping over the mythical Dragon Gate and turning into a dragon.
|God of Happiness (Fu), God of Luck,
God of Good Fortune and Blessings
which means good luck, fortune, blessings and
refers to the "God of Happiness" who was
originally a heavenly star known as the "Lucky
He is also known as the "God of Good Fortune and
Blessings" and as the "God of Luck".
Early Taoism (Daoism) had three gods known as the "Three Officials" (sanguan 三官) or "Three Immortals". One was named the "Heavenly Official who grants fortune" tianguancifu (天官赐福) and it was he who later became better known as the "God of Happiness".
A "Fu Lu Shou" and "Three Immortals" charm is at Ancient Chinese Lock Charms.
|God of Longevity (Shou)
also referred to as Shou Lao
the "Old Immortal of the South Pole" (nanjixianweng
南极仙翁), and the "Longevity Star" (shouxing
is the God of Longevity and is usually shown as a
smiling old gentleman with a prominent forehead
who holds a walking stick and carries a peach (tao 桃).
symbolizes a long life.
Longevity was important to Confucians because they believed that wisdom came with age.
Longevity was important to Taoists (Daoists) because of their quest for immortality.
Shou is one of the "Three Officials" (sanguan 三官) along with the God of Happiness (Fu) and the God of Prosperity (Lu).
See also Lock Charms.
|God of Prosperity (Lu), God of Rank
also known as the
the God of Rank
and Emolument, and the God of High Ranking Office,
is usually shown holding a ruyi
(如 意) which was
originally a short sword with a sword-guard used for
self-defense or gesturing but now symbolizes good
wishes ("may things go as you wish") and
prosperity. He is a member of the Three Officials, also
known as the Three Immortals.
He was originally a heavenly star known as the "Prosperity Star" (luxing 禄星) and was believed to govern a person's success in a career.
The God of Prosperity is closely associated with the auspicious saying "may office and salary be bestowed upon you" (加官 进禄). Please see the four character charm at Auspicious Inscriptions.
See also Lock Charms.
|God of Thunder (Lei Gong)
||The God of Thunder (Lei Shen
also known as the Duke of Thunder (Lei Gong 雷
公), is the Daoist god responsible for
punishing humans who have committed certain crimes and
evil spirits which have harmed humans.
He uses a drum to create thunder.
Lei Gong is portrayed as being half eagle, with wings and a beak, and half human.
Many Daoist charms seek the assistance of the God of Thunder in expelling evil influences and spirits, and bringing good fortune.
of War (Guan Di
or Guan Gong)
||Guan Di (关帝), also
known as Guan Gong (关公), is the Daoist God of War.
His real name was Guan Yu (关羽).
He was originally a beancurd seller who joined forces with Liu Bei (刘备) and became immortalized as a military hero during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280 AD).
The God of War fights evil and is usually shown carrying a large broadsword.
A Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty coin is believed to provide protection from evil because one of the Manchu characters in its inscription resembles the broadsword of the God of War.
|God of Wealth (Cai Shen)
||The God of Wealth (caishen
财神) is a
very popular Chinese deity whose presence is thought
to ensure wealth and success. He is depicted with a
long beard and wearing either an official's gown or
military dress. He is usually shown holding or
being surrounded by symbols of wealth such as coins,
ingots, coral, etc. He is often shown holding a
sword in his right hand raised above his head and
wearing a distinctive hat with ear flaps. He is
sometimes depicted as riding a black tiger.
A bamboo tally with an image of Cai Shen may be seen at Bamboo Tallies.
|Gods of Peace
and Harmony (Hehe
||These twin laughing
immortals are known as the Gods of Peace and Harmony,
the Gods of Unity and Harmony, Hehe erxian (和合二仙), the
Laughing Twins and the Gods of Mirth.
One twin is named Shi De (拾得) who usually holds a lotus. The other twin is Han Shan (寒山) who may hold a round box, ruyi sceptre, gourd, coin, persimmon, etc.
They represent harmony and mirth and bestow blessings on marriages.
||The goldfish (jinyu
金鱼) is a
symbol for wealth because its first character (jin 金)
"gold" and its second character (yu) sounds like
jade (yu 玉).
Goldfish also symbolize abundant wealth because the first character (jin) means gold and the second character (yu) has the same pronunciation as the word for "abundance" or "surplus" (yu 余).
See entry for fish above.
gourd is popular as a charm symbol to ward off
evil spirits and disease because its first
has the same pronunciation as the word to
"protect" or "guard" (hu 护) and
also the word for "blessing" (hu
In some dialects, the Chinese word for gourd (hulu 葫 芦) sounds the same as fulu (福 禄) which means "happiness and rank (as in attaining a high government office)".
Trailing gourd vines are described in Chinese as man (蔓). This character can also be pronounced as wan and has the exact same pronunciation and meaning as 万 which means "10,000". Because the gourd contains many seeds, the Chinese associate the gourd with "10,000 children". In ancient China, parents hoped for many sons and grandsons so the gourd became an important symbol for a family with many children.
Additional information is provided at gourd charms.
||The halberd (ji 戟) is
ancient Chinese infantry weapon consisting of a shaft
with a spear and/or crescent-shaped blade on one end.
The Chinese word for "halberd" (ji 戟) and the Chinese word for "lucky" or "auspicious" (吉) are both pronounced ji. A halberd is a visual pun or rebus for "lucky" as can be see on an old seal script charm at Auspicious Inscriptions.
The Chinese word for "halberd" (ji 戟) also has the same pronunciation, and thus is a pun, for the word "rank" or "grade" (ji 级) as in reference to an official position in the government.
heron or egret can represent a "path" or "way" because
the Chinese word lu
has the same pronunciation as road or path (lu
The heron or egret (lu 鹭) can also symbolize wealth because the pronunciation is the same as an "official's salary" (lu 禄).
||The horse (ma
马) is one of
the twelve animals of the Chinese
zodiac and symbolizes speed, power and
The horse is usually depicted as the bearer of good things. For example, a galloping horse with several scrolls (the Yellow River Diagrams) tied on its back represents the bringing of the origins of Chinese culture to the legendary Chinese leader Fuxi.
The horse can be a symbol for the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty) because their culture is strongly associated with the horse.
Please see Ancient Chinese Horse Coins for additional information.
|Kitchen God (Zaojun)||Zaojun (灶
君), also known as Zaowang (灶王),
is the popular "Kitchen God" or "Stove God" in charge
of the household whose image is found in almost all
traditional Chinese homes.
Please see The Chinese House for a more detailed discussion of Zaojun.
||The lion is
considered to be a brave and intelligent animal and
thus symbolizes power and majesty.
The Chinese word for lion (shi 狮) has the same pronunciation and can be a visual pun or rebus for "teacher", "master", "tutor" or "preceptor" (shi 师). For this reason, the lion can symbolize a high government official because in ancient times there existed a "Senior Grand Tutor" (tai shi 太师) and a "Junior Preceptor" (shao shi 少 师).
An example of such a lion charm may be seen at Open Work Charms.
In general, a stone or bronze lion outside a residence or official building acts as a guardian protecting the occupants from harm. Usually, there is a pair of lions with a male playing with a ball and a female protecting her cub. A pair of lions is considered to be auspicious and symbolizes happiness and the wish for a successful and prosperous career.
The lion dance (shiziwu 狮子舞) is an ancient and popular custom based on the lion being considered an auspicious animal. It is believed that if a lion can be enticed to enter one's gate, the household will enjoy wealth and treasures.
In Buddhism, the lion acts as a guardian of the faith and a symbol of royal power.
Buddhist deities, such as Guanyin, are sometimes shown riding a lion as a mount.
The lion can also represent the Buddha who, among his repeated births, was born 10 times as a lion.
|Liu Hai and Three-Legged
(刘海) is one of the most popular members of the
Chinese pantheon of charm Taoist (Daoist)
figures and represents prosperity and wealth.
For detailed information concerning Liu Hai and the Three-Legged (Golden) Toad please see the entry for "toad" below and also the web page Liu Hai.
||Longevity Stones are
strange-shaped rocks that are often shown next to the
fungus of immortality at the bottom of charms.
They convey the meaning of "long life" because of their age.
||Because the Buddha
is often depicted as seated on a lotus, the lotus is
considered a sacred Buddhist
symbol (one of Eight
Auspicious Symbols) representing purity and
detachment from worldly cares.
The lotus signifies the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
The Chinese word for lotus is lianhua (莲花) or hehua (荷花). Lian is also the pronunciation of the word for continuous (连) and he is also the pronunciation for the word harmony (和) so the lotus has the hidden meaning of "continuous harmony".
A lotus stem and lotus pod shown together symbolize marital harmony and sexual union.
Lotus seeds (lianzi 莲 籽) have the hidden meaning of "continuous birth of children" because the lian sounds like "continuous" (连) and the zi has the same pronunciation as the word for son or child (zi 子).
Examples of lotus charms can be seen at Open Work Charms, Pendant Charms, Lock Charms, Marriage Charms, and Boy Charms.
||A lozenge (fang sheng
is one of the Eight
Treasures and is considered a lucky object
although the actually origin is still unclear.
It has a diamond shape and two lozenges are frequently interlocked to represent the form of an ancient musical instrument.
It is said that this object was also used as a head ornament in ancient times and symbolizes victory. Taoist (Daoist) legend has it that the Queen Mother of the West (xiwangmu 西王母) wore such an object to exorcise evil spirits. (The legend further describes the Queen Mother of the West as one who wore a heavy jade necklace, a dress made of mulberry leaves, and had the teeth of a tiger.)
Two diamond-shaped lozenges interlocked together can represent two hearts joined together and acting with one mind.
Lozenge charms may be seen at Eight Treasures, Pendant Charms, and Coin Inscriptions.
(xi que 喜
鹊) is frequently used to symbolize
"happiness" because the first character xi is
word as happy (xi
喜). If the magpie is shown upside down, it means
happiness has "arrived" because the Chinese words for
"upside down" (倒) and "arrived" (到) are both
Two magpies facing each other symbolize "double happiness" (shuang xi 喜喜). (See charm at Coin Inscriptions.)
A pair of magpies also symbolize marriage. This is based on an ancient legend concerning two heavenly lovers, the Oxherd and the Weaver Girl (Weaving Maiden). The two are separated for eternity except for one day each year (known as qixi 七夕, the Double Seven, or Sisters Festival) when they are allowed to meet each other by crossing a celestial river on a bridge made of magpies.
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 expression means "very happy".
A charm illustrating this "happy expression" may be seen at Pendant Charms.
A charm at Auspicious Inscriptions depicts a magpie, leopard and pomegranates as symbols with hidden meanings.
||Mirrors in China
symbolize good fortune and are believed to protect
against evil spirits.
Traditional marriage gifts included a bronze mirror (tongjing 铜镜) and shoes (xie 鞋) because the words combined express "together and in harmony" (tongxie 同谐).
The mirror can be included as one of the Eight Treasures. (See Liu Hai charm.)
Bronze mirrors with Daoist "magic writing" characters are discussed at Chinese Daoist Mirrors.
||The Chinese "money
tree" (yao qian shu
摇钱树) is a legendary tree from which coins fall down
The legends, history, archaeological discoveries and images of money trees are discussed in detail at Chinese Money Trees and Xian Numismatic Museum.
||The monkey (hou 猴) is
the twelve animals of the Chinese
The monkey is frequently seen as a visual pun for the Chinese inscription ma shang feng hou (马上风猴) where a monkey is shown riding on a horse. The first two characters of the inscription (ma shang) mean "on the horse" but also mean "at once". The third character (feng ) means "wind" (breeze) but the Chinese for "to grant a title" is also pronounced feng (封). The fourth character (hou) means "monkey" but another character with the same pronunciation (hou 侯) means "a marquis (i.e. a high official)". Therefore the picture of a monkey on a horse is a visual pun or rebus for the wish for an immediate promotion in official rank.
A similar rebus consists of a monkey and a deer as can be seen on a charm at Auspicious Inscriptions.
The Monkey King (Sun Wukong 孙悟空) is a popular character in the famous Ming Dynasty novel the "Journey to the West" (Xiyouji 西游记).
||For a comprehensive
discussion of the relationship of the moon, dragon,
star, and cloud symbols please visit Charm Symbols: Star,
Moon, Cloud and Dragon
A "moon" or "crescent" is a symbol sometimes found on old Chinese coins.
According to Chinese mythology, the Three-Legged Toad lives on the moon.
According to Daoist legend, the "Moon Hare" ("Jade Rabbit") that makes the elixir of immortality lives on the moon.
Charms depicting the moon may be seen at Open Work Charms, Gourd Charms, Lock Charms, and Auspicious Inscriptions.
See also entry for pearl.
are the places closest to the gods and because of
their expanse and heights covey the meaning of
||The mugwort (ai 艾),
as artemisia leaf, is one of a larger group of objects
which can be a member of the Eight Treasures.
It is a symbol for longevity because of its medicinal properties.
In ancient times, mugwort was attached to doors and gates because its ragged leaves resemble tiger paws which were believed to provide protection.
Its aroma is also believed to repel insects.
literally means "water immortal".
The flower is therefore a symbol for an immortal.
A typical rebus or visual pun might be an image of a narcissus, a stone and bamboo. The meaning would be "the immortals" (narcissus) "wish" ((bamboo (zhu 竹) = wish (zhu 祝)) "you" a "long life" (longevity stone).
||The number nine (9)
is considered lucky because the Chinese character for
nine (jiu 九)
has the same pronunciation as the word "forever" (jiu
|Nine (9) Similitudes
similitudes" is a reference from the "Book of Odes" (shijing
is the earliest collection of Chinese poetry and
includes poems, songs and hymns from the Zhou Dynasty
(1046-771 BC) and the Spring and Autumn Period
The "nine similitudes" is now used as a greeting or felicitous wish translated as follows: "May you be as the mountains and the hills, as the greater and the lesser heights, as the streams which flow in all directions, having the constancy of the moon, like the rising sun, with the longevity of the southern mountain and the green luxuriance of the fir and the cypress."
||The onion (cong
葱) is a visual pun for intelligence because it has the
same pronunciation as the word for "intelligent" or
riches and good fortune because of their gold color.
Also, the chinese character for the orange is ju (桔) which is composed of mu (木), meaning "tree", and ji (吉) meaning "lucky or auspicious". The two components of the character therefore imply that the orange is a "good luck" fruit.
||The orchid is one of
the Four Gentlemen and
stands for humility, modesty, beauty and refinement.
See also "Cassia and Orchid" Charm.
||An osmanthus blossom
(gui 桂) can
mean "honor" or "precious" because it has the same
pronunciation as the word "valuable" or "precious" (gui
||See entry for water buffalo.
|Peach||The peach (tao
the second month of the lunar calendar.
The peach symbolizes marriage, spring, justice and especially Daoist immortality (longevity).
The peach is one of the Three Abundances (Three Plenties).
See Chinese Peach Charms for information concerning the mythology of the peach and peach wood, and how it came to symbolize longevity.
Peach wood was also used to make swords, arrows, and amulets in ancient times because the Chinese word for peach (tao 桃) has the same pronunciation as the Chinese word for "flee" or "run away" (tao 逃).
||The peacock symbolizes
beauty and dignity as well as the desire for peace and
The ancient Chinese believed that one glance from a peacock could make a woman pregnant.
Xi Wang Mu (西王母), the Queen Mother of the West, sometimes rode a peacock as a means of transportation instead of a stork.
See Open Work Charms for an beautiful charm depicting a pair of peacocks.
||The peanut (huasheng 花生)
is an auspicious symbol because its second character (sheng
生) means to "give birth".
The peanut thus symbolizes the wish for many children.
are often depicted as chasing a round object that
resembles a "pearl". The pearl is frequently
shown as a "flaming" pearl which is on fire.
This pearl represents a fiery ball made of qi
(气) which is the dynamic creative force of the
universe. Dragons, which can animate nature, will
fight to gain control of this generative energy.
The pearl may be thought of as a metaphor for perfection and enlightenment, particularly if the dragon represents the emperor.
The pearl also resembles the moon. As a dragon devours the pearl, less and less of the pearl is seen and the pearl appears as a waning moon. As a dragon disgorges the pearl, more and more of the pearl is seen and the pearl therefore appears as a waxing moon. The dragon and pearl thus symbolize the endless cycle of transformation.
Frequently, the "pearl" is shown with flames which symbolizes magical powers and may represent the wish-granting pearl of Buddhism.
The pearl can also refer to riches, pure intentions and genius in obscurity.
The pearl (flaming pearl) is one of the Eight Treasures.
Charms with the pearl symbol may be seen at Eight Treasures, Open Work Charms, and Auspicious Inscriptions.
||The tree peony or mudan
signifies the third month of the lunar calendar and
symbolizes longevity, loyalty, happiness and eternal
Because of the way it sometimes grows as doubles, the peony appears to the Chinese like strings of cash coins and thus has come to symbolize prosperity and wealth.
For this reason, another name for the peony is fuguihua (富贵花) which means "flower of wealth and honor".
A charm using the peony as a symbol for "wealth and honor" may be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.
A peony in a vase (ping 瓶) has the hidden meaning of "wealth and honor" (peony) and "peace" (because the vase is a rebus for "peace" (pingan 平 安).
For the mythology concerning the peony please see Chinese Open Work Charms.
||The persimmon (shi 柿)
auspicious because of its round shape and brilliant
The persimmon is used as a visual pun (rebus) because it has the same pronunciation as the word for "matters, affairs or events" (shi 事) and also the word for an "official" or "gentleman" (shi 仕).
A persimmon (shi 柿) shown together with an apple (pingguo 苹果) forms the rebus "may your matters (shi 事) be safe (pingan 平安)".
||The Chinese phoenix
is a mythical bird known as the fenghuang (凤
凰) in Chinese.
Unlike the phoenix of the West, the Chinese phoenix does not have the connotation of a bird rising from ashes.
The Chinese phoenix symbolizes joy and peace.
It is believed that the phoenix only makes an appearance during periods of prosperity, peace and good government.
A dragon and phoenix shown together symbolize a happy and harmonious union.
The phoenix is the yin equivalent of the dragon and is associated with the south and summer.
The phoenix is also the symbol of the empress.
A very attractive double phoenix charm can be seen at Chinese Open Work Charms.
Phoenix and dragon charms may be seen at Marriage Charms, Auspicious Inscriptions, and Unknown Charms.
||The pig or boar (zhu
猪) is one of
the twelve animals of the Chinese
zodiac and traditionally symbolized the
prosperity and good fortune of a family that could
afford such a quality food source.
An old Chinese custom was to have young male children wear hats and shoes in the shape of a pig. Chinese parents believed this would avoid misfortune since the evil spirits would be fooled into thinking the child was actually a pig.
||The pine tree (song 松)
is a very
common symbol for longevity because it is an evergreen
and can endure severe winters.
The pine is a member of the Three Friends in Winter.
The pine also symbolizes solitude.
The pine provides protection when planted near graves. This is because the mythical creature Wang Xiang (罔象), who devours the brains of the dead, is afraid of the pine.
A charm displaying the pine tree may be seen at Pendant Charms.
|Plum||The plum (mei 梅)
the first month of the lunar calendar.
The plum symbolizes courage and hope because it blossoms first and bravely stands against the dangers of winter.
The plum tree is a member of the Three Friends in Winter.
The five petals of the plum blossom symbolize the "five blessings" (wufu 五福), also known as the "five happinesses" or "five good fortunes". These five blessings refer to 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 终命).
Charms displaying the plum symbol may be seen at Pendant Charms, Boy Charms, and Lock Charms.
||The pomegranate (shiliu
signifies the sixth month of the lunar calendar and,
because of its many seeds, represents fertility,
offspring and descendants.
For this reason, the pomegranate is an important symbol in Chinese marriages.
The first character (shi 石) has the same pronunciation as the word for "generations" (shi 世) and thus strengthens the meaning as generations of descendants.
The pomegranate is a member of the Three Abundances (Three Plenties).
A pomegranate charm can be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.
||Pumpkin (nangua 南
瓜) sounds like "boy" (nan 男) and symbolizes the
wish for sons.
||The quail (anchun
鹌鹑) signifies courage because of its fighting spirit.
The quail can also represent poverty.
The quail is often used as a visual pun (rebus) because it is pronounced the same as the word for "peace" (an 安).
||The rabbit (tuzi
兔子) is one
of the twelve animals of the Chinese
The rabbit symbolizes longevity because of the Taoist (Daoist) legend of the "moon hare" that lives on the moon making the elixir of immortality.
||See entry for sheep below.|
||The rat (laoshu
老鼠) is one
of the twelve animals of the Chinese
The rat symbolizes fertility, abundance and wealth because of its reproductive abilities.
||A reed pipe (sheng 笙)
hidden meaning of "to give birth" because it has the
same pronunciation as the Chinese word "to give birth"
A reed pipe (sheng 笙) can also mean "to rise" or be promoted continually one rank after another because it shares the same pronunication as the word "to rise" (sheng 升).
||A single or pair of
rhinoceros horns (xijiao
犀角) is usually included as one of the Eight
Rhino horns symbolize happiness because the first
犀) is pronounced the same as the character
for happiness (xi
Charms with rhinoceros horns may be viewed at Eight Treasures and Auspicious Inscriptions.
A charm with the rhinoceros as its theme is discussed in detail at Auspicious Inscriptions.
|Ribbons and fillets
||Chinese symbols are
frequently shown wrapped in ribbons which are also
referred to as fillets. These ribbons add
importance to the power of the object they
surround. The ribbons can be thought of as rays
or auras emanating from the object and symbolizing
The Chinese for ribbon is dai (带) which also has another meaning of "to carry". Another Chinese character with the same pronunciation (dai 代) means "generations". When the ribbon is shown connecting two or more auspicious objects, the hidden meaning of the ribbon therefore is "to carry along (good luck, good fortune, etc.) for generations".
The Chinese word for a ribbon attached to a official seal or medal is shou dai (绶带). Shou (绶) has the same pronunciation as the word for "longevity" (shou 寿) and since dai (带) is pronounced the same as "generations" (dai 代), the hidden meaning is "longevity for generations".
Even though Chinese charms are not able to display colors, the Chinese always use red colored ribbons in real life. Red (vermilion, cinnabar) is the color representing joy and it is used widely for marriages and other festive occasions. The Chinese word for red is hong (红). Other Chinese words with the same pronunciation include "great" (hong 宏) and "vast" (hong 洪), so any object wrapped in a (red) ribbon would also be enhanced through the phonetic pun of great and vast.
Examples of charm symbols wrapped in ribbons can be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions, Bagua Charms, and Coin Inscriptions.
||The rooster or cock
is one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
Roosters are believed to be able to scare away demons.
The Chinese for rooster (gongji 公鸡) is pronounced the same as "lucky" or "auspicious" (ji 吉).
A crowing rooster (gong ming 公 鸣) sounds like saying "merit and fame" (gong ming 功名).
A charm using the rooster to symbolize "lucky" and "merit and fame" may be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.
considered one of the Eight
Treasures, was a sceptre which represented power
The ruyi was originally a short sword with a sword-guard used for self-defense or gesturing. There is some speculation that it may have evolved from a back scratcher.
The head of the ruyi is similar to that of the lingzhi or "fungus of immortality" and the lotus.
The name "ruyi" is usually translated as "as you wish" or "in accordance with your desires".
The ruyi now symbolizes good wishes and prosperity.
The ruyi may be seen on charms at Daoist Charms, Bagua Charms, Auspicious Inscriptions, and Pendant Charms.
The ruyi can be seen on an old Chinese banknote at Chinese Paper Money.
||A horse saddle (an 鞍)
is a symbol
for "peace" (an
安) because the pronunciation of the two words is the
||The sheep, ram or goat (yang 羊) is
one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
The sheep (yang) has the same pronunciation and therefore symbolizes the male principle yang in Yin Yang (阴 阳) and also the "sun" (yang 阳).
Sheep kneel when they nurse which to Confucians symbolize "filial piety" as bowing to the mother.
Please also see entry for goat above.
||Shoes can symbolize
wealth because their shape is similar to silver ingots (sycee).
Shoes (xie 鞋), because of identical pronunciation, are used in combination with other objects to express "in harmony with" (xie 谐) or "together with" (xie 偕).
Visit Marriage Charms to see how shoes and a mirror symbolize "together and in harmony".
The special shoes worn by women with bound feet were called "lotus" (lian 莲) shoes. "Lotus" and "continuous" or "successive" (lian 连) have the same pronunciation so "lotus" shoes symbolize a fertility wish for bearing children one after another.
||Shrimp (虾) are
considered to be auspicious because the pronunciation
in Mandarin (xia)
and Cantonese (ha)
is very similar to the sound of people laughing (ha ha
|Silver Ingots (sycee)||Silver became a
measure of value during the Yuan Dynasty
(1280 - 1368 AD) and therefore represents wealth.
The silver was moulded into boat-shaped or shoe-shaped ingots called sycee (细 丝) which could weigh from 1 to 100 ounces.
Sycee are also known as "saddle sycee", "silver sycee", and "drum-shaped sycee".
Silver ingots or sycee also symbolize official office or rank because of a visual pun or rebus. Sycee are also known as yuanbao (元宝). Yuan (元) can also refer to coming in first in the examination system.
Therefore, showing three (3) silver ingots or sycee has the hidden meaning of coming in first in all three of the imperial examinations.
Silver ingots are one of the Eight Treasures and symbolize brightness and purity.
Silver ingots displayed as symbols on charms may be seen at Eight Treasures, Auspicious Inscriptions, and Pendant Charms.
||The number six (6)
is considered lucky because the Chinese character for
six (liu 六)
has a similar pronunciation to the word "prosperity" (lu
The number six (6), in its more formal written form (liu 陆), coincidentally has exactly the same pronunciation as prosperity (lu 禄) when the character is used in a different context (lu 陆) such as a surname.
Because the pronunciation of six (6) (liu 六) is similar to that of the word "to flow" (liu 流), it symbolizes "to go smoothly". The Chinese have the expression "Everything goes smoothly with six" (liu liu da shun 六六大顺). For this reason, major events such as weddings, opening a new business, etc. are held on the 6th day of the month.
||The snake (she 蛇) is a
member of the Chinese zodiac
and also a member of the "Five
In ancient times, snakes were believed to mate with with tortoises.
Xuanwu, one of the "Four Divine Creatures" also known as the Black Warrior, is depicted as a tortoise with a snake entwined around it.
See also Zhenwu.
The snake may be seen as charm symbol at the following: Five Poisons, Coin Inscriptions, and Daoist Charms.
||The spider (zhizhu
蜘蛛) is one
of the five poisonous animals known as the "five poisons".
Contrary to what one might expect, the "five poisons" are a good thing in that they are believed to counteract pernicious influences by combating poison with poison.
When not a member of the five poisons, the spider is considered an auspicious symbol on its own. This is because another word for spider in Chinese is xizi (虫喜 子) where the first character has the same pronunciation as the word for "happy" (xi 喜).
A picture of a spider dropping down from its web is thus a visual pun for "happiness dropping from the sky".
For the same reason, a spider signifies a wish to have a son or child because zi (子) means "son" and xizi thus sounds like "happy son".
The spider as a charm symbol may be seen at Chinese Five Poisons Charms and Amulets.
||For a comprehensive
discussion of the relationship of the star, moon, cloud,
and dragon symbols please visit
Star, Moon, Cloud and Dragon.
"Stars" or dots are sometimes found on ancient Chinese coins and examples may be seen at Emergence of Chinese Charms.
||The three Star Gods
consist of the "lucky star" (fuxing
and the "longevity star" (shouxing
These gods evolved into Fu (God of Happiness), Lu (God of Prosperity) and Shou (God of Longevity).
They are popular gods whose duties are, respectively, to increase happiness, wealth and length of life.
||The stork (guan 鹳) is
believed to live 1,000 years and is therefore a symbol
The stork is frequently shown together with pine trees which are another symbol of longevity.
Storks are the means of transportation for both the Queen Mother of the West (xiwangmu 西王母) and the "longevity star" (shouxing 寿星).
Because the word for stork (guan 鹳) sounds the same as the words for an "official" (guan 官), a "hat" (guan 冠), and "first place" (guan 冠), the stork also symbolizes promotion to a government office.
||The swallow (yan 燕) is
associated with springtime and thus represents the
coming of good fortune and prosperous change.
Swallows are seen as bringing "new" to "old" because they, in effect, make "repairs" by building their mud nests in the cracks of walls and graves.
swastika is a very old Asian symbol.
The swastika symbol in China represents the Chinese character wan (万) meaning "ten-thousand". The extended meaning of wan (万) is "all" such as "the myriad things" as used in the Dao De Jing (道德经), the classic Taoist (Daoist) text written by Lao-zi (老子).
The swastika as a charm symbol may be seen at Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad.
Chinese coins with the swastika symbol can be seen at Chinese Coins and Emergence of Chinese Charms.
||Immortals and gods
use swords to cut through ignorance and evil.
The sword is the symbol of Lu Dongbin (吕 洞宾), one of the Eight Immortals, and symbolizes victory over evil.
Zhong Kui (钟 馗) was famous for having a magical sword that could slay evil spirits.
Taoist (Daoist) charms displaying Lu Dongbin and Zhong Kui with their swords can be seen by either clicking on the above links or at Pendant Charms.
Please visit Swords and Amulets for a detailed discussion of Chinese sword symbolism.
||A teapot or pot (hu
壶) can convey the meaning of "to protect" (hu
护) or "blessing" (hu 祜) because the
characters share the same pronunciation.
|Ten Symbols of
||The "Ten Symbols of
Longevity" or "Ten Longevities" (shi shou 十寿)
consist of the pine tree (song
sun (ri 日), crane (he 鹤), water
(shui 水), mountains (shan 山), clouds (yun 云),
deer (lu 鹿), tortoise (gui 龟),
fungus of immortality (lingzhi
芝), and bamboo (zhu
All are traditional Chinese symbols representing a long life.
The Ten Symbols of Longevity also became very popular in ancient Korea as a theme for charms and other works of art.
||The Three Abundances
also known as the Three Plenties, consists of the peach (symbolizing longevity),
descendants or progeny) and the citron
(symbolizing happiness and longevity).
|Three Friends in Winter||Because they all can flourish during the winter, the pine, plum tree and bamboo are known as the Three Friends in Winter.|
||The "Three Many"
refers to the desire for more
happiness, longevity and children/grandchildren.
|The Three Officials,
also known as the Three Immortals, include the God of Happiness (Fu), the God of Prosperity (Lu) and the God of Longvevity
A "Three Immortals" charm may be seen at Ancient Chinese Lock Charms.
||The Three Rounds
refers to any grouping of three round objects.
The Chinese word for "round" (yuan 圆) is pronounced the same as the word for "first" (yuan 元). In this case, "first" refers to being the top scholar in the imperial examination system. With the addition of the number "three" (san 三), the meaning is to come in first in all three of the examinations.
A charm illustrating the Three Rounds may be seen at Auspicious Inscriptions.
||The tiger (hu 虎) is
the twelve animals of the Chinese
zodiac and is considered the ruler of the beasts
on Earth as opposed to the dragon which rules the
beasts in the sky and heavens.
The word for tiger (hu) is also a pun because it has the same pronunciation as the word "protect" (hu 护).
In ancient China, the tiger was the Guardian Spirit of Agriculture which could devour the Drought Demon.
The God of Wealth (caishen 财神) is sometimes shown riding a black tiger.
Tigers appear on amulets because they are powerful animals, symbolize heroism, and are believed to be able to eat evil spirits, or at least cause them to flee, and can in general protect people from misfortune.
Tigers also are able to see well in the dark.
For these reasons, images of tigers and tiger's heads (see Peach Charms) are considered particularly effective in protecting children from malignant spirits.
Tigers also symbolize longevity because the ancient Chinese believed tigers turned white after 500 years and could live for 1,000 years. Upon death, their spirits entered the earth and became amber.
An example of a charm displaying a tiger can be seen at the Five Poisons.
||The Chinese for
"toad" is pronounced chanchu (蟾蜍), sometimes shortened to
In some Chinese dialects the pronunciation of "toad" (chan) is very similar to that for "coin" (qian 钱).
Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad is a story involving a play on these similar-sounding words.
See also entry for frog.
龟) has a long life-span and is, therefore, a
natural symbol for longevity.
The tortoise also represents strength and endurance.
The tortoise is associated with the north and winter. (See entries for Four Divine Creatures, snake and Zhenwu for information on Xuanwu (玄 武), the tortoise encircled by a snake.)
The physical appearance of the tortoise resembles the Chinese view of the universe in that it has a round domed outer shell like the vault of heaven and its lower body is flat like the earth. Its shell was used in very ancient times in divination.
Charms displaying a tortoise can be seen at Daoist Charms and Auspicious Inscriptions.
An ancient Chinese coin in the shape of a turtle may be seen at: Turtle-Shaped Coin of the Han Dynasty
"treasure bowl" (ju
bao pen 聚宝盆), also known as the
"treasure basin", is a magical container which can
create unlimited riches. By placing a gold coin
inside the "treasure bowl", for example, the bowl will
suddenly be filled with gold coins.
Treasure bowl stories can be traced back to ancient times.
A charm displaying a "treasure bowl" is discussed in detail at Chinese Treasure Bowl Charm.
||According to the
ancient Book of Rites (liji 礼记), twelve is the number of
Heaven. Therefore, there are Twelve Imperial
Symbols, also known as Twelve Symbols of Imperial
Authority, associated with the emperor who is the Son
The twelve symbols include the sun (sometimes represented as a three-legged bird in a red disk); the moon (sometimes represented as a rabbit or hare in a green-white disk); stars (sometimes represented by the "big dipper" constellation or simply three small circles); mountains (symbolizing stability and "earth" of the five elements); a pair of five-clawed dragons (representing beasts); a pheasant (representing birds); the fu (黻) symbol which looks like back-to-back bows and symbolizes "good and evil" (and is also the alleged source of the yin yang symbol); the axe head (fu 斧) (symbolizing the power to make decisions and punish); a pair of goblets (representing "metal" of the five elements); grain or millet (representing "wood" of the five elements); aquatic grass (representing "water" of the five elements); and red flames (representing "fire" of the five elements).
The famous Chinese writer Lu Xun (鲁迅) incorporated the "Twelve Symbols" into a design intended to be the national emblem and which was also used on a Chinese coin.
麟) or Chinese unicorn represents
good luck , prosperity, goodwill and benevolence.
It is described as having a deer's body, an ox's tail, fish scales, five-toed hoofed feet and a horn on its head.
The qilin is associated with sages and excellent rulers, and is believed to appear when a new sage is born as was the case with Confucius. (See Confucian Charms).
It is associated with the west and autumn.
A charm with a qilin can be see at Open Work Charms.
A charm showing a qilin delivering a boy child can be viewed at Pendant Charms.
|Vase or Bottle||A picture of a
bottle or vase can represent the meaning of "peace" or
"safety" because both the character for vase (ping
瓶) and that for peace (pingan 平安) are
A vase (ping 瓶) with flowers from all four seasons (siji 四季) conveys the hidden meaning of peace for all the year (sijipingan 四 季平 安).
|Water Buffalo (Ox)
||The ox is one of the
twelve animals of the Chinese
A charm with the inscription in Daoist magic writing, displaying an ox and a star god (star official), may be seen at Daoist (Taoist) Charms.
A charm showing a boy riding an ox which represents the early humble beginnings of Emperor Tai Zu of the Ming Dynasty may be seen at Chinese Charms with Coin Inscriptions.
Because of their importance to agriculture, the water buffalo or ox (niu 牛) symbolizes springtime, harvest and fertility.
To city dwellers and government officials, the water buffalo also represents a simple and idyllic life.
(For an interesting story concerning the "Wu buffalo gasping at the moon" please see Auspicious Inscriptions.)
||The willow (liu 柳) is
associated with the life of scholars and poets who
drew inspiration while strolling among them.
Its branches were considered magical and were used in exorcisms and in "sweeping tombs" during the Qingming Festival (清明节) also known as "Festival of the Tombs". On this day, young men also wore green willow branches in their hair in the belief that it would prevent them from being changed into a brown dog in a future existence.
Because of similarity in pronunciation to the Chinese word "to part" (li 离), willow branches also represent parting and sorrow since they were traditionally given to friends departing for distant lands.
|Writing Brush and Silver
||To express the hope
that "things will certainly go according to your
wishes", a charm can have the Chinese characters (如意)
for "as you wish" but may also depict a writing brush
and a silver ingot or sycee
丝) (a saddle-shaped silver ingot used for money in
This is because the characters for "brush" (bi 笔) and "ingot" (ding 锭) said together are "bi ding" which is the same pronunciation as the characters 必定 (bi ding) for "certainly".
阳) is the Chinese term
for the basic polarities of the universe, e.g.
male/female, light/dark, strong/weak, etc.
The "supreme ultimate" symbol, known as taiji (太极), is a circle with an S-shaped curve separating it into two equal halves. One half represents yin and the other half represents yang. In the center of each half is a small circle which represents the other half.
A representative charm with the taiji symbol can be seen at the Book of Changes and Bagua.
||The Daoist god Zhenwu (真武),
known as the Perfected Warrior, evolved over the
centuries from Xuanwu (玄 武) which was a tortoise
encircled by a snake that represented the north.
(See also entry for Four
Zhenwu is associated with healing and protection.
Zhenwu can be seen portrayed on a charm at Daoist (Taoist) Charms.
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