Bat = Luck
The bat is a symbol of good fortune because the word 'bat', 'bian fu', is a play on the word 'luck', 'fu'. A drawing of two bats facing each other represents 'double luck', shuang fu. A red bat is an especially lucky omen because red is believed to be the color that wards off evil and 'red' is pronounced the same as 'vast', hong. Together, a bat paired with a coin means 'luck before your eyes', fu zai yan qian. The bat is also associated with longevity because the 'Book of Herbal Medicine', Ben cao gang mu, written at the end of the sixteenth century, states that the bat lives to a great age and its blood, gall bladder, and wings have medicinal benefits for eyesight and long life.
Five bats grouped create the extremely auspicious and popular motif ‘five good fortunes’, wu fu – longevity, wealth, health, love of virtue, and natural death. The phrase ‘may the five fortunes arrive at one’s door, wu fu lin men, is a common wish. When the five bats are arranged in a circle around the Chinese character for longevity, the result is a rebus for wu fu peng shou, an extremely powerful motif for good fortune and longevity. An image of five bats flying above a round box or container signifies ‘harmony and the five fortunes’, wu fu he he, because ‘box’ and ‘harmony’ both sounds the same, ‘he’.
蝙蝠 = 福
在中國，蝙蝠是個象徵福氣的符號，因為「蝠」與「福」諧 音。兩隻蝙蝠相對的圖案象徵「雙福」。紅蝙蝠更被視為吉兆，因為人們相信紅色能驅魔祛邪，而且「紅」與「洪」諧音。成雙的蝙蝠與古錢放在一起，寓意「福在眼前」，因為中國古錢中間的方孔叫「眼」，而「錢」與「前」諧音。十六世紀完成的古代醫書《本草綱目》曾記載：蝙蝠能存活相當久，而牠的血液、膽囊和翼翅均具有藥效， 能明目和延壽，所以蝙蝠又與長壽密切關聯。
Scepter (ru yi) = everything as you wish
The ru yi scepter is a short sword that symbolizes ‘everything as you wish’. It is the first of the eight Buddhist treasures, and its shape is said to have been derived from the magic fungus of immortality, ling zhi. When given as a present, the scepter conveys whishes for good fortune and prosperity. The earliest scepters, made of iron, were used as weapons. Later versions were in gold, silver, jade, amber, porcelain, bone, or wood. An image of the ru yi combined with a vase, ping, representing peace, forms the rebus ping an ru yi, meaning ‘may you have the peace and everything you wish.’ When the Gods of Peace and Harmony, He he er xian, are shown holding a ru yi, it symbolizes ‘harmony and everything as you wish,’ he he ru yi.
The gourd is said to embody heaven and earth, and to contain spiritual energy that wards off evil spirits. It is often hung for protection above a door or window, at the head of a bed, or in a vehicle. One of the Taoist treasures, the gourd, hu lu, is also a vessel for magic elixirs. Li Tie Guai, one of the Eight Immortals and a master magician, carries the gourd as his treasure.
Legend of the gourd: In the sixteenth-century novel ‘Journey to the West’, the Money King, Sun Wu Kong, hears that the demons are on their way to capture him, using their magic gourd. Disguising himself as an immortal, he intercepts them. When the demons show him their gourd he claims can hold a thousand people, the Monkey King reveals a gourd he claims can hold the entire heavens. Impressed by his treasure, the demons bargain to swap with him if he can prove that his gourd really has the power to contain the sky. By obtaining permission from the spirits to block the light of the sun, moon and stars for one hour, the Monkey King is able to fool the demons into believing he has bottled the heavens in his ordinary gourd and thus is triumphant in acquiring their magic one.
Cloud (yun) = Luck (yun)
Because the word for ‘cloud’, yun, and the word for ‘good luck’, yun, sound similar, this symbol is often referred to as the ‘auspicious cloud’, xiang yun. A typical auspicious cloud is five colored, wu se yun, and represents five layers of fortune and happiness. The cloud has become a popular motif in architecture, textile designs, and everyday objects. When it is repeated in a pattern, it symbolizes never-ending fortune. The stylized rendering of the cloud motif is similar in form to the fungus of immortality, ling zhi, and the ru yi scepter. Numerous gods and immortals used the cloud as a vehicle on which they traveled.
Buddha’s hand (fo shou) = luck (fu)
The finger-shaped citron known as Buddha’s hand (Citrus medica), fo shou, stands for luck and happiness. The first character, fo, meaning ‘Buddha’, sounds much like fu, the word for ‘luck’. An image of a Buddha’s hand together with a peach and a pomegranate signifies ‘may you have an abundance of luck, longevity, and children.’ The peach symbolizes longevity, the pomegranate fertility. The fruit is also a symbol of Buddhism because the upturned fingers resemble the classic position of a Buddha’s hand.
A popular symbol of prosperity, yuan bao are hat-shaped gold and silver ingots used as money in ancient China. Scholars who passes the imperial examinations with the highest marks were referred to as jie yuan, hui yuan, and zhuang yuan, collectively referred to as the ‘three yuans.’ Because the word for ingots also contains yuan, a picture of three ingots creates a rebus for the ‘three yuans,’ san yuan, making it a symbol of status and honor. The lichee, longan, and walnut in combination also represent the ‘three yuans,’ as they are all round in shape, and the word for ‘round’ is pronounced yuan.
A spiritual creature, the tortoise conceals the secrets of the universe. Its shell was once an important medium in divination, and the first Chinese characters have been discovered inscribed on its surface. A tortoise’s shell naturally divided into twenty-four sections, which correspond to the twenty-four solar terms of the lunar calendar. Due to the creature’s long life and ability to endure hunger and thirst, the term ‘tortoise years’, gui ling, is a metaphor for long life. The tortoise is often paired with the crane in auspicious pictures to wish one a long life, such as ‘the tortoise and crane extend long life,’ gui he yan nian. Pan Gu, the creator of the universe in Chinese mythology, was attended by a tortoise.
Use of the peach as a symbol of longevity originated over two thousand years ago. ‘Longevity peaches’ are steamed buns made of dough shaped like a peach and filled with red beans, date or lotus-seed paste. The buns are served at an elder’s birthday to wish long life and good health for many years to come. Not only the fruit but also the wood and blossoms of the peach tree are symbolic. Bad spirits feared peachwood and so peachwood charms were often hung outside doors or gates to keep them away. Door gods would be engraved or drawn on peachwood, or only their names would be written on peachwood. Peach pits were carved into little amulets and given to children to protect them and ensure long life. Classical poems and texts often mention peach blossoms as metaphors for springtime and beauty.
Not until after one month of life, man yue, was a child’s birth celebrated in ancient China, due to the high mortality rate. At this celebrations, infants traditionally were given a longevity lock, a type of necklace that brought protection, health, and longevity. Often engraved with auspicious phrase, such as ‘may you live to one hundred years,’ chang ming bai sui, the lock is made from silver, gold, or copper, depending on the wealth of the household.
The longevity lock was originally a five-colored rope ornament made of red, yellow, blue, white, and black strands and was hung outside the door to guard against evil. These colors represent the five directions – north, south, east, west, and centre – which were believed to have protective powers. In later tradition, a five-colored string was hung around a child’s neck for protection and became known as ‘longevity thread,’ chang ming lu, or ‘one hundred rope,’ bai suo. In Beiping (now Beijing), families with newborns sent someone out to beg for copper coins from many households. A longevity lock was then made for the infant from the coins. This was called the ‘one hundred lives lock,’ hua bai jia suo, and represented the blessings and protection of one hundred households.
Copper coins originated in the late Warring States period (480-221 B.C.). Round on the outside with a square hole in the centre, these ancient coins became a potent symbol of wealth and prosperity. The circular shape represents heaven, and the internal square signifies earth.
Often the coins are inscribed with lucky phrases such as chang ming fu gui, ‘a long life of wealth and abundance,’ or ji xiang ru yi, ‘as much luck as you wish.’ A picture of two coins hung above a shop door represents the God of Wealth and attracts wealth to a business. Coins strung together with red thread form a charm to bring a ‘continuous flow of wealth,’ lian qian, which is especially auspicious for business. Necklaces made from red thread and coins offer protection from evil spirits and bring luck to the wearer. The coin is also one of the eight treasures, ba bao, symbols that possess the power to draw good fortune.
Used as a play on words, ‘coin’ can mean ‘before one’s eyes,’ because the hole in the centre is known as an ‘eye’, yan, and the coin itself, qian, is a rebus for ‘before.’ Any number of objects can be paired with the coin in this context. For example, the ‘magpie,’ xi que, is a symbol of conjugal happiness, and thus its image in conjunction with a coin conveys the message ‘happiness before your eyes,’ xi zai yan qian.
Since the word for ‘fish’ and the word for ‘plenty’, yu, are pronounced the same, fish have come to represent abundance. Fish are very auspicious during New Year, and the saying ‘may there be abundance year after year,’ nian nian you yu, is often written alongside a picture of fish in a basket. A whole fish is a popular dish served for New Year’s Eve dinner. It is a good omen to leave the bones along with the head and tail intact to symbolize surplus and also a good beginning and end.
An image of a child holding an oversized fish and a lotus flower is a common New Year picture that means ‘successive years of abundance,’ lian nian you yu. This is because one word for ‘lotus flower,’ lian, is pronounced the same as the word for ‘continuous.’