play on words

When I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing, I found a motif of the bat (especially used within the sleeping chamber of the Emperor). I found this quite strange because recently there has grown a fear of fruit bats in Australia .

The beautifully painted door to the Bed Chamber
Detail: Bat Motif carrying various auspicious objects

Looking closer I found that the importance of some motifs and symbols in China originate from a Chinese play on words. There are many Chinese characters that phonetically sound the same as key aspirations or auspicious signs within Chinese belief.

Fuyi (or embracing wings) is the most common name for a Bat. The Chinese pronunciation for bat sounds like the word for happiness/good fortune – fu. Therefore when a bat appears in multiples, it signifies prosperity and good fortune. A design of five bats in particular stands for the Five Blessings; old age: wealth: love of virtue; and natural death.

Another example includes the Apple Blossom that denotes feminine beauty. The Chinese word for apple – ping sounds like the word for peace. Therefore giving apples is seen as giving peace; ‘Peace be with you.’ The Chinese character for gold-fish (jin yu) sounds like the word that means ‘abundance of gold.’ Note that the word yu also means jade. Therefore a bowl filled with goldfish (jin yu man tang) means ‘may gold and jade fill your house.

Beautiful and insightful thank you to my Interpreter and Guide Hui Lin.


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