Symbols of China – Animal Totems : China is a country with strong and deep traditions that are manifested in all spheres of life of this people. It was China that gave us the symbols of the animals of the Eastern calendar, which became talismans, it was from its ancient sages that we received the knowledge of Feng Shui and I Ching.
Chinese traditional culture and art also have deep meanings associated with symbols and archetypes, including the animal kingdom. Consider examples of animals, birds, and insects that have clear symbolic characteristics in the art and culture of the Celestial Empire.
Main Beneficent Creatures of Chinese Mythology and Their Meaning
Traditionally, all living beings feeding the culture and art of the country with their images are divided into two main groups – ordinary good beings and harmful beings.
Good creatures represent five groups, symbolically holding all five directions of the Feng Shui system:
- animals with scales – and the Dragon is considered the head of this group by right of magnitude and strength. For this group of beings, the eastern direction of movement of the energies of the earthly space is fixed, the element is the Tree;
- animals covered with fur, skin – according to the Chinese, the “face” of this group of creatures is – the Unicorn. The energies of the group are associated with the western direction, its related element is Metal;
- birds are carriers of feathers, their “avatar” is also a mythical creature – Phoenix, direction – south, element – Fire;
- creatures who are lucky to have a shell – the leader of this group is the Turtle, he owns the northern direction, the element is Water;
- naked creatures – the face of this group is Man. The group is located in the center of the general structure, the element that corresponds to it is the Earth.
Let’s consider their symbolism and meaning in more detail.
Dragons are a very common image and symbol in Chinese culture. Compared to Europeans, it looks more like a snake. It is an animal of the Chinese calendar. Its beneficial effect on people and the earth can be depicted as a Chinese dragon flying in the clouds, commanding a thunderstorm.
He owns water and rain, is usually good-natured, although he is the strongest and most powerful creature living on earth. Dragon – symbolizes the Emperor, the highest hierarch among people.
Phoenix – vaguely similar to a bird, while he has no direct connection with the qualities of rebirth and immortality, as in the Western counterpart. Phoenix is associated with imperial rule, with the qualities of justice, loyalty. The image of a phoenix, accompanied by small birds, on a tree called the “Chinese umbrella” is a peaceful existence and a good “summer” rule.
If, in addition to the dragon, there is also a phoenix in the picture, then this is a pair of Emperor and Empress.
The turtle is an important symbol of Chinese mythology. The picture, which depicts a round disc and a turtle, symbolizes confidence in a long life. And her sculptural figures are used as memorial plaques, where engraved tablets with the listed achievements of the deceased person stick out.
The Luo Shu turtle, or rather its shell, includes knowledge about the eight trigrams and the magic square, supposedly over its long life, it has accumulated knowledge about the world, its laws, and principles. Turtles have been used for fortune telling in a variety of techniques.
The turtle also has a personification, this is the giant turtle Ao, who took part in the creation of the world. The turtle is a positive character in Chinese myth, it stabilizes everything that it touches, therefore its presence in the story or image gives a sense of semantic rootedness and solid support. She is credited with the ability to withstand fire and is practically used in anti-fire magic – they put turtle figures on the corners of the roofs.
As well as a symbol of deep wisdom and knowledge, Ao helps in passing exams, therefore, talismans with her image are not uncommon.
The Chinese unicorn is not that beautiful European image that looks like a white horse with a horn. Although in China it is considered a type of horse, it has a muzzle similar to a dragon and has two horns. Despite its scary appearance, this is a mythological animal with a peaceful and loving character.
His gait is so soft and light that he can walk on water. It is the best omen as it is believed that the tsilin appeared during the reign of the Yellow Emperor and the birth of Confucius.
Wishes with him are favorable and full of positive, if images of a unicorn are presented to young men, these are the wishes of many sons for him.
Harmful Creatures of Chinese Mythology
They can be called antitheses of good animals, they also represent five groups: snakes; centipedes, millipedes; scorpions and spiders; lizards; toads.
The snake is one of the five harmful creatures, at the same time it belongs to astrological symbols. This is the YIN principle, flexibility, and fertility. The qualities of a snake that are enshrined in Chinese traditions are wisdom, but cunning, and betrayal. The snake’s properties to grow, shedding old skin, and acquiring new ones, make it also a symbol of transformation.
Some ancient deities of China are depicted with a serpentine lower half of the body, which describes their nature in a special way.
There is a legend about the seduction of a monk by a white snake that turned into a woman, and the birth of their son, a great scientist.
Snakeskin is considered a talisman of happiness. Meat, liver, and snake venom are used in folk medicine.
Centipede – as one of the harmful animals is used in potions that act magically and powerfully. The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in mid-summer symbolically gives the people the opportunity to get the centipedes out of their homes, to cleanse themselves of them.
Spider – although it belongs (paired with a scorpion) to harmful animals, at the same time is recognized as a happy creature. After all, he with his web is high, hangs over everyone, and is perceived as good luck descending to a person from above, from heaven.
Lizard, Gecko is one of the negative creatures in the Chinese tradition. Since it is found in houses and is an insect catcher, it is called the “wall tiger”, recognizing its hunting abilities.
The gecko was used in magic and folk medicine to address issues of adultery (identify, suppress the “campaigns to the left”).
Toad (frog) is one of the harmful creatures. But as often happens in China, there are contradictions in the symbolism of toads. For example, a toad with a croak resembles the sounds of a Chinese child, so it can be given as a gift from children.
She is also associated with monetary energy, she is a companion of the god of wealth. Therefore, this is a well-known symbol of coins, money – it seems that toads and wealth have a close connection. Banks of money in the form of porcelain toads are placed at Chinese temples for offerings.
If you are presented with a toad, this is a simple and specific wish for wealth and financial well-being.
Animals – Representatives of the Chinese Zodiac and Their Cultural Symbolism
Rat – opens the cycle of 12 zodiac animals, which indicates its intelligence and good reaction. Also, rats personify money, curmudgeon people, selfish actions.
It should be borne in mind that the rat and the squirrel are considered related in Chinese and are denoted by the same hieroglyphs. It’s just that a squirrel is a rat on a tree, with the same qualities as an earthly one.
If you see an image of a rat or a squirrel with hanging plants, for example, sitting on a vine tree, then this is a wish for the extension and strengthening of the genus.
Dog – she is endowed with the quality of loyalty and devotion, the ability to drive away dark forces, drive out demons. The southern Chinese call “yellow dogs” nerds and cramps. Dogs of the Pekingese breed were considered miniatures of Buddhist lions and were widely bred as if they bring peace and harmony.
Sign: a dog that approaches, wagging its tail is a good sign that wealth is on its way.
The rooster, a beloved and renowned creature in China, works hard to destroy insect pests. The character of the totem is described as follows: cruel, wise, brave, benevolent, and loyal.
Figures of red cockerels were installed on the roofs of houses, they were supposed to bring favorable energies and happiness, to ward off fires and demons from the house. The crowing cockerel is a positive image that symbolizes achievement. Cockscomb – a wish for a person to be appointed to the post of an official, which was a dream in the old days.
Chicken in China is an analog of “tit in hand” of sayings, as well as a slang term for women of “light behavior”.
Pig – the Chinese eat its meat with great pleasure and desire.
The image of a pig is used in Chinese magic to divert the eyes of evil spirits when a newborn baby is dressed in a pig mask to protect him, and evil creatures leave him alone.
The Hare or Rabbit is symbolically associated with the Moon, supposedly its gray spot resembles a hare in shape. Therefore, fertility and easy childbirth are qualities bestowed by the hare totem.
And according to legend, the moon goddess Chan-e is in the company of the moon hare, who prepares the elixir of immortality in his mortar for her. Therefore, it is logical that the hare is associated with the qualities of longevity.
The symbol of the Chinese Moon Festival (held on the full moon in the eighth month) is a hare-headed man surrounded by six boys.
The horse is one of the animals of the Eastern Calendar, and if you use the ancient wisdom of the book I Ching, then the horse is the YIN symbol, while the dragon is YANG.
This image may indicate a desire for speed. If she is carrying a load, loaded with something heavy, or a monkey is sitting on it, then the impetuosity concerns getting a high post, and very, very quickly.
The monkey is the personification of insolence and disrespect, but with it comes the fun and becomes more laughter.
The most famous mythological character is the Monkey King. The image of a monkey with peach is a symbol of longevity because according to legends, the monkey stole these fruits from the garden of the Queen of the West, endowed with the gift of immortality.
Bull (ox, buffalo) – associated with spring, plowing, fertility, harvest. Bulls often symbolize the power of cutting through the land, including the power of rivers and rushing water.
The image of a boy riding a buffalo is a symbol of modesty of origin, which does not prevent a person from achieving a higher social status, because Hongwu, the founder of the imperial Ming dynasty, was neither rich nor famous.
The ram (goat) is the YAN principle, a solar male symbol, and three rams together is a trigram consisting of three Yang lines.
At the same time, the paradoxical Chinese also recognize humility and contentment for this animal. That is, apparently, it is necessary to separate the power of the horns from the more passive body, the goat from the sheep.
Sheep – a desire to respect your parents, take care of them, be obedient and obedient to the older generation.
5 legendary goats – the symbol of the city of Guangzhou. Allegedly, once in antiquity, they saved the people from hunger – in their teeth are depicted ears brought by these magical animals.
Tiger – according to the Chinese, this is the main one among wild animals. Its pivotal quality is courage, which is why it is widely used as a military emblem. But more appreciated is its protective function and the fact that it can keep demons. Interestingly, tigers were used in the First Opium War to deter the British, who were called “foreign devils.”
Tiger bones are used in folk medicine as a cure for arthritis because no one has ever seen tigers limp.
There is a popular belief that when a tiger dies, it can turn into orange amber.
The White Tiger of the West is one of the four parts of the lunar month.