Animals’ Symbolism In Decoration, Decorative Arts, Chinese Beliefs, and Feng Shui.
In Chinese decorative arts, pictured animals are representations for various aspects of life.
Knowing the symbolic meaning of an animal will lead to understanding the hidden message of the pictured. Below a brief list:
(t: traditional Chinese; s: – simplified Chinese – pinyin)
Badger (獾 – huān) – great happiness
Bat (蝙蝠 – biānfú) – longevity, happiness, good luck (the Chinese word for bat, “蝠” (fú) is homophonous with the word for good fortune, “福” (fú))
bats, pair of – double good fortune
bats, five – Five Blessings (a long life, riches, health, love of virtue and a natural death)
Bear (熊 – xióng), panda (熊猫 – xióngmāo) – man
Bee (蜜蜂 – mì fēng) – industry, industrious
Birds (t:鳥; s:鸟 – niǎo) – associated with the sun (t: 金烏; s: 金乌; pinyin: jīn wū); served as family emblem in ancient China, associated with allegorical folk tales
Bixie (避邪 – bìxié) – mythological winged lion with two horns, that keeps evil at bay (see also Tianlu).
Butterfly (蝴蝶 – húdié) – long life, beauty and elegance
butterfly, pair of – love, specifically young love, happy social life for the young, undying bond between lovers, represents yang energy of yin – yang, embroidered on clothing it strengthens the energy of love
butterfly and cat – wish for long live up to old age
butterfly, on hand – live to happy old age
butterfly, sipping nectar from peony – lover tasting joys of passion
butterfly with plum blossoms – long life, beauty
Cat (t:貓; s:猫 – māo) – disperses evil spirits (due to eye sight, also at night)
Crab (螃蟹 – pángxiè) – advantage/ benefit in business, prosperity, social status
Cicada (t: 蟬; s: 蝉 – chán) – eternal youth and happiness, immortality, life after death
Cock (t: 公雞; s: 公鸡 – jī) – reliability, epitome of fidelity and punctuality, the rooster is also a symbol of advancement, the Chinese name for its crest is the same than that for official (guān)
cock, red – protecting ones house from fire
cock, white – protecting ones house from fire and chasing away demons
cock, five – reminding parents to educate their sons (and hopefully daughters as well)
Cock (Rooster) is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac,
Crane (t: 鶴: s: 鹤 – hè) – longevity (four colours: black, blue, white, yellow), next to the phoenix the second most important winged animal (note: spirits can ride on a crane)
crane, among clouds – wisdom, nobility
crane, black – longest longevity
crane, pair of – long marriage, ultimate longevity
crane, pine trees – determination, power, wealth
Cricket (蟋蟀 – xīshuài) – fighting spirit
Crow, three leged (t: 金烏; s: 金乌; pinyin: jīn wū) – it is often thought to inhabit and represent the sun, the sun is sometimes depicted by the three legged bird (crow) on a red disc. (see also: Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty)
Deer (鹿 – lù) – wealth, long life (as the animal has, if not hunted down)
Dog (狗 – gǒu) – auspicious animal, upcomming fortune, understanding human spirit, obeying the superior
poodle (especially black)- more fortune
Dog is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Dove (t: 鴿; s: 鸽 – gē) – fidelity, fecundity
Dragon (t: 龍; s: 龙 – lóng) – male vigour, fertility, ultimate abundance, prosperity, good fortune, also the symbol for the Emperor, divine mystical creature, symbol of the natural world, adaptability and transformation.
Pair of dragons – eternity, yin – yang
Dragon and phoenix – husband and wife, also symbol for Emperor and Empress, animal and bird kingdoms = entire natural world, Taoism
The (Azure) Dragon is one of the four spiritual creatures, it is guarding the East.
Five clawed dragons are a symbol of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, and imperial family, dragons with fewer claws can adorn hanging fabrics, decorative textiles etc.
The dragon is one of the Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty. The dragon is also one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, it is the only mystical animal in the Chinese zodiac.
Duck (t: 鴨: s: 鸭; pinyin: yā) – married bliss
duck in reed – wishing for positive examination results
Eagle (t: 鷹: s: 鹰; pinyin: yīng) – strength
eagle, on a rock in the sea – hero
Elephant (大象 – dàxiàng) – strength, astuteness
elephant, being ridden – happiness
Fenghuang (t: 鳳凰; s: 凤凰 – Fèng Huáng) – mythological Chinese birds, oftern translated as ‘Chinese phoenix’, also called the “August Rooster”, the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac, see phoenix and rooster
Fish (t: 魚; s: 鱼 – yú) – surplus (余, yú), abundance, wealth (the fish is one of the “Eight Buddhist symbols of good fortune”)
fish, pair of golden carp – love, domestic felicity, partnership, tenacity, fertility, renewal, abundance
eel – fertility, illusiveness
koi fish, red or black – success, wealth
Goose (t: 鵝; s:鹅; pinyin; é) – delivery of matrimonial messenges, married bliss, resourcefulness
Grasshopper (蚱蜢 – zhàměng) – nobility, wisdom
Heron (苍鹭 – cānglù) with lotus flowers – wishing for positive future, success in ones doing
Phoenix (t: 鳳凰, s: 凤凰; fènghuánɡ) – virtue, duty, correct behaviour, humanity, reliability (the Five Human Qualities), strength, resilience, good fortune, opportunity, luck, considered to be the most important of the winged animals, yin energy of yin – yang
Phoenix and Dragon – wife and husband, signifies wedded bliss, also symbol for Empress and Emperor, bird and animal kingdoms = entire natural world, Taoism
phoenix, pair of, placed together and facing each other – eternity, yin – yang
Phoenix, the Red Bird of the South, is one of the four spiritual creatures, it is guarding the South. The pheasant-phoenix (華蟲) is one of the Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty.
see also: Five Elements Chart
Qilin (麒麟 – qílín), mystical hooved Chinese chimerical creature, with a physical apperance of various animals like deer, horse, ox, dragon – guardian of home, protection, wisdom, good will (the qilin guards the gates of heaven)
At times Li Tie Guai of the Eight Immortals is riding the Qilin.
Quail (鶉, 鹑 – chún) – courage
Pig (t: 豬; s: 猪 – zhū) – tolerance, optimism
The pig is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Rabbit (兔 – tù) – representing hope
rabbit, jade/ moon – living on the moon, making the elixir of live and herbal medicine and accompanying the lunar deity Chang-Ngo (Chinese: 嫦娥; pinyin: Cháng’é), also known as Heng-E or Heng-O (姮娥; Héng’é), the goddess of the moon, who as well lives on the moon.
The rabbit is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Rat (鼠 – shǔ) – the rat is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Rooster (see: cock)
Sheep (羊 – yáng) – the male principle, Yang of yin – yang (one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac)
Shrimp (t: 蝦; s: 虾 – xiā) – long life
Snake (蛇 – shé) – woman, supernatural power, cunning; thesnake is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac
Tianlu (天禄 tiānlù) – mythological winged lion with one horn, they were deployed in pairs to guard a tomb, Tian Lu means “heavenly blessing”.
Tiger (虎 – hǔ) – courage, bravery, and strength;
the (white) tiger is one of the four spiritual creatures and it is guarding the West.
The tiger is one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.