Symbols index

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Have you ever wondered what a bee is doing in a painting together with a boy on the back of an elephant? These symbolic elements have for centuries been well understood by Chinese people. It is still important to understand them as they add a new dimension to appreciation of Chinese art.

Here are all the subjects covered in this large index of Chinese symbols and art motifs. As there are so many we have grouped them into birds, animals, colors, flowers & fruit, nature and assorted categories. This section does not include the pantheon of gods and heroes from China's history, we have a separate guide to all the important Chinese deities.

Amber Amulet Ancestral tablet Animal Ant Ao Apple Apricot Aubergine Ax Azalea Badger Ball Bamboo Basket Bat Bean Bear Beard Bee Bell Bird Black Blue Boat Book Bottle gourd Bow Box Bridge Broom Brush Butterfly Cabbage Canopy Carp Cat Centipede Cherry Children Chrysanthemum Cicada Cinnabar Cinnamon Cloud Cockerel Coin Color Crab Crane Creeper Crow Cypress Deer Dew Dog Donkey Dove Dragon Dragonfly Duck Eagle Earth Eight treasures Elephant Endless knot Fan Filial piety Finger lemon Fire Fish Flowers Flute Fox Gall bladder Gecko Ghost Ginseng Glow worm Gong Good luck gods Goose Green Hair Halberd Hare Hat Hawk Heart Heaven Hell Heron Horse Ice Immortals Imperial Insignia Isles of the Blessed Jade Jujube Kingfisher Lacquer Laozi Lily Lion Longevity Lotus Luohan Lute Lychee Magnolia Magpie Maple Meander Melon Mirror Monkey Moon Mountain Mouth organ Mulberry Narcissus Numbers Onion Opium Orange Orchid Oriole Owl Ox Pagoda Pan Gu Panther Parrot Pavilion Peach Peacock Pear Pearl Peng Niao Peony Persimmon Pheasant Phoenix Pig Pine Plum Pomegranate Purple Quail Rain Rat Raven Red Rhinoceros Rose Ru Yi Saddle Scroll Seasons Sheep Shoe Snake Spider Stone Sun Swallow Swastika Sword Tai Ji Tao Tie Thunder Tiger Toad Tortoise Tripod Umbrella Unicorn Vase Walnut Wave White Willow Wine Wolf Wood oil tree Yellow

If you are looking for a motif to convey a particular meaning it can be tedious to look through all the symbols. So here is a list of the symbols arranged by meaning, note that some of them can take multiple meanings so appear more than once.

Mon 14th May

Ten years on from the Sichuan earthquake

The devastating earthquake of May 12th 2008 was China's worst natural disaster in recent years. Nearly 90,000 people were killed - a huge number compared to many more high profile disasters (30 times the loss in the 9/11 attacks). It occurred in a rural area north-west of Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu in the afternoon. Among the dead were up to 5,000 students. Many blamed the poor quality of the buildings which had been hastily constructed. Criticism of the government's role was suppressed and some feel that they never received adequate explanations.

China is very prone to earthquakes and holds the dubious honor of the most loss of life anywhere in the world. In 1976 the Tangshan earthquake, Hebei cost 650,000 people's lives but the worst still was 830,000 lives lost in 1556. The country is geologically diverse, made up of a mosaic of small tectonic plates that occasionally slip and slide against each other.


Read full story...
Read all our news stories...

Beauty terms

Symbols portraying beauty usually in the form of beautiful flowers.

Apple Apricot Azalea Cherry Glow worm Jade Kingfisher Lily Magnolia Orchid Oriole Peach Pear Pearl Peony Pheasant Phoenix

Boldness

These animals and mountains portray firmness of resolve and fearlessness.

Hawk Monkey Mountain Peacock Quail Tiger Bear

Children

Symbols that express a wish for children - particularly sons.

Ball Lily Pomegranate Toad Unicorn Lychee Melon

Examination success

Success in the Imperial Examinations was a passport to power and wealth and it was customary to wish candidates good luck with gifts symbolizing success.

Apricot Carp Crab Halberd Onion

Appointment to an official post

After passing the examinations the wish would be be appointed to a lucrative position in government with great prestige.

Aubergine Bee Bell Cinnamon Cockerel Crane Halberd Lute Maple Peacock Wave Brush cicada

Evil

Creatures that are considered bad news.

Owl Crow Wolf

Family Values

These symbols are associated with filial piety - devotion to parents.

Crow Raven Sheep Ice

Good Luck

There are a wide range of symbols in Chinese art that all have a general wish for good luck and good fortune.

Bat Bell Cabbage Carp Cloud Cockerel Coin Deer Fish Good luck gods Lion Lute Magpie Mirror Narcissus Orange Pheasant Plum Red Ru Yi Spider Swastika Tai Ji Tripod Unicorn Amulet Hat Brush Eight treasures

Engineer Leaders

All three recent Presidents of China studied engineering at University. Jiang Zemin : Electrical Engineering, Shanghai 1947; Hu Jintao : Hydraulic Engineering, Beijing 1965 and Xi Jinping : Chemical Engineering, Beijing 1979.
Read More

Happiness

All these symbols portray a wish for happiness and are often found on gifts to friends and family.

Ax Badger Bat Chrysanthemum Duck Fan Finger lemon Lion Magpie Monkey Oriole Phoenix Plum Spider Unicorn

Happy Marriage

These symbols are associated with wishing for a long and happy marriage, and children soon to come along.

Ax Crane Duck Fish Goose Lotus Peach Phoenix Pomegranate Shoe Sun Wood oil tree crouching tiger

Job Promotion

Wishes for someone to receive a promotion at work.

Cypress Maple Pomegranate Hat Mouth organ

Long Life

Almost as many symbols are used to wish for a long life as there are to wish for good luck.

Bamboo Butterfly Cat Cicada Crane Creeper Cypress Deer Dove Dragon Endless knot Finger lemon Hare Jade Laozi Longevity Mountain Narcissus Peach Pear Pine Plum Stone Tortoise

Loyalty

These things symbolize being loyal in some way or another.

Dog Dove Duck Glow worm Goose Pine Quail Wood oil tree

How to get on in China

If you are traveling to China it is essential to know the customs and general etiquette so that you do not unknowingly cause offense. Our customs page covers all areas including giving gifts, banquets, sealing business deals and how to behave in public. Any attempt at understanding Chinese sensibilities will create a good impression.
Read More

Modesty

The virtue of modesty is attributed to some plants and also the qilin.

Bamboo Lotus Orchid Pearl Peony Unicorn Willow

Path through Life

Symbols that reflect upon destiny and overall aims in life.

Heron Persimmon Bridge

Peace

Wishes for peace and contentment.

Apple Box Chrysanthemum Crab Crane Lotus Mirror Phoenix Quail Saddle Shoe Vase

Protection

These symbols in some manner offer protection from evil and strife.

Bottle gourd Jade Sword Tai Ji Tao Tie Tiger Willow Fire Rhinoceros
Year of the ...

Year of the ...

Culture

Most people are familiar with the twelve years and their animals. Chinese astrology places emphasis on the year of birth rather than the month of birth and so all people born in a particular year share some characteristics. Even to this day couples have delayed the birth of a child so it would fall in a 'lucky' year.

Arrive quickly

Often combined with other things, this set adds the meaning that 'good fortune', 'exam success', 'children' and so on should happen soon.

Horse Peng Niao Jujube

Happen again

These can be added to a design to give the meaning that 'happiness', 'good fortune' etc. should be repeated year after year.

Lotus Meander Swastika Boat

Romance

These symbols are closely associated with romance and love. There are many other symbols that relate more specifically to marriage and general good fortune.

Butterfly Mirror Ice

Strength

This set of symbols give the attribute of strength and fortitude to the meaning of a scene.

Beard Dragon Eagle Mountain Ox Pine Sword Tiger Tortoise Bear

Wealth

A wish for wealth was often tied up with success in examinations as this led to a lucrative government post.

Basket Cabbage Carp Cinnamon Coin Deer Dragon Fish Magnolia Peony Toad Hat

Wishes

These symbols have a general theme of good wishes and may be combined with something to give a specific meaning for example good wishes on a marriage.

Bamboo Elephant Orange Ru Yi Unicorn
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Citation information for this page : Chinasage, 'Index of Chinese Symbols', last updated 25 Jan 2018, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/symbols/index.htm.

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