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Symbols, used as they are or as homophones in Chinese decorations.

Mystic Symbols

  1. Yin and Yang - the Mystic Dual Principle in Nature that represents the inter-action of opposites in nature. The light portion, Yang, is male, heaven, sun, light, vigor, penetration, dragon, monad, azure color, mountains and odd numbers. The dark half, Yin, represents the female, earth, moon, dark, quiescence, absorption, tiger, orange color, duad, valleys and even numbers.
  2. The Eight Trigrams or the Pa Kua are used in divination as Direction, Zodiac and Symbolism:
    1. North - Ox - Earth, capaciousness, submission.
    2. Northeast - Dragon - Thunder, moving exciting power
    3. East - Pheasant - Fire, sun, lightening, brightness, elegance
    4. Southeast - Goat - Still water, pleasure, complacent satisfaction
    5. South - Horse - Heaven, power, untiring strength
    6. Southwest - Cock - Wind, wood, penetration, flexibility.
    7. West - Pig - Moving water, moon, rain, difficulty, peril.
    8. Northwest - Dog - Mountains, hills, resting, arresting.
  3. The Sacred Disc is the Pa Kua in motion, heavenly perfection.
  4. The character Shou occurs in many forms is used to offer wishes for a long life
  5. Fanciful forms of Fu for prosperity
  6. Lu for riches.
  7. Xi, joy, doubled to symbolize married happiness.
  8. The Swastika represents the Heart of the Buddha Shakyamuni, resignation of spirit, all happiness that humanity desires, mind, infinity, all, many, 10,000.
    • Blue Swastika stands for infinite celestial virtues
    • Red Swastika stands for infinite sacred virtues of the Heart of Buddha
    • Yellow Swastika stands for infinite prosperity.
    • Green Swastika stands for infinite virtues of agriculture


The twelve-year cycles of the calendar

  1. Rat, represents North in the Zodiac Compass.
  2. Ox, represents evil spirits that disturb lakes, rivers, and seas.
  3. Tiger, represents strength, military prowess and is one of the four animals symbolizing Power and Energy. The White Tiger presides over the Western Quadrant of the Heavens.
  4. Hare or Rabbit, is a symbol of longevity and East.
  5. Dragon, represents royalty, rain, spring. He presides over the Eastern Quadrant and admonishes against greed and avarice.
  6. Snake, symbolizes cunning, evil, and supernatural power.
  7. Horse, occupies the position of South on the Zodiac Compass
  8. Ram or Sheep, represents sacrifice; the lamb, filial piety
  9. Donkey, drives away evil spirits
  10. cock or rooster, is courageous, has a warlike disposition, and represents the warmth and life of the Universe. Occupies the West on the Zodiac Compass.
  11. Dog, is a symbol of future prosperity
  12. Pig or Boar. The Boar represents the wealth of the forest; the Pig, poverty

The Twelve Ornaments

Representing power and authority.

  1. Flames represent the spirit of fire, heat, the Yang Principle.
  2. Rice or Millet is the symbol of prosperity and fertility.
  3. The Pair of Goblets represent ceremonials and sacrifice.
  4. The Sun with the 3 Legged Raven is a symbol of Yang Principle, male, imperial sovereignty, brightness.
  5. The Moon with Hare Pounding the Elixir of Life in a Mortar, a symbol of the Yin Principle, female, passiveness, sacrifice.
  6. The Stars represent China and the Heart of the Emperor, the inexhaustible source of pardon and love.
  7. The Ax represents justice, authority. Emblem of Lu Pan, God of Carpenters, also the symbol of go-betweens.
  8. The Conventional Bows or folded Embroidered Alter Cloth is a symbol of peaceful collaboration, embroidery as a fine art.
  9. Mountains represent a place of worship.
  10. Pond weed is a symbol of the Spirit of Waters.
  11. Water weed, similar to pond weed, is a symbol of the Spirit of Waters.
  12. The Pheasant represents beauty and good fortune, an attribute of the great Emperor Yu. The Golden Pheasant pertains to Civil Officials 2nd Grad; the Silver Pheasant, to 5th Grade Officials.

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. One of many suggestions is that this ancient symbol is a water buffalo head without a lower jaw. In some bronzes the similarity is obvious but in many others this is not the case. It appears on bronze vessels of the Shang dynasty and thereafter appears on objects in various media, especially those with archaistic decoration.
  7. Unicorn - Ch'i Lin - symbolizes benevolence, rectitude. A good omen. Symbol of Military Officials of the 1st Grade.
  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.


See: Animals

Fishes and Crustaceans

  1. 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".
  2. Crab - Crabs are productive creatures and have many "children" so Crabs signify "many children and grandchildren" and symbolizes a wish to have many children so that the family can be expanded and prolonged.
  3. Carp Li - Similar sounding to the word "Business" in Chinese, the carp symbolizes a wish for benefit or advantage in business.
  4. 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.

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.

Emblems of rank

  1. Crane - Civil Official 1st rank.
  2. Golden Pheasant - Civil Officials 2nd rank
  3. Peacock - Civil Official 3rd rank.
  4. Silver Pheasant - Civil Official 5th rank
  5. Lesser Egret - Civil Official 6th rank
  6. Mandarin Duck - Civil Official 7th rank

  7. Unicorn or Qilin Military Officials of the 1st rank
  8. Lion - Military Officials of the 2nd rank
  9. Leopard - Military official of the 3rd rank
  10. Tiger - Military official of the 4th rank
  11. Tiger Cat Biao - Military official of the 6th rank
  12. Rhinoceros - Military official of the 7/8th rank

Palace Bowls Porcelain Colors of rank

  1. Anhua dragons on yellow ground - white inside - consorts of first huang guifei rank.
  2. Green dragons on yellow ground - white inside - consorts of second guifei and third fei rank.
  3. Aubergine and Green dragons on yellow ground - Imperial family and consorts of forth rank.
  4. Yellow dragons on blue ground - white inside - consorts of forth bin rank.

Flowers, Fruits and Trees

In Chinese decorative arts pictured flowers, fruits, and trees are representations for various aspects of life. Knowing the symbolic meaning of a plant enables you to understand the hidden message.

Every flower, branch and leave is counted to ensure irregularity (especially in displays); an odd number is preferable since it is meant to convey the dynamic irregularity of the life force itself. Unopened buds should always be included among flowers in bloom, as they represent life’s continuous journey. The colours of the plants should coordinate with the color of the container, appearing to spill naturally out of it.

Below a brief list of the symbolic meaning of some flowers, fruits and trees:

  1. Apple - peace loving
    • apple blossom - beauty
    • apple and magnolia - wishful positive thoughts for a beautiful = rich household
  2. Apricot - beauty, beautiful woman, spring and good fortune
  3. Bamboo - youth, suppleness, strength, endurance, flexibility, longevity (also symbol of summer), also lucky - luck, money, quick achievement, strength, endurance
  4. Basket of fruit or flowers - one of the Eight Immortals
  5. Carnation - marriage
  6. Cherry blossoms - power, feminine beauty and sexuality
  7. Chrysanthemum - intellectual accomplishments, cleansing qualities, cure illnesses, longevity, considered to be the ‚'gentleman of flowers' (also symbol of autumn)
  8. Jujube (date), red colored - wealth, prosperity, fertility
  9. Kumquat - prosperity
  10. Lily - innocence
  11. Lotus - purity
    • lotus, flower - enlightenment
    • lotus, seeds - prosperity, offspring
    • lotus, stem - connection to origin
    • Lotus is one of the Eight Buddhist Symbols of good fortune, an attribute of He Xian Gu of the Eight Immortals.
  12. Magnolia - beautiful woman
  13. Narcissus (daffodil) - prosperity
  14. Orchid, one or several, - elegance (also symbol of spring)
  15. peach fruit - long life, association of immortality, divine fruit of gods
    • Peach blossom - luck
    • The peach of immortality in Chinese mythology 蟠桃 pinyin: pántáo; can make people perpetually young.
    • peach petals - state of intense trance of love
    • peach tree - longevity
    • peach wood - ward off evil
    • The sacred tree of immortality is a peach tree. In Chinese Taoist mythology, the peach of immortality grew in the garden of Hsi wang mu (Chinese: 西王母; pinyin: Xiwángmu; "Queen Mother of the West"). When the fruit ripened every 3,000 years, the event was celebrated by a sumptuous banquet attended by the “Eight Immortals”.
  16. Peony - beauty, rank, higher social status, luxury, opulence
  17. Pine trees - longevity, steadfastness, and self-discipline, endurance, long life, the pine is often depicted in chinese art with other symbols of longevity such as the peach, the god Sau (god of longevity), a deer, and also mentioned in the tales of the Eight Immortals.
  18. Plum blossom - strong personality, unafraid of difficulties (also symbol of winter, since the tree blossoms in the end of winter)
  19. plum blossoms and butterflies - beauty, long life
  20. Pomgranate - keeping, hoping to keep the title or rank from generation to generation in the same family
  21. Sunflower - to have a good year
  22. Tangerine, orange - abundant happiness
  23. Willow branch- being able to bend (or adapt) but not break

Plants and fruits

  1. Bamboo - Zhu - longevity. Never loosing its leafs, bamboo is a symbol of old age, endurance and modesty. Bamboo and plums together represent man and wife. Bamboo, pine and plum tree seen together are the "Three Friends of the Winter".
  2. Basket of Flowers - is the emblem of Lan Ts'ai-bo of "The Eight Immortals". Also a symbol of old age.
  3. Finger Citron has the appearance of a hand, hence it is a symbol of Buddha's Hand in the gesture of grasping money, a sign of wealth. Also represents divine protection. Finger citron in Chinese is pronounced as "fo shou". "fo" sounds very much like "fu" which mean happiness.
  4. Fungus (Sacred - lingzhi) - immortality and longevity.
  5. Gourd - mystery, necromancy, longevity, science, medicine, science of magic. A charm to ward off evil influence. Is the emblem of - Li Tieguai - of "The Eight Immortals".
  6. Lily - Bai-He - helps you to forget your troubles. It is also known to bring sons and is thus often given to a woman at marriage.
  7. Lotus - Lian-Hua, He - Thanks to the Buddhist influence, the lotus (or sea-rose) is of unique importance in Chinese folklore and symbolism. It is the symbol of purity and one of the eight Buddhist precious things. The lotus comes out of the mire but is not itself soiled. It is inwardly empty yet outwardly upright. It has no branches (no family/offsprings) but yet smells sweet. The words for lotus in Chinese have the same meanings as: to bind, connect (in marriage), one after the other, uninterrupted, to love, and modesty.
  8. Peach - Tao - A symbol for longevity, the peach is the most symbolic of any tree or fruit. It's tree wood and color keeps demons at bay, and its flower petals could cast spells on men.
  9. Pear - Li - Symbol of longevity due to the fact that pear trees live very long.
  10. Peony - Mu-Dan - Queen of Flowers, the peony is a emblem of wealth and distinction.
  11. Pine Song The favorite tree of Chinese painters, the pine symbolizes longevity and steadfastness. Pine trees rank above all other trees and epitomizes Self-discipline. Pine, bamboos and plum-trees are the "Three Friends in Winter".
  12. Plum - Mei, Li - The five petals of the plum tree symbolize the five gods of good luck. The plum tree, pine, and bamboo are the "Three Friends in Winter".
  13. Persimmon - Joy, due to its red color.
  14. Peach - marriage, springtime, immortality, long life. The God of Longevity is often shown holding or sitting on a peach.
  15. Pear - purity, justice, longevity, wise and benevolent administration.
  16. Pine - similar to Bamboo, symbol of longevity.
  17. Pomegranate - offspring, posterity, and the essence of favorable influences.
  18. Willow Liu - is a symbol in itself of spring and female beauty.

Flower of the Months and Seasons

  1. Prune Blossom - 1st Month and winter.
  2. Peach Blossom - 2nd Month, charm against evil.
  3. Tree Peony - 3rd Month, spring, riches, honor, love and affection, feminine beauty, and prosperity.
  4. Cherry Blossom - 4th Month, feminine beauty.
  5. Magnolia - 5th Month, feminine sweetness and beauty.
  6. Pomegranate Blossom - 6th Month.
  7. Lotus Flower - the 7th Month, summer, creative power, purity amid adverse surroundings, Fem. genius.
  8. Lotus Pod - offspring and fruitfulness.
  9. Pear Blossom - 8th Month, wise and benevolent administration.
  10. Mallow Kuei Hua - 9th Month.
  11. Chrysanthemum Ju - 10th Month, symbolizes autumn, joviality, life of ease, retirement from public office. Its Chinese name sound similar to the words "remain, nine, and long time". It is best to pick Chrysanthemums on the 9th day of the 9th month.
  12. Gardenia - the 11th Month.
  13. Poppy - the 12th Month.

The Eight Buddhist Symbols

Also known as the "Eight Buddhist Treasures". As a decorative motif, the Eight Buddhist Symbols first appeared on ceramics during the Yuan dynasty. They are, from top left:

  1. The Chakra or, the flaming Wheel. The Wheel of the Law crushes all delusions and superstitions. A symbol of Buddha's Person, infinite changing. Also called the Wheel of Life, Wheel of Truth, Holy wheel, Wheel of 1,000 Spokes, Indestructible Wheel of the Cosmos.
  2. The Conch Shell or Flag is a symbol of royalty, dignity and high rank, the Sacred Lungs of Buddha, spiritual authority
  3. The Umbrella is a symbol of spiritual authority and charity.
  4. The Canopy or Bell implies respect, veneration, signals, martial enthusiasm. The sound disperses evil spirits.
  5. The Lotus symbolizes faithfulness, symbol of truth, fertility and purity because its blossoms emerge pure and beautiful out of muddy waters.
  6. The Vase symbolizes perpetual harmony, supreme intelligent triumph over birth and death. A ceremonial jar for relics.
  7. A Pair of Fish are a symbol of marriage, conjugal felicity, fertility, tenacity. A charm against evil.
  8. The "Endless Knot" or Buddha's Entrails receives and forwards abundance, symbol of longevity, infinity, and eternity

Buddhist Symbols and Musical Instruments

  1. Thunder Drums - revolution and political change.
  2. The Flaming Jewel - pure intentions, genius in obscurity, feminine beauty and purity, the Heart of Buddha. A charm against fire.
  3. Buddha's Footprint contains the 8 Buddhist Symbols and others and is a symbol of Buddha's teachings.
  4. Pagoda - a receptacle for relics and secures good geomantic influences.
  5. Diamond Mace - a weapon of the Buddhist Deities and a symbol of power and authority.
  6. Fly Whisk - the Buddhist admonition Do not Kill, also magic and leadership.
  7. Vajra (Thunderbolt) or the Po-c'hai-lo is a ritual scepter and a symbol of Lamaist Power.
  8. Chisel Knife or Tso Tao - a Buddhist sacrificial instrument; an insignia of Lamaist Deities, symbol of Sacrifice and worship.
  9. Pipa or Chinese Guitar - determination of the mind, purity, and fidelity.
  10. Reed Mouth Organ or Sheng - symbol of the Phoenix and the assembly of the multitudes.
  11. Lute or Qin - marital bliss, suppression of lust. One of the Four Signs of a scholar.
  12. Hand Drum or Daogu - movement and ritual music.

The Eight Daoist (Taoist) Immortals and Their Emblems

As a group, they symbolize Taoism, transmutation, and happiness. Each of these symbols is the attribute of one of the Eight Immortals - legendary figures said to have obtained immortality through the elixir of life produced by alchemy or by eating magic fruits. Although some of the Eight Immortals form part of the Daoist's legend, it is unlikely that as a group they were honored any earlier than the Yuan Dynasty. Each represents a character or a condition and in turn an object symbolizes each Immortal.

  1. Peach and Fan - resurrects the dead, of Zhongli Quan represents the military man. Chief of the 8 Immortals. Has the Elixir of Life, the power of transmutation, symbol of longevity. Carries a peach and a fan to revive the souls of the dead, the Fan also being a symbol for delicacy of feeling.
  2. Bamboo drum and rods of Zhang Guo represents old age and in a symbol of lobgevity. Rode a mule backwards.
  3. Sword, and sometime a fly whisk, of Lu Dongbin, the Patron Saint of scholars and barbers is worshipped by the sick. He slays dragons and rids the world of evils.
  4. Castanets of Cao Guojiu, the patron saint of theater actors.
  5. Double-gourd, which contains all magical medicines, of Li Tieguai, dispenser of medicine. His emblems are an iron crutch and a gourd. He sometimes stands on a crab or beside a deer.
  6. Flute of Han Xiangxi, the Patron Saint of Musicians has the power to make flowers grow and blossom immediately. The Flute is an emblem of harmony and also of the Patron Saint of Florists.
  7. Flower basket or sometimes a flute of Lan Caihe, the patron of florists and a symbol of delusive pleasure. The Flute is an emblem of harmony and also of the Patron Saint of Musicians.
  8. Lotus of He Ziangu, The Female Sage who gives assistance in house keeping. She is sometimes poised on a Lotus leaf, holding a fly whisk.

Eight Precious Things Babao)

Eight Precious Things, also known as the Eight Treasures, or babao in Chinese, are auspicious symbols of good fortune. They often occur as a complete or partial set as decoration on ceramics from the Yuan dynasty and on. Sometimes they are combined with other auspicious motifs. They also occur individually as porcelain base marks. Red ribbons makes each a charm. They are from top left:

  1. Jewel or "pearl"
  2. Cash coin - emblem of wealth
  3. Open Lozenge - used in ancient times to ornament a headdress. Sometimes as the Fan Sheng (double lozenges) symbol of victory.
  4. Pair of Books - symbol of learning, ward off evil spirits. Sometimes a Painting, as a symbol of the fine arts, culture, and one of the Four Signs of the Scholar.
  5. Mirror (Solid Lozenge) - promotes unbroken conjugal happiness and counteracts evil influences
  6. Musical Jade Stone Gong (Qin), is a ministerial emblem and a symbol of the exercise of discrimination and of felicity
  7. Pair of Rhinoceros Horns - represent happiness.
  8. Artemisia Leaf - wards off sickness, has healing properties and is a symbol of felicity.

The Hundred Antiques

  1. Ancient Coin - riches.
  2. Umbrella, to cover Ten Thousand People - respect, purity, dignity, and high rank.
  3. Flower Vase - maintenance of peace.
  4. Bronze Wine Cup - rank and ancestral worship.
  5. Bronze Incense Burner - ancestral worship.
  6. Bronze Wine Pot - warns about not to drink in excess.
  7. Rare Vase - perpetual harmony.
  8. Dish of Flowers - beauty and harmony.
  9. Coral Carving - longevity, official promotion. Officials of the 2nd Grade wore Coral hat Buttons.
  10. Bronze Tripod - filial piety, an ancient ritual vessel.
  11. Bronze Mirror - heals those who become mad from the sight of a demon or spirit.
  12. Teapot - tranquility
  13. Scepter - symbol of Buddha, magical powers, prosperity.
  14. Peacock Plumes - represent official rank.
  15. Silver Shoe Ingot (Sycee) - denotes power and riches.
  16. Swords - wisdom, penetrating insight, victory over evil, superhuman power, magic and is the emblem of Lu Dongbin
  17. Seal - Power and authority. The red impressions cure diseases when applied to open sores.
  18. Rhinoceros Horn Cup - symbolizes happiness.
  19. Brush Holder - scholarly attainments.
  20. Brush, Gilded Ink Cake and Scepter - a rebus meaning of May Your Wishes be Fulfilled.
  21. Stone for Grinding Ink - attribute of a scholar.
  22. Writing Brushes - attribute of a scholar.
  23. Surrounding Checkerings are symbols of learning and one of the Four Signs of a Scholar.
  24. Books - symbols of learning and one of the Four Signs of a Scholar.
  25. Scrolls - calligraphy, painting, and truth.
  26. Painting of the God of Longevity.
  27. Recumbent Silkworms - emblem of industry.
  28. Palm Leaf (Chiao Yeh) - self education.

Other Symbols

  1. Waves - the Abode of Dragons.
  2. Clouds Yun - Symbolize rain and fertility, good fortune and happiness, especially when they have more than one color.
  3. Rocks - permanence and solidarity.
  4. Money Quin - Images of Chinese money including metal coins, gold bars and paper money are regulary seen in Chinese decorations. The word for "money" in Chinese is similar to the word meaning "before, hence"
  5. Vase Ping - the word "vase" in Chinese sounds much like the word for "peace". Shown with a wide variety of plants and flowers, the vase gives rise to a broad field of symbolisms. As a receptable an Daoist symbol for "female".