Nature symbolism in Chinese art

jade, Guanyin, deity
Jade carving of Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin)

This group of symbols cover a wide variety of items with some sort of connection to nature. We have a separate section on other natural subjects: animals; flowers & fruit as well as birds. Here we cover elements, minerals and natural patterns, here is a full list:

Amber Ball Beard Children Cinnabar Cloud Dew Earth Gall bladder Hair Heart Jade Lacquer Meander Moon Mountain Numbers Pearl Rain Seasons Stone Sun Swastika Tai Ji Thunder Wave Wine

Amber 琥珀 hǔ pò

Amber bead

Amber, which is solidified pine resin, is most commonly found in Yunnan province. Its orange color has led to an association with tigers. There is an ancient belief that the spirit of a tiger goes back into the earth on its death to form amber. Therefore Amber has been used in TCM to give the properties of tiger to medicines. Blood amber ( 血珀 xuè pò) is particularly potent and has been used as an aphrodisiac. From very early times the Chinese knew amber was tree resin as they studied the insects often trapped inside blocks of amber.

Ball qiú

Beijing, lion, pearl
Bronze guardian lion, Forbidden City, Beijing

A large cloth ball is often seen in Chinese Opera. A long time ago at the Mid Autumn moon festival a maiden would throw a red ball and the suitor who caught it would become her husband. It was often fixed onto the bridal carriage to symbolize the wish for babies to come. Dragons play with an embroidered ball at the Lantern festival. At the entrance to temples there are often two stone lions, one of which has a ball under its left paw representing the egg of a lion cub.

Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, the religious leader of Tibet lives in exile at Dharamshala in Northern India, just 124 miles [200 kms] from Tibet. He is the leader of the Yellow hat school of Tantric strand of Buddhism. He fled Tibet in 1959 following reprisals after a revolt against Chinese rule in Tibet. Tenzin Gyatso the 14th incarnation of the Lama has stated he may be the last.
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Beard hú zi

opera, Beijing opera, costume
China National Peking Opera Company performing the Red Haired Galloping Horse opera at Meilanfang theatre in Beijing, China. A villainous character with white make-up and a long beard Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

Although long bushy beards are a common sight at the Opera, many Chinese struggle to grow anything more than a thin, wispy beard. On stage and in pictures a beard symbolizes strength and supernatural power. However a red or purple beard is considered demonic (from Buddhist representations) and this affected Chinese attitudes to early European traders when they arrived with ginger hair and beards.

Children hái zi

children, fish, chime
Two boys, one holding a chime the other a carp on a bamboo stick. Wishing a successful career.

The wish for children is a very common motif in paintings, embroidery and porcelain. However, it must be admitted that traditionally the wish is for boys not girls. This apparent misogynistic attitude has to be explained. In the traditional village context a daughter would soon enough leave to marry someone in another village and would then have very little contact with her birth family (often only at New Year). On the other hand a boy would remain in the family home and have a strong Confucian duty to look after his parents into their old age. Scholarly or mercantile activity was restricted to men and so a family's dream of riches and preferment could only come about through bearing sons.

Traditionally children's hair was shaved off, leaving a boy with a central tuft over the forehead and a girl with two tufts over the ears.

Hé-hé èr xiān - the Heavenly twins are shown as two boys carrying a box and a lotus to symbolize a wish for peace ‘ (box) and harmony (lotus). A picture may be divided in two, each part having a mother and son, one side has the son holding a lotus flower on the other the son rides a qilin, both symbolize a wish for a son. A picture with children surrounded by peaches and pomegranates symbolizes the wish for many sons.

Cinnabar 丹砂 dān shā

cinnabar, bead, lacquer
Carved Cinnabar lacquer beads Image by Pschemp available under a Creative Commons License

Cinnabar is an orange-red mineral of mercury (mercuric sulfide). It has been associated with alchemy and magic in both China and Europe from the earliest times. This is because when heated it gives off hydrogen sulfide and produces shiny, liquid metal - mercury - as if by magic. In China this transformation suggested properties that could lead to immortality, so some Emperors have been believed to have been poisoned by taking elixirs containing cinnabar (mercuric compounds are poisonous). Cinnabar was used to make the vermillion ink used solely by the Emperor. The Elixir of the Immortals 仙丹 xiān dān was also said to contain cinnabar. Many alchemists believed all metals were to be made up of a mixture of cinnabar and sulfur.

In Daoist belief there is a cinnabar zone just below the navel that is a key location in meditation.

Cinnabar used to provide the red wax dye used for making the 'chop' (seal) marks on almost all old documents and paintings.

Cloud yún


Clouds are considered lucky and so feature heavily in Chinese pictures and symbolism. This is most likely down to the obvious connection that clouds bring the much needed rain to water the crops. It sounds the same as yùn ‘luck, fortune, fate’.

Dragons are often shown playing in the clouds as dragons are the masters of water and rain. A picture of bats flying among clouds is a wish for good fortune. The simplified motif form for a cloud resembles the shape of the lingzhi elixir of immortality. Clouds are considered the union of yin and yang because they are a fusion of the elements of water and air, sky and earth. From this idea clouds can symbolize making love as the union of male and female.

Yún xiāo wù sàn [yun xiao wu san]
cloud vanish mist disperse
Cloud and mists disperse
All becomes clear again. Troubles are over.

Chinese proverb


Jié āi shùn biàn [jie ai shun bian]
holiday pity submit to alter
Hold back on grief and accept to the mishap
Often said as a token of condolence on a death


As dew comes down from the sky to earth it symbolizes the benevolent rule of the Emperor, who as the ‘Son of Heaven’ was the link to the skies. Because a morning dew is such a fleeting affair it can symbolize a brief romance.


In ancient Chinese thought the Earth was a flat square and the Heavens were round. Heaven and Earth were considered the two great divisions, earth is yin and heaven is yang. In combination with another character for earth tiān dì ‘heaven and earth’ represents the whole universe. In the Yi Jing, the most important first two hexagrams are the all yang qián (heaven) and all yin kūn (earth). Earth is one of the Feng Shui elements and one of the eight trigrams. The ancient cycle of 60 is made up of twelve earthly branches ( dì zhī) combined with the ten heavenly stems ( tiān gàn).

Gall Bladder dǎn

gall bladder;TCM
The names of the acu-moxa locations of the gall bladder channel of foot shaoyang are inscribed on the figure of a child. The gall bladder channel of foot shaoyang is one of the Twelve Channels. It originates at the tongziliao (Pupil Crevice), in the outer canthus of the eye, and terminates at the lidui (Sharp Opening) point, in the outer side of the fourth toe. Image by Wellcome Trust available under a Creative Commons License

In traditional medicine the gall bladder was thought to control a person’s temperament. The gall bladder produces bile to help digest food and it was thought that it expanded when people became angry. The gall bladder of violent criminals was considered to be a very potent medicine. It is one of the eight treasures of Buddha.

Hair máo

hair, queue
Chinese Meal. Men with hair in 'queues' c. 1880 Image by caviarkirch available under a Creative Commons License

People's hair ( tóu fà is almost universally black in China. Some youngsters now bleach it turn it orange/red, it is generally straight but in south china it can be naturally wavy. During the Manchu (Qing) dynasty men had to wear their hair as a pleated single, long 'queue' biàn zi with forehead shaved to show subservience to the Manchus.

Traditionally, boys had their hair shaved to leave a single, central tuft while girl’s hair was shaved to leave two tufts one over each ear.

Maó gǔ sǒng rán [mao gu song ran]
hair bone fearful promise
Hair standing on end. Petrified with fright
Petrified with fright

Heart xīn

heart, TCM
Woodcut illustration fromShenti sancai tuhui (Colored Illustrations of the Body), by the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) author Wang Siyi. The image shows the form and position of the heart. It is situated beside the 5th vertebra, below the lung, above the diaphragm. It is the ruler of the zangviscera. Image by Wellcome Trust available under a Creative Commons License

The heart is the source of emotions and by some is held to be the seat of the intellect as well. It is one of the five main body parts and is represented in the system of five elements with fire. Many characters associated with emotions include the heart radical to give the hint that they represent strong feelings such as nù huǒ ‘rage’; ‘fear’; qíng ‘lust’ and 忿 fèn ‘anger’.

Rén xīn bù zú shé tūn xiàng [ren xin bu zu she tun xiang]
person heart no attain snake swallow elephant
A person's greed is like a snake that seeks to swallow an elephant
Greed is insatiable
Xīn gān qíng yuàn [xin gan qing yuan]
feeling sweet fine wish
Delighted and helpful. Glad to help out.
Happy to do something; Delighted to help
Xīn huā nù fàng [xin hua nu fang]
heart flower in full bloom
The flower of the heart in full bloom
Full flowering of joy
Xīn kuàng shén yí, shì shì shùn lì [xin kuang shen yi, shi shi shun li]
heart broad spirit joy, matter matter obey profit
Heart joyful, work profitable
Feeling happy and relaxed


jade, Guanyin, deity
Jade carving of Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin)

Jade is such an important precious material in China that we have a whole section dedicated to it. It is valued above gold and symbolizes immortality. The Queen Mother of West has a jade pond 瑶池 yáo chí and holds a feast there for the immortals. The Jade Emperor is the supreme god in popular tradition.

Nìng wéi yù suì, bù wéi wǎ quán [ning wei yu sui, bu wei wa quan]
stand pride jade broken, no pride tile complete
Don't be a proud piece of broken jade, be a complete tile
Better to persevere than face destruction by standing out
Pāo zhuān yǐn yù [pao zhuan yin yu]
throw brick draw jade
Cast out a brick to invite jade
Modestly allow others to contribute to conversation by making a silly remark
Xiāng xiāo yù sǔn [xiang xiao yu sun]
fragrant vanish jade broken
Fragrance is dissipated; jade is broken
Spoken of on the death of a beautiful young woman
Whom the Gods love die young


lacquer, song dynasty
A Chinese red lacquer tray over wood with engraved golden foil, from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), dated 12th to early 13th century. As the Freer and Sackler Galleries museum description states, in China the gold-engraving technique is called qiangjin. The museum caption states that this method has existed since roughly the 3rd century AD, although it was not until the Song Dynasty era that gold engravings were found on luxury lacquerwares. After a wooden tray was covered with multiple layers of cinnabar-colored lacquer, fine lines were then incised into the new surface. These incisions were then filled with an adhesive of clear lacquer, followed by the pressing of gold foil into the grooves. The two long-tailed birds and a peony plant depicted in this tray are symbolic of longevity and prosperity in Chinese culture, since the Chinese word for "long life" (shou) sounds similar to the words for long-tailed birds (dai shou). Image by PericlesofAthens available under a Creative Commons License

Lacquer is made from either the sap of the Lacquer tree Toxicodendron vernicifluum or the sticky secretions of the ‘lac’ insect Kerria lacca . The ‘lac’ form is produced by deliberately infesting trees with the scale insects and then the heavily coated wood is harvested. Lacquer's origin is clear from the composition of the character as it contains both ‘liquid’ and ‘tree’. The solid resin is dissolved in turpentine and water and is applied in many thin layers to wood or paper to make a waterproof, durable surface. The best quality lacquer has a hundred layers and can take years to produce as each layer has to completely dry before the next is applied.

It can be produced in different colors but red is the most widely seen. It was used extensively on the decoration of coffins for senior officials. Lacquer work became popular late in China under the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong after which it became a specialty of the Japanese.

Meander 廻纹 huí wén

pattern, meander

The meander pattern is used as a very common decorative edge on all types of object: lattice window frames, embroidery, lacquer-work, carpets and porcelain. The repeated linked meander pattern dates back thousands of years. It is usually made of nested squares but can also be of spirals and curves. Huí means ‘return’ so there is also a certain symbolism of cycles and rebirth. Some consider that the pattern evolved out of the cloud and thunder pattern yún léi wén.

Moon yuè

chang'e;moon goddess;Ren Shuai Ying
嫦娥奔 Chang'e Flying to the Moon Image by Ren Shuai Ying available under a Creative Commons License

The moon is chiefly associated with yin compared to the sun that is yang. From this assignment everything 'yin' is also considered to be associated with the moon: female; the Empress; cool and darkness. The Chinese lunar calendar follows the cycles of the moon, please see our Chinese calendar section for further details. The Autumn Moon Festival marks the moon at its strongest influence. At the festival round, sweet moon-cakes are made and consumed with gusto.

The Chinese see the figure of a hare in the moon - not a man in the moon - the hare is said to be perpetually making the elixir of immortality at the base of a cinnamon tree. The moon is the abode of the goddess of the moon Chang-e. It is also associated with the three legged toad.

An eclipse of the moon was said to be caused by the Heavenly dog star tiān gǒu xīng attacking it and temple bells were rung to drive it away. The Heavenly Archer Houyi would also be called upon to save the moon from the eclipse. The moon was much beloved by the poets and Li Bai is said to have drowned trying to embrace the reflection of the moon in the waters of the Yangzi. In a picture it is shown as a pinkish disk among clouds with curling waves to suggest its control over the tides .

, 每逢佳
Yuè dào zhōng qiū fèn wài míng, měi féng jiā jié bèi sī qīn [yue dao zhong qiu fen wai ming, mei feng jia jie bei si qin]
moon arrive mid-autumn divide outside bright every occurrence fetival joyous times think parent
The moon is brightest at the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the feeling of homesickness will be strongest during the festival
Longing to see family far away
There's no place like home
Yuè xià laǒ rén [yue xia lao ren]
moon under wise person
The minor god of marriage Matchmakers
Someone enabling people to meet with marriage in mind

Mountain shān

mountain, painting, china
Cloudy Mountain by Xi Gang, 1785. Available under a Creative Commons License

Many mountains in China are sacred, some to Daoists, some to Buddhists and some to both. In folk religion each mountain has its own deity associated with it. The pictogram character for mountain shān has three towering peaks. They represent the yang element in the landscape and as such connected to the governing yang element in China - the Emperor. Landslides were considered a strong portent that the Emperor's reign was in trouble. Mountain is one of the eight trigrams in Feng Shui and Yi Jing.

The five sacred Daoist mountains are Taishan, Shandong (East); Hengshan, Hunan (South); Songshan, Henan (Center); Huashan, Shaanxi (West) and Hengshan, Shanxi (North). While Emeishan in Sichuan is sacred to Buddhists along with many others. Chinese people climb mountain peaks as a form of pilgrimage, the routes to the top can be thronged with people. The climb physically and symbolically takes you closer to the heavens. The Kunlun mountains in the west (Qinghai) appear in many legends, they are the source of jade and the reputed home of the Queen Mother of the West.

‘Mountains and sea’ represent an all encompassing phrase for the whole world shān hǎi There is a famous tale of the ‘Old Man and the Mountain’ where an old man became so annoyed with a long detour to get to the other side of a mountain that he set about digging a way right through it. When a scholar pointed out the folly that such an old man should contemplate such endless toil; the old man replied that his sons and then their descendents would continue the task until it was completed. Mao Zedong used this tale as a parable for achieving the unthinkable by ceaseless toil but in the original story it was the Supreme God Shangdi who took pity on the Old Man and set his immortal minions to cut a way through the mountains.

Qiān shān wàn shuǐ [qian shan wan shui]
thousand mountain ten thousand rivers
Many mountains and many rivers
A long and arduous journey
Shān míng shuǐ xiù [shan ming shui xiu]
mountain bright water elegant
Beautiful mountain scenery
Beautiful landscape
Yǒu yǎn bù shí tài shān [you yan bu shi tai shan]
have eye not know great mountain
To fail to see the great Taishan mountain
To be too arrogant/ignorant to notice true talent
Yú gōng yí shān [yu gong yi shan]
foolish man move mountain
The foolish old man who moved mountains?. The old story is that an old man wanted to move a mountain that blocked his path. Despite widespread cynicism he and his descendents gradually wore down the mountain
Anything can be achieved with persistence

Chinese proverb


shí bù xiào bǎi [wu shi bu xiao yi bai bu]
50 pace smile 100 pace
Fifty steps laugh at a hundred steps
Being complacent about the future. Believing a job done when only half done.
Pride cometh before a fall

Numbers 秘数 mì shǔ


Numbers play a great part in symbolism in China. Each number has associations, for a full survey please see our numbers section.

In summary, four is the most unlucky and eight the luckiest but nine is the most powerful as it was associated with strong yang and the Emperor. Five is important because there are five elemental essences and associated with each element is a whole series of concepts in fives: color; musical notes; body organs; compass directions. Eight plays an important part in the Yi Jing system as there are eight trigrams. Odd numbers are considered yang and male; even numbers yin and female.

Each dynasty had a governing number which would decide many things - for example the size of the official's hats. An ancient counting system used the twelve earthly branches and ten heavenly stems to form the sexagesimal sequence of sixty. However a decimal system was instituted at an early date for most things.

The importance of numbers is very evident in the design of the Temple of Heaven, Beijing where almost everything comes in groups which have an underlying meaning. As nine is the Imperial number, this number predominates, with circles of nine stones expanding out by 9 until a count of 81 (9x9) stones are reached.

Pearl zhū

dragon, Beijing, pearl
Details of the Nine Dragon Screen, Forbidden City, Beijing. Dragons chasing the pearl of wisdom

Freshwater pearls were found in Chinese rivers from ancient times. The shiny translucent quality has long been associated with the moon. Legends consider pearls to originate from the moon which is sometimes known as yè míng zhūthe ‘night shining pearl’. A pearl was once placed in the mouth of the deceased. Dragons are often shown chasing a pearl from the legend that the phases of the moon are due to a dragon eating it. As the pearl lies hidden inside an unprepossessing dark shell of a mussel, it also symbolizes hidden beauty or talent. It is one of the eight jewels of Buddhism, in this form it may be surrounded with flames to denote its magical powers.

The early history of China from pre-history to 770BCE

The early history of China from pre-history to 770BCE


Most of the ancient traditions of China had become established 3,000 years ago. The institution of Emperor, the written scripts and the key technologies (including silk) all come from China's distant past. The longevity and continuity of Chinese culture are the two key principles to understanding China - even today.



The absence of rain spelled death to our ancestors, so the wish for life giving rain is a very common theme. One of the earliest recorded consultations using oracle bones was the question ‘will it rain?’. All sorts of minor deities and gods could be turned to grant the wish for rain. Dragons as the controllers of all waters were the most powerful creatures. As rain falls from heaven (yang) to earth (yin) it is seen as the fruit of their union.

A rainbow cǎi hóng symbolizes this marriage of yin and yang. In ancient times the rainbow was shown as a two headed dragon.

rén yǔ, huǎng yán pà lǐ [ni ren pa yu, huang yan pa li]
clay figure fear rain, lie speech fear logic
A mud figure fears rain; a lie fears truth
Over time lies will eventually be laid bare
Truth will out

Seasons suì shí

four seasons, flowers, vase
Vase with Flowers of the Four Seasons. This is an example of "famille rose" porcelain with overlain enamels. c.1750. Image by Walters Art Museum available under a Creative Commons License

In ancient times the year was split into two parts: Spring and Autumn and this is the reason that the early part of the Zhou dynasty is called ‘Spring and Autumn Period’ it actually referred to annals of the whole year. The two seasons were then each split into two to make the familiar four seasons. For one brief time a fifth season was added to fit in with the five-fold categorization of all things under the theory of elements; the extra season was inserted between summer and autumn. Chinese seasons were linked to the lunar calendar and because New Year is late January or early February it explains why early blossom such as plum is considered a flower of winter rather than spring. The four seasons were symbolized by the flowers winter: plum blossom; spring: peony; summer: lotus and autumn: chrysanthemum.

Stone shí

stone, Taishan

Stones represent permanence and stability so it is not surprising that they symbolize longevity. A picture showing a rocky promontory over sea is often an allusion to the Isles of the Blessed, home to the immortals, in the East.

The character for stone is represented by a picture of a square stone falling off a cliff. From ancient times special stones, perhaps because of their shape, were considered sacred and received sacrifices for life-giving rain. Stones placed in front of buildings were placed to block the path of evil spirits, sometimes these stones originated from the sacred mountain Taishan and some have the inscription 敢挡 shí gǎn dǎng ‘stone obstructs’. Perhaps because of this ancient belief many official buildings have stone lions in front of them. Stone figures line the important Spirit Way to the burial site of the eminent.

The Chinese love for appreciating exotic shapes is most evident in gardens where heavily pitted rocks (often limestone) play an important part in the design.


sun, guomindang
Sun emblem of the Guomingang. Image by available under a Creative Commons License

The sun as might be expected plays an important part in Chinese culture. It is the epitome of ’yang’ (and in this regard is also called tài yang) representing: light, heat, vitality, Spring and East (where the sun rises). It also stand for the Emperor and so a solar eclipse would signify that the Empress (the moon) is too powerful, obscuring the Emperor's light. A picture of the sun and a phoenix together represents the Emperor and Empress and so expresses the wish for a happy marriage.

Another tradition has that during a solar eclipse a celestial dog attacks the sun and it would need scaring off to restore the light. Traditionally a three-legged raven (or toad; cockerel) is said to live in the sun and there is the legend of the divine archer Houyi shooting down nine of the ten suns that threatened to burn up the Earth. Even in recent years Mao Zedong was compared to the sun, Mao badges were round to represent ‘The red sun in our hearts’ and the Chinese patriotic song is called ‘the East is red, the sun ascends’.

The sun's apparent movement along the ecliptic divides the year into 24 solar terms (jieqi) which mark out the course of the agricultural calendar ( suì calendar)

Swastika wàn

The two forms of swastika combined to give a lattice window design motif.

The swastika is a Buddhist good luck symbol. Because Nazi Germany used it as their emblem its image has been severely tainted even though the European usage appears to have developed independently. The swastika is an ancient symbol that came to China from India where it was the monogram of Vishnu and Shiva, it means ‘so be it’ in Sanskrit. It is said to symbolize the motion of blood in Buddha's heart. In China it is more associated with a wish for long life rather than good luck, it represents the endless turning of the wheel of life. It is equally propitious in its mirror image form. It frequently occurs in decorative artwork borders and in particular wooden lattice window designs. Its four-fold symmetry made it an appropriate early representation for fāng ‘square’.

In China it is also represented by wàn which means 10,000 or more vaguely ‘countless; myriad; infinite’; making it appropriate as a symbol for plenty, multiplicity and immortality.

Tai Ji tàijí

tai ji, yin and yang

The notion of yin and yang swirling and enclosing each other was promoted by the Neo-Confucianist Zhu Xi (1130-1200). There is a belief that at birth the placenta is marked by the 'S' motif of the taiji. The taiji is a universal emblem of the duality of all things and the absence of absolutes - yin can not exist without a little yang and vice-versa. It also suggests the creation of all things from the union of two opposites. The Chinese characters means literally ‘supreme ultimate’. However in popular usage it is mostly associated with the Tai Chi martial art.

It is a common motif, particularly when surrounded by the eight trigrams bā guà that will hold evil at bay.

Thunder léi

thunder, god of thunder, lightning, dragon
Master Thunder (Lei Gong), 1542. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image by Dorothy Graham Bennett available under a Creative Commons License

Ancient superstitions about thunder and lightning go back thousands of years. Throughout the world, thunder was regarded as the wrath of the gods. The character for thunder is made up of ‘rain’ over ‘field’ which symbolizes the importance of storms to water the crops. Lightning is diàn a simplified representation of the old form which is rain over a streak of lightning, Lightning is used in lots of character to do with electricity for example 电视 diàn shì ‘television’; 电脑 diàn nǎo ‘computer’ and diàn huà ‘telephone’. The god of thunder is portrayed beating mighty drums and he has wings and red hair. His chariot is drawn by the spirits of the dead. Thunder is significant in Buddhism as lightning symbolizes Buddha's doctrine.

léi tíng [da fa lei ting]
big develop thunder
Develop large thunderstorm
Fly into an extreme rage
To spit nails
Léi shēng dà, diǎn xiǎo [lei sheng da, yu dian xiao]
thunder sound big, rain drop small
Thunder is loud but little rain falls
Overly portentous. Reality did not match expectation
Empty vessels make the most noise

Wave 波浪 bō làng


The wave design is a common emblem in pictures and on the hem of garments. Water in regular waves represents the sea. The tide cháo made up of waves sounds the same as cháo which means ‘Imperial court’ and so waves may symbolize a wish to enter the Imperial service. A picture of a large and small fish near the coast represents a wish for many ( ) children to achieve high office.

Wú fēng bù qǐ làng [wu feng bu qi lang]
no wind no rise wave
No wind, no waves
There must have been signs that it was going to happen
No smoke without fire

Wine jiǔ jiāng

wine jar, carp, lotus
This extraordinary Chinese porcelain wine jar was made at the Jingdezhen [Ching-te Chen] kilns during the reign of the Jiajing [Chia-ching] emperor (1522-1566). Its body is white porcelain with blue underglaze decoration. To this, potters added an additional layer of colored enamels, resulting in this bright, festive design of golden carp and lotuses. This design and its associations with both fertility and good fortune suggest that this jar was made for a young, affluent couple to celebrate their marriage. Like many of the Asian objects acquired by Henry Walters, this jar is a world-renowned treasure. It is one of only nine known jars of this type in museum collections worldwide. Among this small group of similar objects, this jar is widely held to be one of the most beautifully painted and well preserved. c.1540. Image by Walters Art Museum available under a Creative Commons License

Up until modern times ‘Chinese wine’ was a distilled spirit from fermented sorghum or rice, much stronger than wine and, not made from grapes and strictly speaking an ‘ale’. Grape wine pú tao jiǔ was not considered particularly palatable. It is only been in recent years that grape-vines have been cultivated and wine produced.

The character jiǔ shows a picture of an amphora shaped vessel for distilling together with the water radical.

Shaoxing, Zhejiang and Maotai (Moutai ), Guizhou are noted centers for traditional wine production. Drink was very much a social activity and carried out in moderation, often in the form of toasts at meals. Although being tipsy was considered OK, drunkenness was a severe loss of face and was rarely seen. Alcohol was never a part of religious ritual as it is in Christianity.

Jiǔ ròu péng yǒu [jiu rou peng you]
wine meat friends
Friends only for the food and drink
Cupboard love. Fair weather friends

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China has the largest population of any country in the world, more than the populations of the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom put together.
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Source references used for this page: Book : A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, Eberhard, Routledge, 1983 pp. 17, 28, 35, 61-63, 66-68, 79-80, 89-90, 137, 140, 153-154, 183, 193-195, 210-211, 230, 245-246, 260-261, 277-283, 286-287, 290, 311, 315-316; Book : China : Eyewitness Travel, Dorling Kindersley, 2012 p. 610-619; Book : Chinese Characteristics, Arthur Henderson Smith, North China Herald, 1890 p. 76; Book : Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs, C.A.S. Williams, Tuttle, 1993 pp. 5, 99, 171, 205, 221, 234-237, 245, 278-281, 294, 319-320, 374-382, 385-387, 396-398; Book : Nine Dragon Screen, The China Society, Percy Lund, 1965 p. 1-28; Book : Symbolism in Chinese art, Walter Yetts, HardPress Publishing, 1912 p. 3; Book : Symbols of China, Feng Jicai, Compendium, 2010 p. 60; Book : The Manners and Customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements, J.D. Vaughan, Oxford Asia Paperbacks, 1879 p. 3; Book : To Change China, Jonathan Spence, Penguin, 1980 p. 32; Book China Now magazine, Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, 1970-1995 [135] p. 30-31; Book Fun with Chinese Characters, The Straits Times, Federal Publications,1982 [1] pp. 16, 45, 99, 103, 106, 123; Book Social life of the Chinese, Justus Doolittle, Harper and Brothers, 1865 [1] p. 42; Book The Shorter Science and Civilization in China, Needham and Ronan, Cambridge University Press, 1978 [1] p. 160-161; symCloud (primaltrek) ; symHair (books) ; symHair (chinadaily) ; symHair (chinaheritagequarterly) ; symHair (metafilter) ; symLacquer (wikipedia) ; symSwastika (arts) ; symWave (asianart)
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