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Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

‘福 fu’, a Chinese character bearing an auspicious meaning of ‘good fortune’, has been used often in Chinese decorative arts. Dr Yibin Ni will tell you some interesting stories related to this character and how the intended meaning is represented in various art forms.

The flying mammal bat is called bian fu (蝙蝠) in Chinese. Image of the bat including its various stylised forms are often used in Chinese art to express an auspicious meaning, as ‘蝠 (fu)’ in ‘蝙蝠’ puns on ‘福 (fu)’ which means ‘good luck’, ‘good fortune’, and/or ‘happiness’ in Chinese. Therefore, one or more bats flying in the sky towards people is an auspicious pun rebus design popular in traditional China.

Related Pun Pictures:

May unexpected good luck descend on you! 喜从天降

When swastika is combined with the Chinese character shou 寿 (meaning long life) and the image of the bat, whose pronunciation puns on the Chinese word fu 福 for ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, the composition is used to express good wishes of the highest order on the receiver’s life span and good fortune, such as ‘May you have inexhaustible good fortune and longevity (万福万寿)’ or, more commonly, May you enjoy long life and always be blessed by good fortune (福寿万年)’. Art works adorned with this design are apt birthday presents for revered personages up to kings and emperors.

Either the clockwise swastika 卐 (sounding ‘wan’ 万) or the counterclockwise sauwastika 卍 is used interchangeably in Chinese decorative arts as well as in some religious contexts, as can be seen co-occurring on the same vessel displayed here. Roughly speaking, the swastika means ‘the myriad auspicious things in the universe’.

When swastika is combined with the Chinese character shou 寿 (meaning long life) and the image of the bat, whose pronunciation puns on the Chinese word fu 福 for ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, the composition is used to express good wishes of the highest order on the receiver’s life span and good fortune, such as ‘May you enjoy long life and always be blessed by good fortune (福寿万年)’ or ‘May you have inexhaustible good fortune and longevity (万福万寿)’. Art works adorned with this design are apt birthday presents for revered personages up to kings and emperors.

The characteristic Chinese longevity symbol, the peach fruit, is often used in this pun rebus design as an alternative or reinforcement of the character shou, with a more naturalistic touch.

Gourd (葫芦, hu lu) in Chinese is pronounced similar to ‘fu (福, fortune)’ and ‘lu (禄, wealth)’, therefore its image is often used as a pun picture referring fortune and wealth. In order to emphasise the good wish expressed by the image, traditionally the gourd is often presented in combination with bat 蝠, whose pronunciation in Chinese is also fu.

Bats in Chinese is called bian fu (蝙蝠) or fu (蝠). The image of bats is often used to represent ‘good luck’ or ‘good fortune’ in Chinese decorative arts. It is not because the Chinese appreciate the appearance of bats, but because ‘蝠 fu’, the Chinese name for bats, happens to pun on ‘福 fu’ for ‘good fortune’, thus bearing an auspicious symbol.

Related Pun Pictures:

Gourd 葫芦 

May you enjoy long life and always be blessed by good fortune 福寿万年