Ancient Chinese Folklore holds a deep respect for nature. Natural things (organic and non-organic) were believed to possess an independent spirit. Rocks, trees, animals and even natural phenomena such as mist and rain were regarded as the souls of past ancestors who continued to care for their living descendants. This respect for nature takes form as cultural symbols within Chinese literature, ceremony, art and architecture. Originating from simple marks on earthen and stoneware for everyday life some evolved to form Chinese written characters. Examples of plants and animals and their symbolic meaning include:
– Pines inspire thought of longevity, while Bamboo of supple bending before life’s trouble
– Mulberry of calm filial piety (or a respect for parents and ancestors)
– Birds have a special place as they represent a free soul.
– Chrysanthemum of the charm of autumn and a life with ease.
– Cicada as an emblem for immortality and resurrection, as well as happiness and eternal youth.
– The wild plum of the character of austere winter. In China it is one of the few flowers that bloom in winter so it represents gracious and unwavering character.
While recent reforms over the past century have continued the evolution of these symbols, motifs and patterns, what remains constant is ‘counterbalance’; from the formless (wu) Chinese strive for the formful (yu).