Thursday, October 18, 2012

Symbolism in Chinese Jade Carving

I only mentioned plum blossom last time/year, here is a semi-comprehensive list of the meaning of each commonly seen figure (excluding religious ones) so you know what is the well wish behind the little pendant your friend gifted you. 

Butterfly - Normally means affection but a butterfly on a melon also means a long family line.
Tiger - Power, strength and reverend (can also be gifted to a "Tiger Mother/Wife" a joke)
Goose - A goose holding a ruyi would literally means, "Everything as I wish".
Mandarin Ducks - The lifelong couple (according to Chinese) means love and fidelity.
Parakeet - (Yinwu) Cunning, witty and with leadership skills. 
Fish - usually means surplus and extra but a fish metabolized into a dragon (too lazy to tell the story) also means great transformation.
Monkey - Cunning and intelligence. A monkey leaning on a horse means "soon to be promoted".

Bat - (Fu) Fortune - Five bats surrounding a door means five kinds of fortunes (longevity, affluence, health, peace and a pain-free, natural death) to the owner. 
Turtle/Tortoise - The animal with lifespan similar to that of human symbolize longevity.
Pixiu -  The imaginary animal(also the ninth son of the dragon) has a big appetite for gold,silver and jewel (it actually eats them) but it never goes to the restroom...The strange eating habit symbolizes the ability to hold on one's wealth. 
Cicada - Because of the complete metamorphosis the animal has to go through, it symbolizes complete transformation in general. Note that many funerary jade are carved like the shape of cicada somewhat resemble that of a tongue. (It was believed that stuffing your "openings" with jade would help you achieve afterlife). In a contemporary carving, it also means Zen as the world cicada and zen are both called "Chan" in Mandarin Chinese.  

Young Boy - The figure itself means purity but most of the time the actual meaning depends on what the boy is holding in his hands. In this case, he is holding two rolls of parchment (symbolizes knowledge).
Donuts Shaped - Very common material for jadeite jade (but a nephrite donuts is usually made of scraps material that aren't as good), it's name pin-an kou (literally peace/safety button).

Plum Blossom/Pine Tree/BambooThe Three Friends (or Noblemen) of Winter. These usually means perseverance against hardship. A magpie on a plum branch means overflown with joy. 
Peach Blossom - The flower itself means the beauty of young maiden...It can also means love luck.
Chinese Cabbage - It means "Hundred Wealth".
Peony - Wealth, affluence. For a long time I time I thought plum blossom was the National flower of China (because they kept yapping about in it the textbooks, how "the red color is from the blood of the soldiers who sacrificed their life...blah, blah, blah..."). But it turns out the De facto national flower is peony...Pftt.
Lotus - Being honest and upright (they mean the quality of not being corrupt), pure, as the flower comes out clean and pure while it grows put from the mud pond. The lotus pod signifies fertility.
Orchid - Elegance, nobleness.


  1. Good summary for non-Mandarin readers to familiarize themselves with Chinese Jade Carving. Maybe I can just add that some of the flower pendants could have been sewed onto garments or head dress in ancient times as a representation of nobility and status.

    1. All of these (except for the third one) are sew-on hat adornments actually, I am just too lazy to explain allover again since I have mentioned it in an earlier post.


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