Last week we introduced the butterfly as an auspicious Chinese insect, which is purely good and positive in its symbolism. Another animal, which is not an insect but is often confused with being one, is the spider. The spider (zhī zhū 蜘 蛛) in traditional China was considered to be one of the 5 poisonous animals, commonly referred to as the 5 poisons. We would immediately believe that such an animal would be considered bad and to be avoided, however, in the traditional medical theory of fighting poison with poison, the spider is considered auspicious—a good thing. People used spiders (and their images) to ward off disease.
One spider, a little red spider, is called xizi, xii zii (喜 子) and is particularly auspicious. The xi (喜) character may be written with the chong虫in front of the xi 喜, but apparently is often written exactly the same as the character for happiness xi (喜). Thus, its image predicts a happy event and, therefore, symbolizes joy. Plus, the spider web is a circle with a hole in the middle, which looks like an ancient Chinese coin. This spider is often portrayed as dropping from a spider web. Put all of this together and the spider dropping from the web becomes another auspicious sign representing good things dropping from the sky.
May blessings fall upon you in our New Year of 2014!
Although we are in the depths of December and cold, cold, cold, I am thinking of my wildflower garden and Spring. Naturally, butterflies come to mind and butterflies [hú dié, hur dier (蝴 蝶)]are another auspicious symbol in traditional China.
Butterflies are beautiful and because they simply flit around from place to place, flower to flower, they appear to be carefree. Perhaps as a result, they are considered a sign of joy, happiness, and blessings. The longstanding place the butterfly has had in Chinese tradition is highlighted by the story about Zhuāngzǐ (莊子), a 4th Century philosopher, having a dream where he was the butterfly and the joy it gave him.
Images of Zhōng Kuí (鍾魁), a mythological figure in Chinese folklore, are often seen in traditional homes. He was a successful scholar—which is why he wears a scholar’s hat. His job is to exorcise demons, banish evil, and encourage blessings to come into the home. These three tasks are represented in his image through the sword he carries on his back, the demon often seen cringing under his foot, and the bat (which represents blessings) found on or near his fan. Sometimes he is shown without his foot on a cowering demon, nevertheless, simply having his picture or statue scares away evil and demons, keeping the family safe. He is a dynamic figure, full of energy and ferocious protectiveness.Today, when someone is described as Zhōng Kuí (鍾魁), the speaker is saying she has the courage to fight against evil. (from: http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqb=zhong)Note: The characters used forZhōng Kuí (鍾魁) are from Eberhard. Although the pronunciation is the same, Bartholomew uses a different Chinese character for Kuí (鍾馗).
Always looking for ways to increase the power and strength of a blessing or good fortune, the traditional Chinese approach was to double up auspicious words. And, as you may have already begun to suspect, traditional Chinese also loved a play on words. That’s one reason we find so many good will wishes with double, or more, elements. Continue reading Red Bats (Hόng Fú 紅蝠)→
According to Bartholomew combining 5 bats with 8 peaches is an auspicious design and was commonly used as a good luck symbol going back to the early 1700s in the Ching Dynasty. We clearly see this design in the picture of our Chinese vase [Okay, some of the peaches are around the sides of the pottery and not in the picture, but believe me, they are on the piece.] Continue reading 5 Bats (Fú 蝠)) and 8 Peaches (Táo 桃)→
Bats our Western tradition are associated with Halloween, vampires, and scary or evil things. In traditional China, however, bats are good, wonderful symbols.
In the Chinese language many words that have different meanings sound alike (they are homophones). The Chinese word for bat (fú) sounds exactly like the word for blessing (fú). So, bats are associated with receiving blessings or good fortune and are an important symbol of happiness and joy. Continue reading Bats (Fú 蝠)→
The peach is one of the most popular images in Chinese decorations, jewelry, paintings, and folk art. If you like things Chinese, the peach is more than familiar to you. But, besides being beautiful, what did it mean traditionally? Why is it important? Continue reading Peaches (Tao 桃)→
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"Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me." by Carlos Fuentes