Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images
In this motif composition, the eight Daoist Immortals (ba xian 八仙) are not depicted in figural images, but rather are represented by their distinctive attributes respectively. The fan stands for Zhongli Quan 钟离权, the sword stands for Lv Dongbin 吕洞宾, the clapper stands for Cao Guojiu 曹国舅, the bamboo flute stands for Han Xiangzi 韩湘子, the lotus flower or the bamboo colander stands for He Xian’gu 何仙姑, the basket of flowers stands for Lan Caihe 蓝采和, the double gourd stands for Li Tieguai 李铁拐, and the membranophone fish drum stands for Zhang Guolao 张果老.
The arrangement of the emblems of the eight Immortals surrounding a pictorial form of Chinese character ‘shou 寿 or 壽’, which means ‘longevity’, is emphasising the message which celebrates the receiver’s birthday and wishes the receiver a long life.
Pines, bamboos, and plum blossoms (prunus) form the ‘Three Friends in Winter’ (岁寒三友) motif. The early blossoming plum is the harbinger of spring; the bamboo bends in wind but does not break; and the pine needles remain green throughout the harsh winter. They all symbolise moral integrity and friendship in difficult times and have been cherished by generations of Chinese literati (scholar-officials).
Related story regarding plum blossom:
The Chinese character ‘an 鹌’ in ‘anchun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’. The character ‘zhu 竹’ for ‘bamboo’ is a pun on ‘zhu 祝’ for the verb ‘to wish’ and thus is used here to cue the character cluster ‘zhubao 竹报 (祝报)’ for the verb phrase ‘to wish to announce or send’. Thus, a composition containing quails and bamboo can be used to convey a good wish that you be safe and sound.
This pun rebus design has a variation in which the image of firecrackers is used. The reverse of the Chinese characters ‘baozhu 爆竹’ for ‘firecracker’ is ‘zhubao’, which puns on the character cluster ‘zhubao 祝报’ for the verb phrase ‘wish to announce or send’. Bamboo can be kept in a vase as a table top decoration. The Chinese character ‘ping 瓶’ for ‘vase’ is homophonic to the word ‘ping 平’, which can cue the phrase ‘pingan 平安’ for ‘safe and sound’.
Furthermore, a scene of children lighting firecracker can be used to cue the good wish that the receiver be safe and sound for the reason explained above.