Symbols index

bats

Have you ever wondered what a bee is doing in a painting 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 an inappropriate reference may cause offense while understanding adds a new dimension to appreciation of Chinese art.

Here are all the subjects we have 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.

Amber Amulet Ancestral tablet Animal Ant Ao Apple Apricot Aubergine Ax Azalea Badger Ball Bamboo Basket Bat Bean Beard Bee Bell Bird Black Blue Book Bottle gourd Bow Box Bridge Broom 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 Elephant Endless knot Fan Filial piety Finger lemon Fish Flowers Flute Fox Gall bladder Gecko Ghost Ginseng Glow worm Gong Good luck gods Goose Green Hair Halberd Hare Hawk Heart Heaven Hell Heron Horse Immortals Imperial Insignia Isles of the Blessed Jade Jujube Kingfisher Lacquer Laozi Lily Lion Longevity Lotus Luohan Lute Magnolia Magpie Maple Meander Mirror Monkey Moon Mountain Mulberry Narcissus Numbers 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 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 these can take multiple meanings so appear more than once.

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

Children

Symbols that generally express a wish for children.

Ball Lily Pomegranate Toad Unicorn

Examination Success

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

Apricot Carp Crab Halberd

Appointment to an official post

Allied to success in examinations was the wish to be appointed to a position in government with an annual salary and great prestige.

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

Evil

Creatures that are considered bad omens.

Owl Crow Wolf

Family Values

These creatures are considered paragons of filial piety - respect for parents.

Crow Raven Sheep

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

Testimonial

“I love and appreciate this webpage” : Chinese religion

Unsolicited comment from genuine visitor to Chinasage.

Happiness

All these symbols portray a wish for happiness and are suitable portrayed on gifts for 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 work promotion.

Cypress Maple Pomegranate

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
Wed 17th May

Belt and Road Initiative

Spending a trillion dollars (yes $1,000 billion) is a serious investment. China’s big idea is to open up the country for much wider trade. The primary focus is to develop stronger links with Central Asian countries on the route of the old Silk Road. However the initiative seems all embracing as even New Zealand, hardly on the Silk Road is keen to be involved. The idea is for both an overland ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (China to Europe) and a ‘21st century Maritime Road’ (China through the Indian Ocean to Africa and then north to Egypt). This has been shortened to ‘One belt one road’ or ‘Belt and Road’ or just ‘OBOR’ for short.

It is hard to work out exactly what the initiative is all about, there seem to be several factors and motives. One is that President Trump has continued to threaten China with extra tariffs to protect U.S. jobs from cheap Chinese imports. If China can open up new markets for her exports she will not be as badly hit by any protectionist measures. The U.S. continues to have a huge balance of payments deficit with China, in March 2017 the U.S. exported $9.6bn but imported $34.2bn. China’s heavy dependence on sales into the U.S. is a problem that needed to be fixed. In 2015 China’s main trade partners were: United States $457bn, Hong Kong $273bn, Japan $152bn, Germany $97.4bn and South Korea $90.1bn. Shifting trade to new countries will strengthen and stabilize China’s economy.

Many analysts also point to the problems of over-capacity in China. Just looking at total imports and exports is too crude a measure, the real problem is that China’s growth rate has slowed and the excess capacity in building related industries (steel, cement, construction) need new markets. If China can kick-start economic development elsewhere in the world she solves two problems at once - over-capacity at home and opening up new markets abroad. The China Communications Construction Group has already agreed deals worth up $40 billion in contracts with ‘Belt and Road’ countries. Sinking so much money in loans that may never be repaid is quite a risk. Venezuela now owes China $65bn and is not in a position to repay. Analysts consider such a huge project will be impossible to manage effectively and huge amounts are likely to be misappropriated.

The initiative comes at a particularly opportune time for the U.K.. Always keen on free trade and instinctively anti-protectionist the U.K. has more to gain than most other countries. With difficult talks ahead on exit of the E.U. trading block the opening up of possible deals with China all over the world is very appealing. U.K. politicians have been very keen to promote the initiative and use its undoubted trading expertise to jointly open up new markets.

The initial proposals centered on the countries of central Asia - along the route of the old Silk Road out of China. The initiative is therefore a way of re-invigorating trading links that were active for a thousand years before trade moved to China’s southern ports. The vast bulk of Chinese development had been along the south and eastern coasts, the poorest inland provinces have been left well behind. Of particular importance is the troubled province of Xinjiang. Positioned on the fringes of China the province is more Central Asian than Chinese with a Muslim majority. With frequent terrorist attacks by separatists in the province, China struggles to keep tight control. Recently China has banned Muslim parents from giving their children Muslim names and is embarking on a system of DNA profiling of every citizen. With the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative deals with neighboring Central Asian states (Takjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan) the increased economic activity should lessen instability in the region.

The key point is that China is changing from an inward to an outward-looking nation, no longer putting internal development as the top priority. With increased economic involvement comes political power too, and some hawkish observers see this as the first stage in the building of a new Chinese Empire.


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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

dì supreme ruler


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Arrive quickly

Often combined with other things, this set adds the meaning that 'good fortune', 'exam success', 'children' etc. 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

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

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
Chinese proverb

Proverb

骆驼比
Shòu sǐ de luò tuo bǐ mǎ [shou si de luo tuo bi ma da]
thin die camel compare horse big
The body of a starved camel is bigger than the body of a living horse.
Respect ancient wisdom rather than the new. Size is more important than age

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

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
cloud
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Citation information: Chinasage, 'Index of Chinese Symbols', last updated 1 Dec 2016, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/symbols/index.htm.

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