When it comes to the ancient symbols of the western and European cultures, the symbols and meanings section of Mythologian has been the go-to place for many symbolism enthusiasts. Today, we are turning to the east and bringing you something a little different, something just as beautiful from the oriental world. Here is our extensive piece on the Chinese symbols and their meanings.
Table of Contents
Ai – Chinese Symbol for Love
The Chinese symbol for love, pronounced ‘Ai’, is a really fascinating symbol. It is often the design of choice for tattoo lovers who value it not just for its artistic beauty, but more so for what it denotes.
The traditional version of the symbol consists of three components. The first component that lies in the middle of the symbol is called ‘xin’, and it means ‘the heart’.
The second component located directly above the first one means ‘breathe into’, whereas the symbol that lies below it translates to ‘gracious motion’. Together, these symbols define love as something that deeply moves a person and instills in them a passionate yearning.
The most interesting thing about the Ai symbol is that adding particular strokes to the basic radical changes its meanings in different ways. That is, with slight modifications, the Ai symbol can be used to signify different ideas surrounding the concept of love, such as first love, true love, or love you from the bottom of my heart, etc.
Different variations of the Chinese symbol for love can also be used to express love between different people such as love between friends, love between a couple, or love between siblings, and so on.
Fu – Chinese Symbol for Luck
Fu is a highly renowned symbol not just in China, but also in other parts of the world. This is because it symbolizes good luck.
Fu (pronounced with the second tone/ denoted by an upward sloping tone mark) is made from two distinct radicals.
The one on the left represents ‘shi’, which refers to a gift from God whereas the radical on the right represents ‘fu’ (pronounced with the fourth tone/ denoted by a downward sloping tone mark), which means wealth and abundance.
When combined together, Fu denotes prosperity, blessings from God, and all good things in general.
It’s a norm in China to display this symbol on the front door, although, you might notice that it is sometimes hung or painted in an upside-down style.
This is mainly because the Chinese character for ‘upside down’ has a similar enunciation as the Chinese character for ‘to arrive.’ In other words, a vertically inverted Fu symbol means ‘good luck arrives.’
The Fu symbol has been used since ancient times, and emperors used to wear it on amulets. In present-day China, businessmen often include the word Fu in their corporate names to signify success and good fortune.
During the Chinese New Year celebrations, you will see the Fu symbol painted on walls and flags as well as pots, lanterns, wind chimes, and a variety of other decoration items. Given its positive connotations, it is the perfect way of welcoming the New Year.
The Legend Surrounding the Inverted Fu Symbol
Legend has it that during the times of Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, a family insulted his wife, Empress Ma. The emperor got so angry that he planned to kill the family and marked the character Fu on the door of their house.
The empress, on the other hand, didn’t want bloodshed. In an attempt to protect the accused family, she ordered that every family in the city paint the same character on their front doors too.
While everyone followed her orders, there was one uneducated family that posted the character upside down.
When the soldiers went out to act on the emperor’s orders the next day, they found that the character was painted on every house of the city. They came back and reported to the emperor, who got angry and ordered the soldiers to kill the family that had posted the character upside down.
Empress Ma, known for her intelligence and quick-wittedness, told the emperor that the family had done it intentionally, because they knew that he would visit them that day.
The emperor accepted the explanation given by his wife, and forgave the family. Ever since then, the Chinese paint or hang the symbol of Fu upside down to bring good luck, as well as to commemorate the empress.
Heping – Chinese Symbol for Peace
The Chinese symbol for peace comprises of two different radicals known as ‘he’ and ‘ping.’
‘He’ has connotations like ‘mild,’ ‘gentle,’ and ‘calm’ whereas ‘ping’ is the Chinese for ‘level out’ or ‘to make even.’ When used together, ‘heping’ symbolizes the peace and tranquility that is achieved by ‘leveling out’ things so that they are in harmony.
Lu – Chinese Symbol for Prosperity
Although Lu is commonly recognized as the Chinese symbol for prosperity, historically it used to have a completely different meaning.
Lu literally means the salary of a government official. In earlier times, the government officials enjoyed the highest social status in the society, only ranking below the Emperor himself.
Needless to say, they received a handsome salary that others could only dream of. Thus, the Chinese word for these officials’ salaries became closely associated with prosperity and wealth.
Shou – Chinese Symbol for Longevity
The Shou symbol was adopted from shouxing, the Chinese name for the Star God, Canopus, who is believed to determine the ages of all living beings after their birth. Legend has it that shouxing once increased the lifespan on a young boy from 19 to 91 years because the boy’s gentle demeanor pleased him immensely.
This is how the Shou symbol came to represent longevity.
The Shou symbol consists of the radical ‘feng’ that can be identified by the long vertical line cutting through three horizontal stokes of slightly varying lengths. Feng means ‘lush’ or ‘bountiful.’ The other component in the Shou symbol is the radical ‘cun.’
Cun is a traditional unit of length that was used in ancient China, although its use is still prevalent in certain villages in the country. Incorporating the cun radical in the symbol for longevity might seem out of context given that one cun is only roughly equal to 3 centimeters (1.3 inches).
However, since it is used alongside the feng radical, which means ‘plenty’, the combined image corresponds to something that is rather long and never-ending.
The Shou symbol is commonly used as a decorative symbol on birthday cards. You will also find it printed on various gift items, or simply made into an ornament on its own. If you want to wish someone a long and healthy life, presenting them with the Shou symbol is a great way to do so.
Shuangxi – Chinese Symbol for Double Happiness
Shuangxi is formed by joining together two different Chinese symbols called ‘shuang’ and ‘xi.’
The literal translation of shuang is ‘two’ whereas xi translates to ‘a happy event’ or happiness in general. You will often see this sign displayed prominently during wedding ceremonies or anniversary parties, as it symbolizes two families whose mutual relationship doubles the happiness for the members of both households.
De – Chinese Symbol for Virtue
The De symbol is made by combining the ‘chi’ radical with a group of other basic Chinese characters such as ‘yi,’ ‘xin,’ and ‘shi.’
Chi represents a step, while the other radicals ‘yi,’ ‘xin,’ and ‘shi’ denote one, heart, and perfection respectively. Put simply, the De symbol signifies that a certain person relies on their wisdom and intelligence when doing any particular task. In other words, their behavior shows high moral standards.
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