Antique Chinese Porcelain collector's expert page, Ming, dynasty, Chinese porcelain marks

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Animal Figure Symbols

- And their meaning.

Mythical Animals

  1. The Fish-tail Dragon - Yu Lung - represents a Carp changing into a dragon in ascending a waterfall. Symbol of passing the Examinations.
  2. Pan K'uei - is an ancient form of Coiled Dragon.
  3. K'uei Wen or Fin-footed Dragons or Hydra.
  4. Dragon Long is the symbol of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, eternity, Yang and Yin, male vigor and fertility, and has many other attributes. Considered as one of the 12 Ornaments. One of the most complex and multi-tiered Chinese symbols. The dragon is a good natured and benign creature. In decorations often two dragons are playing in the clouds with a ball or large pearl symbolizing its power to bring the necessary rain.
  5. Phoenix - Feng-Huang - represents the Empress, beauty, goodness, warmth, prosperity, peace, the Sun, abundance harvests, reason in government. It is commonly used as a female symbol. Rules of the Southern Quadrant. Also called Vermilion Bird.
  6. Taotie - Ogre Mask - a sacrificial animal and a warning against avarice, gluttony, sensuality, self indulgence. Stylized Full-face zoomorphic mask with ears, horns and large fangs, but without a lower jaw. In some bronzes the similarity with a water buffalo head without a lower jaw is obvious, but in many others instances this is not the case. It appears on bronze vessels of the Shang dynasty and thereafter on objects in various media, especially those with archaistic decoration. These fantastic creatures may have served as intermediaries between the world of men and the realms of the spirits.
  7. Unicorn - qilin, (Wade-Giles ch’i-lin), - symbolizes benevolence, rectitude. A good omen. Symbol of Military Officials of the 1st Grade. In Chinese mythology, the unicorn whose rare appearance often coincides with the imminent birth or death of a sage or illustrious ruler. (The name is a combination of the two characters qi “male,” and lin, “female.”) A qilin has a single horn on its forehead, a yellow belly, a multicolored back, the hooves of a horse, the body of a deer, and the tail of an ox. Gentle of disposition, it never walks on verdant grass or eats living vegetation.

    The first qilin is said to have appeared in the garden of the legendary Huangdi (Yellow Emperor) in 2697 bc. Some three centuries later a pair of qilin were reported in the capital of Emperor Yao. Both events bore testimony to the benevolent nature of the rulers.

    The advent of a great sage was made known when a qilin appeared to the pregnant mother of Confucius (6th century bc). The qilin thereupon coughed up an inscribed jade tablet that foretold the future greatness of the unborn child. The death of Confucius was foreshadowed when a qilin was injured by a charioteer.

    In 1414 a live giraffe was brought to China for the first time and presented as a qilin to the Ming emperor Yongle. The tough old warrior, seeing through the intended flattery, curtly remarked that he certainly was no sage and the animal was certainly no qilin. In Japanese, a giraffe is called kirin, but the characters are those for qilin.

  8. The Three Legged Toad or Hsia Ma in the Moon which it swallows during an eclipse. Symbol of the unattainable and of money making.

Animals

  1. Cat - the Protector of silkworms and disperses evil spirits.
  2. Deer - Lu - longevity and also is the official emolument, honor, and success in study.
  3. Elephant - is the last of the 4 Animals of Power and Energy. It represents strength, sagacity, and prudence.
  4. Horse - Ma - Eight horses together in a decoration represents the famous horses from the story of King Mu (The eight horses of Wang Mu) from the 10th century BC.
  5. Tortoise - guards the Northern Quadrant. Represents longevity, strength, endurance. A Messenger to the Human Race.
  6. Leopard - one of the four Animals of Power and Energy. It represents bravery, martial ferocity. Emblem of Military official 3rd Grade.
  7. Lion - Shi-Zi - Same as the "Fo Dog" - play a big part in Chinese folklore and are usually depicted looking more mythical than real. Pairs of stone lions rival even dragons in popularity as guardians in buildings and temples. It is one of the four Animals of Power and Energy. Symbol of valor, Emblem of Military Officials 2nd Grade.
  8. Tiger - Hu - King of the wild animals, the tiger is a symbol of courage and bravery and it can drive off demons.

Fishes

Fish - Yu - Fish in Chinese sounds like the word for "Abundance and Affluence" so the fish symbolizes wealth. Fish shown with a lotus blossom symbolize "Year after Year may you live in Affluence".

  1. Goldfish Jin Yu - The Chinese words for goldfish are identical with the two words meaning "Gold and Abundance" therefore many Chinese keep goldfish at there home or in ponds in temple gardens.
  2. Carp Li - Similar sounding to the word "Business" in Chinese, the carp symbolizes a wish for benefit or advantage in business.

Birds and Insects

  1. Bat - Fu - symbol of longevity, prosperity, happiness. One of the top symbols for good luck. The word "bat" in the Chinese language sounds identical to the word for "Good Fortune".
  2. Bats - if five - "the Five blessings" of long life, health, riches, love of virtue, and a natural death.
  3. Butterfly - joy and conjugal felicity. Butterfly is pronounced in homonym with the word die which means a 80 years old. Two butterflies together is meant a wish of "longevity". "Die" is also pronounced similar to another word which means to "pile up" or "repeat" - and thus given the meaning "many".
  4. Cicada or - Ch'an - immortality, resurrection, happiness, and eternal youth, restraint of cupidity and vice.
  5. Cock - Gong-Ji - Wards off evil. A picture of a red cock will protect a house from fire. A white cock placed on a coffin will keep demons at bay. A cock is never to be killed or bad luck will arise.
  6. Crane - He - Symbol of longevity and often shown together with a pine-tree and a stone, also symbols of longevity. The bird, and sometimes the mount, of the immortals. It aids in communication with the divinities.
  7. Cricket - courage and summer.
  8. Duck - felicity and conjugal fidelity.
  9. Eagle - Ying - symbol of strength, an eagle shown perched in a pine-tree is a suitable gift for an older man, wishing him strength of an Eagle and longevity of a pine-tree. An eagle on a rock in the sea symbolizes "hero" who fights a lone battle.
  10. Goose - e - Symbol of married bliss.
  11. Heron - Lu - Heron in Chinese sounds a lot like the word for "path or way". A painting of a heron and a lotus has the meaning of "May your path be always upward".
  12. Peacock - Kong-Que - Symbolizes dignity and beauty.

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