Good luck in China

Thu 12th Jul

Forty years of change

Statistics on China's remarkable development in the last forty years are hard to take in. The GDP was 82.7 trillion yuan (US$12.5 trillion) in 2017 about 200 times that of forty years ago. The billions/trillions and growth rate may impress but do not give much insight on how ordinary lives have been transformed.

The linked article in the Shanghai Daily newspaper looks how individuals at three individual case histories. Xie Mingsheng farmed his small parcel of land in Shanxi by hand, harvesting with a sickle now harvesting, weeding, pest control is now all mechanized and a much larger area can be farmed with the same labor.

Zhao Zhaofeng comes from a coal mining family in Shanxi. His grandfather extracted coal with a pick and shovel and carried out the coal in a bamboo basket. With modern machinery the productivity has gone up forty times in forty years.

Han Yonghui sells street food in Tianjin. To get to his pitch in the city it used to take twenty hours. With new railways and fast trains it now takes him just six hours.

These stories show how modern development has transformed the lives of individuals in China on an unprecedented scale.

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One of the most widely seen Chinese characters in China is the character for good fortune or luck. You see it painted as a decoration everywhere: on wind chimes, paintings, lanterns, pots and posters. A look at its origin gives a feel of the complexity and longevity of symbols in Chinese culture. It also represents the God of Fortune (Fu) who is part of the good luck trinity of Fu, Lu and Shou.

fu,good fortune

The character for good fortune consists of the radical for auspicious or heaven sent to the left. The separate right-hand symbol for wealth or abundance also pronounced but with a falling fourth tone itself comprises of three elements. At the top is a roof, underneath is the abbreviated form of the character for high and at the bottom is the symbol for field tián. Taken together the three elements have the meaning of storing produce piled high from a good harvest; the most ancient and potent indicator of wealth and good luck. It is usually written in black ink on lucky red paper.

fu,bats,longevity,shou,good fortune


Fu is widely seen on Chinese New Year posters. In many cases the poster is deliberately hung upside down. This needs a bit of explanation as there are several stories explaining how this came about . Firstly if you look at the character fu there is a certain vague resemblance to the character for upside down dao. The character dao can mean both dǎo upside down or fall and dào arrive only differing in tone. Combining the meaning of dao and fu gives the idea of good fortune raining down from the heavens. So placing fu upside down is increasing the possibility of good fortune. It may also have something to do with bats (see following) that hang upside down. This is somewhat similar to the European custom of lucky horseshoes ; it is a symbol for good luck one way up but if placed upside down is an ill omen as the luck falls out of the horseshoe.

suǒ actually; place; that which

Made up of [ hù door radical 63, dāo knife]


Consists of 'door' and 'axe' from the practice of chopping wood near to home and hence idea of 'place'
Full information for

Lucky bats

The Chinese love puns. Another character that is pronounced the same way as fu (in the Beijing dialect) is for bat. So drawings of bats in a design bestow a wish for good fortune. The character consists of wealth with the radical chóng for insect - as bats eat insects. The good luck motto fú zǐ tiān lái literally ‘bats come down from the sky’ means ‘let good fortune come down on you’.

The five bats in a design represent the five lucky gods and the five blessings: long life, wealth, health, virtue and peaceful death. The central bat is placed on top of another widely used good luck symbol, this is shòu 寿 the symbol for the god of longevity Shouxing.

Here is another design including a bat in a less obvious way. Beneath the bat dangles the “endless knot” a Buddhist symbol for long life; eternal love and friendship. For more on bats see our Chinese symbolism section.

fu,bat,good fortune


Tangerine. Image by Kaldari available under a Creative Commons license .

You may see lots of tangerines at Chinese New Year, and this is another play on words. The similar looking character for tangerine is ju and in the Guangdong area it is pronounced the same as fu .

Symbols and Motifs

Symbols and Motifs


Chinese arts and handicrafts are full of hidden symbols. Bats, goldfish, peonies and bees all give a specific meaning to a painting or decoration. Exploring the world of Chinese symbolism opens up a whole new layer of appreciation.

Imagination has led to the creation of many artistic versions of the character for good luck. Some of the designs are based on the ancient seal form of the character. Here are some examples.

fu,good fortune

The fourth version above has the ‘fu’ element on its own.

fu,good fortune

The first version above is an example of the character upside down. The fourth is of ‘fu’ on its own.

fu,good fortune

The first and third versions above have the ‘fu’ element on its own.

For a video of the character fu being written as calligraphy please see following You Tube video.

YouTube video of drawing the character for good fortune in Chinese
Spring Festival, Shenzhen, market, people, lantern
Buying supplies for the Chinese New Year Festival, Shenzhen Copyright © Dreamstime see image license


In addition to the symbol for good fortune, the other character commonly seen to wish for good luck and happiness is . It is a representation of a ‘drum’ and a ‘mouth’ suggesting a celebration. Two xi characters joined together form the ‘double joy’ symbol seen particularly at marriages. The character crops up in many two character wishes including yǒu xǐ ‘have joy’ usually used when a couple are expecting a child.

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