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.
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.
Incidentally, the bee and the boy on the back of an elephant? It's a wish for happiness, good luck and a job promotion.
Often combined with other things, this set adds the meaning that ‘good fortune’, ‘exam success’, ‘children’ and so on should happen soon.
Symbols portraying beauty usually in the form of beautiful flowers.
Symbols that express a wish for children - particularly sons.
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.
Wishes for someone to receive a promotion at work.
Appointment to an official post
After passing the examinations the wish would be be appointed to a lucrative position in government of great prestige.
Things that are considered harbingers of bad news.
These symbols are associated with filial piety - devotion to parents.
There are a wide range of symbols in Chinese art that all have a general wish for good luck and good fortune.
These can be added to a design to give the meaning that ‘happiness’, ‘good fortune’ and so on should be repeated year after year.
All these symbols portray a wish for happiness and are often found on gifts to friends and family.
These symbols are associated with wishing for a long and happy marriage, and children to come along soon.
Almost as many symbols are used to wish for a long life as there are to wish for good luck.
These things symbolize being loyal in some way or another.
The virtue of modesty is attributed to some plants and also the qilin.
Path through Life
Symbols that reflect upon destiny and overall aims in life.
Wishes for peace and contentment.
These symbols in some manner offer protection from evil and strife.
These symbols are closely associated with romance and love. There are many other symbols that relate more specifically to marriage and general good fortune.
This set of symbols give the attribute of strength and fortitude to the meaning of a scene.
A wish for wealth was often tied up with success in examinations as this led to a lucrative government post.
These symbols have a general theme of good wishes and may be combined with something else to give a specific meaning for example good wishes on a marriage.