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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.

Chinese people deeply respect the elderly and traditionally consider a long existence to be one of the most important blessings in a person’s life. Here are many examples of how artists have combined a variety of longevity symbols to reinforce the potency of this concept.

In Chinese culture, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is related to the legendary fairy Chang E, the Moon Goddess. We often see a hare, her loyal companion, and an osmanthus tree in the picture with her against a background of the Moon Palace. However, why does Chang E often hold an osmanthus sprig, and what does she have to do with scholars attending civil-service examinations? Let’s invite Dr Yibin Ni to explain to you with his interesting literary research findings.

On the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar Chinese year, young men and women will celebrate their traditional ‘Valentine’s Day’, Qixi Festival (七夕节). The custom can be traced back to an ancient story.

More often than not, traditional Chinese motifs or symbols are not receiving their deserved attention, being given simplistic or inadequate labels and inaccurate explanations in our museums, catalogues, or even scholarly writing. The treatment of many pictorial representations of the thousand-year-old literary anecdote ‘A bamboo counter is being added to the house in the sea (海屋添筹 hai wu tian chou)’ is a case in point.

Dr Yibin Ni has discussed the differences of symbolic meanings of lily between Western and Chinese cultures in his unique research, bringing new insight into pictorial art.

In Chinese culture and pictorial art, the peach fruit is often used to wish for long life on birthday parties. How does this fruit become associated with the idea of longevity? Here is Dr Yibin Ni explaining to us the origin of legendary stories related to the peach through his research work over literatures and treasurable artworks.

When you mistake a motif in a traditional Chinese picture, you could have misinterpreted the meaning of the whole image intended by the ancient craftsman. Dr Yibin Ni has used the following example to illustrate the hidden meaning of a series of images in the context of Chinese pun rebus culture.

Are you afraid of small insects such as spiders? Why do we see this tidy dangling creature a popular motif used in traditional Chinese art? There is a secret here…

Is choosing a gift for your mother a difficult task? Not so much if your mother is a big fan of Chinese art. In traditional Chinese decorative arts, there are various images symbolising or referring motherhood. Lily flower is a typical example…

Fish (鱼 yu) puns with the word yu 余 meaning ‘abundance’, therefore it symbolises wealth and prosperity. Lotus (莲 lian) puns with the word lian 连 meaning ‘to continue’ or ‘to connect’, and it is associated with the Chinese phrase lian nian 连年 meaning ‘year in, year out’. Hence, a fish and a lotus together signify ‘wealth for all the future’ by a double wordplay.

Relater Pun Pictures:

May your jade palatial home be honoured and full of riches 玉堂富贵

May you be trouble-free and roll in wealth 平安多利

Pun Design:

Carrying on the Back + Monkey

Punning Details:

– ‘bei 背’ for ‘carrying on the back’ makes a pun on ‘bei 辈’ for ‘generation’

– ‘hou 猴’ from ‘hou zi 猴子’ for ‘monkey’ puns on ‘hou 侯’ for ‘marquis’

Therefore, the image of a monkey on the back of another monkey is used to express a good wish that the receiver’s family members are bestowed titles of marquis generation after generation.

 

画面要素: 背 + 猴

谐音详情: 动作‘背’与‘辈’谐音,意为:世世代代;‘猴’与‘侯’谐音,是帝国时代爵位体系中的第二等爵位

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently 马上封侯

May promotion be yours; May you advance in official rank 加官晋爵

Pun Design:

Lychee or Chestnut

Punning Details

– ‘Li 荔’ for ‘lychee’ and ‘li 栗’ for ‘chestnut’ have the same pronunciation in Chinese as ‘li 利’ for ‘profit’.

– Many lychees or chestnuts seen in the picture convey ‘duo 多’ for ‘plenty’, and ‘li 荔’ or ‘li 栗’, which is a pun on ‘duo li 多利’ for ‘plenty of profit’.

 

Related Pun Picture:

May you be trouble-free and roll in wealth 平安多利

Pun Design

Official Hat + Wine Vessel

Punning Details

The combination of ‘jia 加 putting on’ and ‘guan 冠 hat’ – ‘jia guan 加冠’ is a pun on ‘jia guan 加官’, meaning ‘receiving an official title’.

The action of presenting the wine vessel is called ‘jin 进’ in Chinese, which puns on ‘jin 晋’ meaning ‘promoting’. ‘Jue 爵 bronze wine vessel’ puns on ‘jue 爵’ (the same character) for ‘high official rank’. Hence, ‘jin jue 进爵 presenting the jue cup’ puns on ‘jin jue 晋爵’ for ‘getting promotion to higher rank’.

In some compositions, a child wearing a seemingly unfit official cap, which is a ‘guan 冠’, is offering a dignitary a jue cup. Since both ‘guan 冠 cap’ puns on ‘guan 官 official title’ and ‘jue 爵 bronze wine cup’ puns on ‘jue 爵 high official rank’, the image communicates the message of ‘jia guan jin jue 加官晋爵’.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you get promoted 加官

May your chance of promotion be just round the corner 指日高升

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.

In the oracle bone script, the earliest form of the Chinese characters, the pictograph ‘福 (fu)’ consists of a pair of hands holding a wine jar in front of a sacred ancestral symbol. It means that, if the ancestors were pleased properly with right offerings, good fortune would come to bless the descendants.

Read here for an account of how the ‘福 fu’ character became a poster on people’s front door on the first day of the Chinese New Year.

More than two millennia ago, the Chinese had their ideals in life summarised as ‘五福 wu fu’, the Five Blessings, and recorded them in the Book of Documents (书经 Shujing) in the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 – 256 BCE). They are ‘longevity 寿 shou’, ‘wealth 富 fu’, ‘wellbeing and peace 康宁 kang ning’, ‘love of virtue 攸好德 you hao de’, and ‘natural death 考终命 kao zhong ming’.

The old and auspicious ideal embodied in the ‘福 fu’ character is often represented artistically with images of bats 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’.

In Late Imperial China, the ‘福 fu’ character was personified by the Star God of Good Fortune (福星 fu xing), a figurine of a male deity, who was one of the trio of the ‘Three Star Gods (三星 san xing)’. The other two companions were the Star God of Emoluments (禄星 lu xing) and the Star God of Longevity (寿星 shou xing).

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni

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

The character 龟 gui for ‘tortoise’ is explained in volume 13 of the annotated version of the oldest dictionary in China, Shuowen jiezi 说文解字注 (Explanations of Simple Graphs and Analyses of Composite Graphs). There is a quote from Liu Xiang (刘向, 77 BCE – 6 BCE), the Han-dynasty imperial librarian, in the annotation, which says ‘… Tortoises last long. The tortoise lives for a thousand year and, therefore, can be a medium to communicate with spirits (龟之言久,龟千岁而灵).’ During the early fourth century, the Jin (晋) dynasty scholar Ge Hong (葛洪, 283 – 343) complied The Baopuzi (抱朴子) ‘Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity’. In the chapter entitled ‘Rejoinders to Popular Conceptions (对俗)’, he wrote, ‘Once you live, you will die. The tortoise and the crane can live for a long time. We know that they live long and then we can learn from their way of life to realise our own longevity.’ These thoughts laid the foundation for the Chinese to regard the tortoise as a longevity symbol. In the same chapter, Ge Hong also quoted from an earlier book that ‘The one-thousand-year-old tortoise has five colours and … floats on a lotus leaf.’ Therefore, corresponding images were created to enhance their owners’ health and life expectancy. Naturally, the tortoise accompanies immortals and fairies to indicate their everlasting state.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Yang Shen (杨慎, 1488-1559), alias Sheng’an (升庵), is a literatus and poet in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). He recorded in Volume Ninety-Four of Sheng’an Additional Works a folklore anecdote: ‘In the northern dialect, there is no difference in sound between the he 合 for “coming together” and the he 鹤 for “crane”. There are people who painted six cranes and a Chinese cedar tree to form a pun rebus design meaning “liu he tong chun (六合同春), i.e. May the whole universe prosper in eternal spring”.’ (杨慎《升庵外集》卷九十四:“北之语合鹤迥然不分,故有绘六鹤及椿树为图者,取六合同春之义”. ) The Chinese phrase ‘liu he 六鹤’ for ‘six cranes’ puns on the phrase ‘liu he 六合’ for ‘six directions’, i.e., heaven, earth, north, south, east, and west, namely, ‘the universe’. The Chinese cedar or mahogany tree, i.e., toona sinensis, is called ‘chun 椿’ tree in Chinese and is used as a pun on ‘chun 春’ for ‘the spring season’.

Unfortunately, there are no examples of this ingenious ancient design passed down. However, there is a related pun rebus design extant on ancient porcelain and other handcrafted art works. This design consists of three key elements: deer, crane, and the wu tong 梧桐 tree, or Chinese parasol tree. In some Chinese dialects, the combination of the Chinese characters ‘lu 鹿’ and ‘he 鹤’ for ‘deer and crane’ makes a pun on ‘liu he 六合’ for ‘six directions’ or ‘the universe’. The image of the wu tong 梧桐 tree, or Chinese parasol tree in the design cues the concept of ‘tong chun 同春’, meaning ‘sharing the spring season’. The pun rebus design appears as early as in the Ming dynasty on a Longquan celadon garden seat. As a culturally cherished picture, it also appears on a porcelain bottle vase and a table screen both crafted in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

The diligent Japanese scholar Nozaki Nobuchika 野崎诚近 collected this design in his pioneering volume on Chinese pun rebus pictures 吉祥図案解題: 支那風俗の一研究. His illustration clearly shows the three key elements that form the pun rebus. However, in the title of this picture, he literally put down Chinese characters ‘lu 鹿’ for ‘deer’ and ‘he 鹤’ for ‘crane’, instead of the concept ‘liu he 六合’ for ‘six directions’ or ‘the universe’, to which the two creatures were meant to refer.

Luckily enough, a related Qing-dynasty New Year print with both a deer and a crane on it is still in existence. On top of the picture, the Chinese phrase “liu he tong chun (六合同春), i.e. May the whole universe prosper in eternal spring” is printed verbatim. Although the careless print maker failed to include the wu tong 梧桐 tree, or Chinese parasol tree, in the design, it is evident that this was a popular auspicious theme in traditional China.

literature research: by Dr Yibin Ni

In this scene, there are several Chinese longevity symbols such as the crane, the generic immortal, the pine tree, and the deer, etc. However, the proper meaning of this particular scene is not a simple assemblage of individual symbols. It is a snapshot of a coherent narrative that has been well-loved and widely consumed in the visual oeuvre that represents the Chinese longevity ideal.

The literary origin of the scene can be traced back to an anecdote collected in Notes by Dongpo (东坡志林), compiled by a prominent man of letters of the Song dynasty, Su Shi (苏轼, 1037-1101). During one chance meeting of three geriatric men, the topic of age was broached. Each one of them tried their best to exaggerate his own great age. The second speaker famously boasted, ‘After every cycle of the sea drying up and becoming mulberry fields, I put a strip of bamboo in my house as a counter and now the strips have already filled ten of the rooms.’ Later, this dramatic detail evolved into a classic allusion to longevity, a popular dream cherished by all people in China. Pictorial representations of this dramatic moment were invented and elaborated into different versions to adorn birthday presents of all kinds.

Initially, the title of the scene is, literally: ‘A bamboo counter is being added to the house in the sea (海屋添筹 hai wu tian chou)’. The first two characters of the phrase resulted from compressing the paragraph spoken by the second speaker in the story into an abbreviation consisting of the first and the last characters 海屋 hai wu (‘海水变桑田时, 吾辄下一筹, 尔来吾筹已满十间屋’). The coined two-character phrase ‘海屋 hai wu’ now means a ‘pavilion at sea’, serving as the first two characters in the set phrase. The rest two characters of the phrase ‘添筹 tianchou’ denotes the action (of a crane) adding a bamboo strip as a counter’. Thus, the four-character phrase alludes to the second speaker’s words in the original story.

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), pun rebus designs became more and more popular in folk decorative arts. The last character of the phrase ‘筹 chou’ for ‘bamboo strip counter’, acquired a pun on ‘寿 shou’, the Chinese character for ‘longevity’. Then, the phrase virtually conveys the meaning of a birthday wish: ‘May the length of your life be eternally prolonged (海屋添寿 hai wu tian shou)’. One of the earliest mentions of this pun phrase in literature can be found in Section 22 in the second part of the book Tao Ya (匋雅), or ‘Notes of Chinese Best Pottery and Porcelain’, compiled by Chen Liu (陈浏) and published in 1910.

This research article is written by Dr Yibin Ni.

Literature:

  1. Jeffrey P. Stamen and Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, A Culture Revealed: Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection: Jieruitang Publishing, Bruges, 2017, p. 84-85.
  2. 倪亦斌:《仙鹤寿桃祝寿碗 暗藏海屋添筹图》,《读者欣赏》,兰州:读者出版传媒股份有限公司,2018-01,110-117 页

The seventh day of the seventh month of the traditional Chinese year is the Chinese ‘Valentine’s Day’, Qixi Festival (七夕节). The custom can be traced back to an ancient story about a weaver girl and a cowherd:

Once upon a time, one of the daughters of the Lord of the Heaven lived on the east side of the Milky Way and she worked by the loom day in and day out, weaving fabrics as light as cloud for fairies, thus known as the ‘Weaving Maiden (织女 zhi nv)’. Later, her father allowed her to be married to the ‘Herd Boy (牛郎 niu lang)’ living across the Milky Way. But her father got angry with her because he thought she neglected her weaving duty after the marriage and summoned her back to the east side of the Milky Way, allowing her to reunite with her husband only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the traditional Chinese year. In order to help the maiden to reach the other side of the Milky Way, flocks of magpies would have an annual gathering on that day to form a bridge.

In the heart of the Chinese people, the story of the Weaving Maiden and Herd Boy has epitomised as a symbol for lovers separated by various kinds of obstacles and their longing of reunion.

More discussion on this topic is available in Dr Yibin Ni’s blog here.

The main figure in the scene is a dignitary, often gripping a hu (笏) tablet in his hands, which an official uses to take notes when he has audience with the emperor in court. He is usually sheltered by page boys erecting some fans or a parasol or guarded by a soldier holding a weapon with an iron melon on the top. Facing the dignitary is an attendant presenting a vase containing three miniature ji (戟) halberds to him. Sometimes there is a tray underneath the vase. The Chinese character for ‘vase’ is 瓶 ping, which is a pun on 平 ping for ‘unexpectedly’ or ‘surprisingly’. The character for the halberd is 戟 ji, which puns on 级 ji for ‘grade or rank’ and three halberds stand for ‘three ranks’. Put together, the design is used to express the message “May you have three successive promotions unexpectedly” (平升三级 ping sheng san ji).

Related Pun Pictures:

May you have three promotions continuously! 连升三级

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

A variation of 平升三级 ping sheng san ji (May you have three successive promotions unexpectedly) is 连升三级 lian sheng san ji. The design has kept the old element of three ji halberds but added a new motif, the lotus flower. The character for the halberd is 戟 ji, which puns on 级 ji for ‘official grade or rank’ and three halberds stand for ‘three official ranks’. The character for the lotus is 莲 lian, which sounds the same as the word 连 lian for ‘continuously’. Thus, this combination of objects is used to express the good wish ‘May you have three promotions continuously!’

Related Pun Picture:

May you have an imminent promotion 封侯

May you have repeated promotions 官上加官

May your chance of promotion be just round the corner 指日高升

The Chinese character for ‘monkey’ is 猴 hou and it puns on the word for ‘marquis’ in Chinese 侯 hou. The expression ‘mashang 马上’ in Chinese is ambiguous in that it can mean, literally, ‘on a/the horse’, or it can mean, idiomatically, ‘right away’. Therefore, an image of a monkey on the back of a horse can be used, auspiciously, to convey the message ‘May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently’.

Related Pun Pictures:

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

May you have an imminent promotion 封侯

The Ming-dynasty play The Story of the Blue Robe (青袍记 Qingpao ji, also called《梁氏父子传胪记》) tells the story of how Lv Dongbin (吕洞宾 Lü Dongbin or 吕纯阳), one of the Eight Daoist Immortals (八仙 baxian), survived a catastrophe with the help of Liang Hao 梁灏 and repaid him by ensuring him to be able to enjoy the highest academic title, longevity, and a flourishing extended family.

A scholar named Liang Hao in Song dynasty was the human form taken by the God of Literacy when he was disgraced to be sent to the human world. Once the Thunder God and Lightning Goddess were ordered to cleanse the earth with seven days of thunderstorm. This was the ordeal which Lv Dongbin, Liu Hai 刘海, Iron-Crutch Li 铁拐李, Han Shan 寒山, and Shi De 拾得 were all predestined to go through. Liang Hao helped Lv Dongbin by letting him hide in his fingernail as a grain. After Lv Dongbin survived the disaster, he decided to repay Liang Hao by leaving him with his good wishes for a successful career, longevity, and many successful descendants.

The next day, Liang Hao invited his three friends over and dined and wined them on a boat. Towards the evening, two of the friends said that they heard that there was a spirit in the Pavilion of Looking at Immortals (望仙楼) and whoever spent a night there would come under its spell. They dared Liang Hao to spend the night there for a reward of a tael of silver. Liang Hao took up the challenge and stayed in the pavilion reading by a lamp. Lv Dongbin thought that this was an opportunity and mobilised a willow-tree spirit (柳树精 liushu jing) to carry a girl to Liang to be his future wife. Since the girl was taken from her bed and arrived naked, Liang Hao had to wrap her in his blue robe, hence the title of the play. Liang Hao sent the girl to spend the night with his mother and the following day the girl’s parents were informed of the event and happily married their daughter to Liang Hao.

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

How the daylily, whose Chinese name is ‘xuan 萱’, came to become a symbol for motherhood in Chinese culture is explained in the blog ‘Cultural Differences in the Symbolic Meaning of Lily’. The daylily can be combined with butterflies to create the pun rebus design ‘Xuan Die Tu 萱耋图’, meaning ‘May Mother live up to a ripe old age’. This potent feminine symbol can also be paired with longevity symbols in Chinese culture such as the so-called ‘longevity rock’, shoushi 寿石 in Chinese, and pine trees to form a variation on the same theme: Xuan Shou Tu 萱寿图, which conveys the most elegant birthday wishes to Mother.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Either the clockwise swastika 卐 or the counterclockwise sauwastika 卍 is used interchangeably in Chinese decorative arts as well as in some religious contexts. Sometimes, the two opposite versions can co-occur on the same occasion without making a difference in meaning. Swastika is a very old symbol in the cultures scattered over the Eurasian continent. In China, it can be traced back to the painted pottery created in the Neolithic Majiayao 马家窑 culture existing from 3300 to 2000 BCE in the upper Yellow River region encompassing present-day eastern Gansu 甘肃, eastern Qinghai 青海, and northern Sichuan 四川 provinces. In the Eastern Han (25CE – 220CE) period, the swastika was introduced to China with Buddhist iconography and became prominent. However, it was not until the Tang Empress Wu Zetian 武则天 (684–704) made her decree that its pronunciation be ‘wan 万’ that it was accepted as a fully-fledged Chinese character, sounding the same as the number 10,000 in Chinese. Roughly speaking, it means ‘the myriad auspicious things in the universe’.

In decorative arts, swastika is often used together with various versions of the character shou 寿, the auspicious Chinese symbol bat, and the longevity symbol peach fruit. In late imperial China, swastika is widely found as the ground pattern on fabrics and on architectural or furniture elements such as paved passage ways and lattice pattern on railings, window frames, and cabinet doors.

Related Pun Picture:

May you have inexhaustible good fortune and longevity 万福万寿

According to the oldest dictionary in China, Shuowen jiezi 说文解字 (Explanations of Simple Graphs and Analyses of Composite Graphs), the earliest version of the character for ‘crane’ is a composite graph consisting of a pictograph for a bird, the present-day character niao 鸟, at the right, with feet and a feathered tail, along with a sound element at the left indicating how the character should be pronounced at that time.

With the exception of the magical bird fenghuang (凤凰, phoenix), roughly translated into English as ‘phoenix’, the red-crowned white crane is the most auspicious of all birds in China and a widely revered creature in popular religion, mythology and among literati.

In the chapter entitled ‘Discourse on Forests’ 说林训 of The Huainanzi 淮南子 (The Discourses of the Huainan Masters), a book containing some debates held in the court of Prince of Huainan (179–122 BCE) before 139 BCE, the crane’s life is said to be ‘up to 1,000 years, during which it can fly freely to its heart’s content.’ As one of the most common symbols of longevity in China, the bird is often depicted in the company of other symbols of great age, such as the shou 寿 character, the peach 桃, the pine tree 松, the tortoise 龟, the lingzhi fungus 灵芝, garden rock 寿石, the emblem of the Eight Daoist Immortals 暗八仙, or the Longevity God of the South Pole 南极仙翁, to enhance their potency. The high-soaring crane often serves as the mount of immortals and fairies and is also supposed to lift those mortals who have just attained immortality up to heaven. Naturally, formal Daoists’ gowns bear flying cranes as a decorative motif and the combination of cranes and the Eight Trigrams known in Chinese as bagua 八卦 often adorn Daoist ceremonial utensils.

The crane’s qualities of sacredness and gentlemanliness acquired their ultimate recognition when, during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911), the most senior grade of imperial civil servants – the highest-flying, oldest, wisest, and most dutiful ‘sons’ of their imperial ‘father’, the emperor – wore a white crane rank badge or mandarin square in front of their chest.

Artists often confine the crane within a circle since the roundness indicates ‘perfection’, resulting in a frequently encountered ‘crane medallion’ design, known in Chinese as ‘tuanhe wen 团鹤纹’.

Lack of knowledge in a specific culture would lead to a slip of putting the boot on the wrong leg, as is the case of identifying the longevity icon crane, in the context of symbols of the similar kind such as peaches and the lingzhi fungi, as a ‘stylized pelican’, which very rarely features in Chinese pictorial tradition.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Related blog:

How do Chinese combine symbols in pictorial art to increase the potency of the longevity concept?

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.

The Chinese deeply respect the elderly and consider a long existence – ideally accompanied by health and happiness – to be one of the five most important blessings (wufu 五福) in a person’s life, which were believed by the ancients and recorded in the Book of Documents 书经 in the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 – 256 BCE) more than two millennia ago. The other four are fu 富 (wealth), kangning 康寧 (wellbeing and peace), yuhaode 攸好德 (love of virtue), and kaozhongming 考終命 (natural death). The character shou 寿 for ‘longevity’, therefore, often appears on gifts and domestic decoration as an artistic design.

The earliest form of the character shou 寿 for ‘longevity’ is found on bronze vessels, which combines two main elements: a meaning radical and a phonetic radical. On the top and right-hand side is a form that resembles an old man with long hair leaning on a walking stick. Beneath that is a phonetic element sounding somewhat like ‘chou (畴)’, which is a character by itself that means ‘ploughed fields with ridge’.

As one of the five blessings, the ideal of ‘longevity’ permeates the whole realm of Chinese artistic creation. One format favoured by artists is to present numerous versions of the shou character on one piece of artwork, usually up to one hundred. People believe the repetition of the presentation of the concept would greatly increase its efficacy. The readers are welcome to explore the related fascinating symbols and designs with the help of our comprehensive search functions.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Related motifs:

Recommended blog:

Why does peach symbolise longevity and immortality in traditional Chinese culture?

The Chinese character ‘tian 天’ from the phrase ‘tianzhu 天竹’ for ‘nandina’ is both a homophone and homograph of the character ‘tian 天’ for ‘heaven’. The character ‘xian 仙’ in the phrase ‘shuixian 水仙’ for ‘narcissus’, is both a homophone and homograph of the character ‘xian 仙’ for ‘immortal’ or ‘fairy’. The combination of the images of nandina and narcissus can be used to represent the concept of ‘tianxian 天仙’, i.e. ‘heavenly immortals or/and fairies’.

Garden Rocks, sometimes with characteristic holes in them, have a nickname ‘shoushi 寿石’, which means ‘longevity rock’ for being resistant to wear and tear and lasting in nature and thus are often used to convey the meaning of ‘shou 寿’ for ‘longevity’.

A composition comprising of these pictorial elements has traditionally been used by the Chinese to send good wishes to a birthday boy or a birthday girl.

Simply regarding these purposefully and beautifully arranged floral compositions as a botanical feast, as they are treated in some museum catalogues, would fall short of their creators’ thoughtful design.

Article written by Dr Yibin Ni

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How to Choose a Gift for a Mother Who Loves Chinese Art

The birthday party of the Queen Mother of the West

The character ‘yu 玉’ in ‘yulan hua 玉兰花’ for ‘magnolia’ is the same ‘yu 玉’ for ‘jade’. The word ‘tang 棠’ from ‘haitang hua 海棠花’ for ‘crab apple’ is homophonic with the word ‘tang 堂’ for ‘house’. The combination of the two characters ‘yutang 玉堂’ means ‘jade house’ with connotations of being grand and palatial.

The peony flower, known in Chinese as ‘mudan hua 牡丹花’, has a nickname of ‘fugui hua 富贵花’, literally, the ‘flower of wealth and prestige’.

Therefore, a composition of blooms of magnolia, crab apple, and peony can be used to convey the auspicious wish of ‘May your jade palatial home be honoured and full of riches!’

Related Pun Picture:

May your household be piled high with gold and jade 金玉满堂

The peach fruit usually symbolises longevity or immortality in Chinese pictorial art. The origin of this idea started from legends dating back to the third century. Read Dr Yibin Ni‘s research article for related literatures and legendary stories from ancient China.

As a symbol of longevity, the peach fruit is often paired with the other potent symbols with similar meaning, such as the crane, the lingzhi (灵芝 fungus), and the shou 寿 character for longevity’, and is also associated with legendary immortals such as the monkey or the Monkey King (Sun Wukong 孙悟空), the Old Man of the South Pole (南极仙翁), also known as the Star God of Longevity (寿星), and Dongfang Shuo (东方朔), whose prominent deeds include stealing divine peaches from the Queen Mother’s peach garden.

Related topics:

The Birthday Party of the Queen Mother of the West 西王母寿宴

Eight Daoist Immortals 八仙

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

This pun rebus picture consists of four essential pictorial elements: bird, deer, bee, and monkey. The word ‘que 雀’ for ‘small bird’ in Chinese puns on the word ‘jue 爵’ for ‘high official rank’ or ‘peerage’. The word ‘lu 鹿’ for ‘deer’ shares the same sound with ‘lu 禄’ for ‘emolument’ or ‘salary’. The word ‘feng 蜂’ for ‘bee’, is a pun on ‘feng 封’ for the verb ‘to be granted’ and the word ‘hou 猴’ for ‘monkey’ is a pun on ‘hou 侯’ for ‘marquis’, which represents high ranks in the government in general. Thus, the juxtaposition of the four elements is used to convey the auspicious message of ‘May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income’.

Curios bearing such motifs have been used as treasured gifts passing among friends and colleagues to lubricate the social machinery.

Related Pun Pictures:

May you get promoted 加官

May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently 马上封侯

The ancient Chinese would employ a picture of a monkey reaching for a bee hive to wish their boss an imminent promotion. The word for bees in Chinese is ‘feng 蜂’ and the word for monkeys is ‘hou 猴’. When ‘feng’ and ‘hou’ are put together, they can form the phrase 封侯 which means ‘be bestowed a rank of nobility’ in Chinese. Thus, such a rustic image can adorn bric-à-brac as gifts to please the receiver and lubricate human relationship.

Related Pun Pictures:

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently 马上封侯

Interesting Blog:

How do you tell a sun from a moon in porcelain painting

In Zhuangzi (庄子), an ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States period (476–221 BCE)  and one of the two foundational texts of Daoism, the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu 西王母) was mentioned as a deity who ‘obtained the Dao (the Way)’. According to the Scripture of Great Peace (Taiping jing 太平经), a valuable resource for researching early Daoist beliefs and the society at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD25 – AD220), the Queen Mother of the West was an immortal (xian 仙). In the Six Dynasties period (420 – 589), she was adopted into the pantheon of religious Daoism (Daojiao 道教) as the principal female deity in the Supreme Secret Essentials (Wushang miyao 无上秘要), a Daoist encyclopaedia completed in 577.

The scene of the celebration of the Queen Mother’s birthday typically consists of three components: first, a female dignitary seated before a screen, flanked by a couple of court ladies and entourage; a dancer gesticulating with her arms, often on a rug; an all-female orchestra playing various kinds of musical instruments.

Read more of Dr Yibin Ni’s research work on this topic.

The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival falls on the night of full moon in the eighth lunar month. Chang’e, the Moon Goddess, is usually associated with this family-union occasion, together with the festival food – the moon cake (月饼). A legend recorded in an ancient Chinese book, The Huainanzi (淮南子 The Discourses of the Huainan Masters), compiled around 139 BCE, says that a beautiful girl called Chang’e (嫦娥) has been living on the moon for thousands of years. Chang’e’s husband was the legendary archer, Hou Yi (or Houyi 后羿), and he was given the elixir of immortality by the Queen Mother of the West (西王母 Xiwangmu) for his merits. Out of boredom and curiosity, Chang’e tasted the elixir. As a result, she turned into an immortal. Her body became so light that she ascended to heaven, ending up in the nearest planet, the moon. On the moon, there was a huge osmanthus tree, a toad, and a hare grinding the tree bark with a pestle in a mortar to prepare some magic cure. The adorable hare became Chang’e’s loyal companion. Chang’e also gradually evolved into the role of the osmanthus sprig giver from the Moon Palace.

In one of the earliest story scenes of Chang’e’s extraordinary feat, she has a human body and a dragon’s rear end. The moon is marked by the toad in the middle. Both Chang’e and the moon are floating among vapour clouds and ball-like stars and planets. This stone carving was excavated from a Han-dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) tomb in the outskirts of Nanyang city, Henan province in 1964.

On a Tang-dynasty (618-907) bronze mirror in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Chang’e, her entourage, and specific environment attributes are fully displayed. Chang’e appears as a beautiful fairy in a silk gown with sashes flying around her body. The hare has his set of a pestle and a mortar beside him. On the right, there is the huge osmanthus tree, under which is the toad, symbolising the moon, the embodiment of the essence of the yin energy (阴精). The tortoise is a longevity symbol in traditional China because they were believed to be able to live for a thousand years by the ancients. It was added to the scene as the knob of the mirror, since scenes involving immortals are often used as longevity symbols and thus birthday presents for elders.

During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chang’e was still used to adorn daily utensils and display ornaments to imbue the environment with auspicious aura. The cute hare adds femininity to the design and therefore was popular in women’s inner chambers.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni

Related symbolic motif:

Plucking a Sprig of Osmanthus Blossom from the Moon Palace 蟾宫折桂

The fifth creature of the Chinese zodiac, the long dragon is one of the most complex and multilayered of all Chinese symbols. Its ferocious energy binds together all the phenomena of nature: bringing benevolent rain, but also typhoons; shaping the landscape, and causing earthquakes. One of the guardian creatures of the cardinal directions, the long dragon stands in the east, the source of the sun, spring rain and fertility.

Long dragons appear in several different forms in Chinese mythology – those with scales are called jiao long 蛟龙, those with wings ying long 应龙, those with horns are qiu long 虬龙, and small-sized ones are chi long 螭龙. Despite their ferocity, these mighty beasts are also fundamentally beneficent, the most auspicious of all creatures and embodiments of masculine vigour and the concept of yang 阳. Because of these associations, the dragon, particularly one with five claws, was the symbol par excellence of the Chinese emperor, the Son of Heaven, and is often found embroidered on imperial robes. It is also the embodiment of the land – quite literally at times, for the features of the landscape were seen by some to be the features of an enormous dragon. This dragon would sleep under the earth during the winter, then ascend to the skies on the second day of the second month, bringing the first spring thunder and rain. For masters of feng shui, underground currents are the veins of this great dragon, and therefore ought not to be disturbed by human builders.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Related motifs: 

Phoenix

Tiger

Pun Design: Persimmons + Apples + Quails

Punning Details

The Chinese character ‘shi 柿’ in ‘shi zi 柿子’ for ‘persimmon’ can pun on ‘shi 事’ for ‘things’. The repetition of ‘shi’ as ‘shi shi 事事’ means ‘everything’. The word ‘ping 苹’ in ‘ping guo 苹果’ for ‘apple’ can make a pun on ‘ping 平’ for ‘peace’. The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ puns on ‘an 安’, another Chinese word for ‘peace’.

 

画面要素: 柿子 + 苹果 + 鹌鹑

谐音详情: ‘柿子’ 中 ‘柿’ 与 ‘事’ 谐音, 叠字则为 ‘事事’, ‘苹果’ 中 ‘苹’ 谐音 ‘平’, ‘鹌鹑’ 中 ‘鹌’ 与 ‘安’ 谐音。

 

Related Pun Rebus:

May you enjoy peace and harmony 安和

Pun Design: Quails + seedheads of foxtail millet

Punning Details:

The word ‘sui 穗’ for ‘millet seedhead’ is a pun on ‘sui 岁’ for ‘year’; the repetition of ‘sui’ means ‘year in year out’. The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’.

 

画面要素: 鹌鹑 + 粟米穗

谐音详情: ‘粟米穗’ 中 ‘穗’谐音 ‘岁’; ‘鹌鹑’ 中 ‘鹌’ 的谐音 ‘安’。

 

Related Pun Rebuses:

May you be trouble-free and roll in wealth 平安多利

May you both live a peaceful life 双安

Pun Design: Apples + Quails + Lychee

Punning Details:

The Chinese character ‘ping 苹’ in ‘ping guo 苹果’ for ‘apple’ can make a pun on ‘ping 平’ for ‘peace’. The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ puns on ‘an 安’, another Chinese word for ‘peace’. The word ‘li 荔’ in ‘li zhi 荔枝’ for ‘lychee’ sounds the same as ‘li 利’ for ‘profit’. Thus, this seemingly random juxtaposition of lychee, quails, and apples was used by the prominent 20th-century Chinese painter Qi Baishi (齐白石, 1864-1957) to convey a good wish for the recipient of the painting to enjoy both wealth and peace.

 

画面要素: 苹果 + 鹌鹑 + 荔枝

谐音详情: ‘苹果’ 中 ‘苹’ 的谐音 ‘平’, ‘鹌鹑’ 中 ‘鹌’ 与 ‘安’ 谐音, ‘荔枝’ 中 ‘荔’ 与 ‘利’ 谐音。

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you have plenty of profit 多利

May you do well in exams and enjoy wealth and prestige 功名富贵

Grapes grow in clusters of up to 300 berries each and thus produce an enormous number of seeds. This property was regarded by the ancient Chinese as an apt allusion to their wish for a large number of offspring. That is why grapes are seen adorning various kinds of Chinese antiques, handcrafts, and bric-a-brac, often, together with squirrels, which are known for their amazing ability to multiply, and the two together form a make-belief scene of animal eating habit.

Pun Design: Long-tailed Pheasant + Quail

Punning Details:

The combination of the first and third words in ‘chang wei zhi 长尾雉’ for ‘long-tailed pheasant’ is ‘chang zhi’ and it puns on the phrase ‘chang zhi 长治’ for ‘long-term good order (in a country)’. The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’. Some images would even depict nine quails to make a pun on the number ‘nine (jiu 九)’ for ‘jiu 久’ meaning ‘for a long time’. Thus, these natural motifs form a pun rebus to convey the intended auspicious message to wish for a country to be in good order and a peaceful status for a long time.

Also named as ‘Jiu An Chang Zhi 久安长治

 

画面要素: 长尾雉 + 鹌鹑

谐音详情: ‘长尾雉’中首尾二字与‘长治’谐音; ‘鹌鹑’中‘鹌’与‘安’谐音。以画面祝国家得以长期治理,民生平安。

Pun Design: Quail + Long-tailed Pheasant

Punning Details:

The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’. The combination of the first and third words in ‘chang wei zhi 长尾雉’ for ‘long-tailed pheasant’ is ‘chang zhi’ and it puns on the phrase ‘chang zhi’ for ‘long-term good order (in a country)’. Thus, these natural motifs form a pun rebus to convey the intended auspicious message.

Some images will depict nine quails to make a pun on the number ‘nine (jiu 九)’ for ‘jiu 久’ meaning ‘for a long time’.

Also named as Chang Zhi Jiu An 长治久安.

 

画面要素: 鹌鹑 + 长尾雉

谐音详情: ‘鹌鹑’中‘鹌’与‘安’谐音; ‘长尾雉’中首尾二字与‘长治’谐音, 寓意祝长期国泰民安

Pun Design: nine + quail

Punning Details

The Chinese word ‘jiu 九’ for ‘nine’ puns on the word ‘jiu 久’ for ‘lasting’. The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’. Thus, the image of nine quails can be used to cue the auspicious message of ‘May peace bless you forever’.

Related Pun Pictures:

May the country enjoy peace and good order permanently 长治久安

The feng phoenix, or feng huang 凤凰, which is often portrayed to resemble a peacock or golden pheasant, is the second of China’s Four Sacred Creatures (the others being the long dragon 龙, the qilin 麒麟 and the tortoise). Except in its mythic status, this creature is not related to the fabulous fire-born bird of Mediterranean and Near Eastern mythology. However, the feng phoenix is linked with heat, since it is the guardian of the south, and therefore a symbol of the sun, summer warmth and harvest.

The Chinese phoenix is sometimes interpreted as a male (yang) animal, but when accompanying the (male) dragon it represents a wife, and pictures of a dragon and phoenix together symbolise marital bliss. As the imperial dragon was a symbol for the emperor, the phoenix was the particular emblem of the empress, and a woman on her wedding day might wear a dress adorned with the phoenix to show that she was ‘empress for the day’.

In Chinese literature, the body of the phoenix is sometimes said to represent the Five Good Qualities: virtue (the bird’s head); humanity (the breast); reliability (the stomach); duty (the wings); and proper ritual conduct (the back). Like the dragon, the phoenix has important imperial associations. It was said to appear only during the reign of good, just emperors; and, unsurprisingly, artists and poets commonly flattered their imperial masters by declaring that a phoenix had been spotted on their land. Confucius, on the other hand, in his day bemoaned the absence of the phoenix and other auspicious celestial signs.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Chrysanthemum in traditional Chinese culture has a symbolic meaning for long life. When it is presented with stone which then has an auspicious name of ‘long-life stone (寿石)’, the whole picture symbolises good wishes for longevity in life.

When the motif of chrysanthemum is used together with quail, the pronunciation of chrysanthemum in Chinese ‘ju (菊)’ serves as a pun for ‘ju (居, meaning living or residing). See more explanation in An Ju (安居).

Related blog:

Tao Yuanming’s Love for Chrysanthemum

Pun Design: Quails + Chrysanthemum

Punning Details:

The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’. The word ‘ju 菊’ in ‘ju hua 菊花’ for ‘chrysanthemum’ puns on the word ‘ju 居’ for ‘to live’. Thus, the composition forms a pictorial pun that conveys the auspicious message of ‘May you live in peace and leisure’.

 

画面要素:鹌鹑 + 菊花

谐音详情:‘鹌鹑’ 中 ‘鹌’ 与 ‘安’ 谐音, ‘菊花’ 中 ‘菊’ 与 ‘居’ 谐音

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you enjoy peace and happiness 安喜

May the country be in peace and order forever 久安长治

Osmanthus blossoms in autumn and is conventionally regarded as the flower of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Its sweet scent is discreet, distinctive and unforgettable, and has a legendary position in Chinese poetry and art. It is associated with the moon because ancient Chinese wanted to explain the temporal change of the shadow on its surface and it was recorded in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty that a Daoist disciple named Wu Gang (吴刚) did not obey his master’s order and, as a punishment, was sent to the moon to chop the huge osmanthus tree grown there. As the tree had self-healing ability, Wu Gang’s was a Sisyphean task. Also, via a third-century literary allusion of the Jin dynasty, ‘plucking a branch of osmanthus blossom (折桂)’ became a metaphor for ‘being a top contestant in examinations’.

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

Also called ‘ba bao’ (八宝), ‘ba rui xiang’ (八瑞相), or ‘ji xiang ba bao’(吉祥八宝).

There are eight emblems in traditional Tibetan Buddhism symbolising happiness and spiritual well-being: Dharma wheel, conch shell, parasol, lotus, treasure vase, goldfish, victory banner, and endless knot.

Pun design:

Spider + descending from the sky

Punning mechanism:

‘Zhi zhu (蜘蛛, spider)’ has a nickname ‘xi zi (蟢子)’ or ‘xi zhu (喜蛛)’ meaning the ‘lucky one’ or ‘lucky spider’.

Its first character ‘xi 喜(蟢)’ for ‘happiness (good luck)’ is then combined with the phrase ‘cong tian jiang (从天降)’, meaning ‘descending from the sky’.

The whole phrase (喜从天降) describing the spider’s action in the picture is to convey the meaning ‘pleasant surprise descending on you’.

 

画面要素:蜘蛛 + 从天降

谐音机制 : 取蜘蛛的别名‘喜蛛’谐音‘喜’; 某物自天而降,取‘从天降’

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May good fortune descend from heaven 喜从天降

Related blog:

Why do Chinese artists often paint spider in their works?

Lily flowers and butterflies form a pun rebus picture known as ‘Xuān Dié Tú 萱耋图’, meaning ‘May mother live up to a ripe old age’. ‘Xuan 萱’ in the picture title comes from ‘xuan cao 萱草’, the Chinese name for ‘lily’, and ‘dié 耋’, the Chinese character for ‘octogenarian’, is a pun on ‘dié 蝶’ for butterfly’, the image rendered together with lily flowers in the picture. It is obviously an apt theme for birthday present to mothers with a heartfelt wish.

Related blogs written by Dr Yibin Ni:

Cultural Differences in the Symbolic Meaning of Lily 萱草百合中西辨

The Birthday Party of the Queen Mother of the West 西王母祝寿

Xuan 萱’ comes from ‘xuan cao 萱草’, the Chinese name for ‘lily’. In traditional Chinese decorative arts, lily flowers symbolise motherhood and maternal bonds with children, and they figure prominently on articles created for mothers, expecting or being a birthday girl.

Related Pun Picture:

May mother live up to a ripe old age 萱耋

Related Motif & Symbol:

Happy Birthday, Mother! 萱寿

Pun Design:

Persimmon + Chicken/ rooster/ cockerel

Punning Details:

– ‘shi 柿’ in ‘shi zi 柿子 persimmon’ is a pun on ‘shi 市 business’

– ‘大鸡 da ji’ for ‘large cockerel’ makes a pun on ‘大吉 da ji’ for ‘tremendous good luck’

This image can be expressed as a good wish for someone who has just started a new business venture.

Guan 冠’ in the Chinese name ‘ji guan hua 鸡冠花’ for ‘cockscomb’ is a pun on ‘guan 官’, which means ‘high-ranking official’. The crest on the head of a rooster is also called ‘guan 冠’ in Chinese. Thus, the appearance of both the cockscomb and rooster in a picture represents the auspicious saying ‘guan shang jia guan 官上加官’, which is literally “an official plus an official” and is used to wish an official to get promotion after promotion.

As a variation, the popular auspicious good wish in the bureaucratic world can be expressed with a substitution of a grasshopper (guo guo’er 蝈蝈儿 in Beijing dialect) for the cockscomb plant. In Beijing dialect, the name of the grasshopper sounds similar to the word for ‘high official (guan’er 官儿)’. A further variation of the visual pun replaces the rooster with a jar. The jar, which is guan’er 罐儿 in Beijing dialect, puns on the word for ‘high official (guan’er 官儿)’.

This saying can be abbreviated as jia guan 加官’.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you do well in exams and enjoy wealth and prestige 功名富

May you enjoy imminent good fortune 大吉

Related motif:

Rooster 公鸡

Fu gui 富贵’ in ‘fu gui hua 富贵花’, literally, the ‘flower of wealth and prestige’,  which is a nickname in Chinese for ‘peony’, contributes to ‘wealth and privilege’ in the saying. ‘Ji 鸡’ is a pun on ‘qi 期’, which means ‘can be expected’.

The same design may be also referred to as ‘gong ming fu gui 功名富贵’.

 

Related motifs:

Rooster 公鸡

Peony 富贵花

Ji 鸡’ is a generic name for cockerel, hen, and chick, and sounds the same as ‘ji 吉’ for ‘good fortune’. Thus, a picture of many chickens is used to represent ‘abundant good fortune’.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you enjoy imminent good fortune 大吉

May everything fare fabulously in your family 室上大吉 

Related motif: Rooster 公鸡

The accumulation of family wealth in traditional China was lauded as jin yu man tang 金玉满堂 – a household is piled high with gold and jade. This saying was visually expressed with a design of goldfish in a pond; jin yu 金鱼 (goldfish) makes a pun on jin 金 (gold) and yu 玉 (jade), while the state of a pond (tang 塘) being filled with fish (man tang 满塘) sounds the same as mang tang 满堂 ‘a hall being filled with something.’

Other auspicious wishes:

May the whole universe prosper in eternal spring 六合同春

May you do well in exams and enjoy wealth and prestige 功名富贵

A large Longquan pottery rooster sculpted on a rock sends good fortune to the receiver’s or owner’s family because da ji 大 鸡 for ‘large rooster’ sounds the same as da ji 大 吉 for ‘great good fortune’ and shi shang 石上 for ‘on the rock’ puns on shi shang 室上 for ‘in your family’. Hence the rooster announces to the proud owner “May everything fare fabulously in your family!”

 

Related Pun Picture: May you enjoy imminent good fortune 大吉

Related motif: Rooster 公鸡

The Chinese name for rooster or chicken is ji 鸡, which is a pun on ji 吉 ‘good fortune’. ‘Da’ is the Chinese adjective for ‘big’ and ‘da ji‘ literally means ‘large rooster’ but puns on ‘great luck’.

Thus, these paintings convey the message ‘May you enjoy imminent good fortune’. It can be used on many social occasions where people wish the receiver to enjoy good fortune.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May everything fare fabulously in your family 室上大吉

May you be blessed by good luck in all you do 百吉

Related motif: Rooster 公鸡