Here is a nice article I came across on Chinese Symbols on antique-marks.com which is worth posting here. Thanks to them for compiling such a comprehensive list. The original can be found here under “Glossary of Chinese Symbols.”
Glossary of Chinese Symbols – and images found on antique Chinese furniture and other artifacts.
The Chinese Symbols list is not exhaustive but we will add to it as time goes by. The descriptions detailed are only intended to be relevant to how the word or term relates to decoration on Chinese furniture and other Chinese antiques.
Chinese Symbols Gods … The Stellar Triad
Fu is pictured as a retired scholar or official holding flowers or carrying a basket of flowers, frequently carrying a ruyi (wish granting wand) or a baby boy. He symbolizes good fortune.
Lu is emblematic of rank and the wealth achieved through rank, is richly dressed, wears an official’s green robe and cap with flaps. Lu sometimes holds a ceremonial tablet; deer (symbolic of emolument) are often pictured on his robes. He symbolizes continuing wealth enhancement in sharp contrast with Caishen –while a wealth god as well, Caishen favors wealth through lucky chances.
Shou represents longevity. He is pictured with a long white beard and mustache elongated earlobes, and a large protruding forehead with 3 wrinkles and a bald head. Shou carries the peach of immortality. Shou is often shown by a young boy (posterity). Shou frequently carries a staff and holds a bottle gourd which holds the beverage of immortality.
Xi is the God of joy and is sometimes pictured with the Stellar Triad.
Baxian (The Eight Immortals) when shown together represent longevity and the breadth of all Chinese people, rich or poor, old and young, scholars, soldiers, the sick and the well. They have a great variety of powers.
Chinese Symbols Gods … The Eight Immortals
Zhong Liquan (also known as Han Zhongli) is pictured as a man with a bare belly, coiled hair on both sides of his head, and a very long beard. His symbols are a fan of feathers or a peach of immortality. Capacities include raising the dead, hiding the sun and the moon.
Li Tieguai is pictured as a crippled beggar with protruding eyes, clutching a crutch. His symbols are a gourd containing magic herbs or an elixir made from the peaches of immortality from which a bat is escaping. Capabilities include sympathy with those who are deformed or crippled as well as those suffering chronic pain..
Lan Caihe is sexually undetermined. Sometimes a little boy, sometimes she is female or hermaphrodite. Her symbols are a basket of fruit or flowers. Her capacities are to make fun of the little annoyances and stupidities of the world.
Hexiangu is the only woman of the eight. Her symbols are a lotus stem, a long kitchen ladle, or a ruyi. Her capacities are to resolve domestic disputes, and generally help in household management.
Cao Guojiu is an aristocrat in elegant court clothes. His symbols are a fly whisk or a pair of clappers or castanets. His capacities include blessing performance.
Lu Dongbin is a man with a two-edged sword hanging from his back and a horse hair switch in his hand. His capacities include eliminating greed, lust and sorrow from people’s lives.
Zhang Guolao is a very old, celibate recluse. His symbol is a musical instrument consisting of a bamboo tube struck by two rods. His capacities include raising the dead.
Han Xiangzi is a good looking, vigorous youth. His symbol is a jade flute. His capacities include blessing fortune tellers and encouraging flowers to grow.
Caishen is a wealth God with a winged cap. He is usually pictured carrying a ruyi (wish granting wand). Caishen generates wealth through windfalls, gambling etc. He is more the God of wealth through luck and Lu is the God of wealth through official position.
Menshen is a gate god, a mythical war like ferocious creature whose images frequently were posted on external doors to repel evil spirits.
Zaojun is the stove god in charge of the household.
Gain a deeper appreciation for Chinese art and architecture by understanding its symbols. The Yin and Yang, dragon, phoenix, five elements, and other symbols are explained in their historical and cultural context. Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs also includes articles on Chinese beliefs, customs, arts and crafts, foods, agriculture and medicine.
Originally published in 1941, this is the standard reference book, with over 400 illustrations to help clarify and define this ancient, complex culture.
Chinese Animal symbols and their meanings …
A Bat is a Chinese symbol of Fu or good luck. Frequently five bats are used together to represent the five elements of Fu–longevity, wealth, health, living a virtuous life, and natural death in old age. The bat may be so stylized that it is mistaken for a butterfly.
Qilin is a mythical creature said to produce sons for childless couples. Frequently the qilin is being ridden by young boy carrying a lotus and a reed pipe.
A Fu Dog is a mythical creature who provided protection to house and family. A fu dog has the body of a dog and the head of lion.
A Rabbit is associated with longevity, and is usually pictured on its hind legs under the cassia tree mixing the elixir of immortality on the moon
A Monkey is a symbol of the immortality of the human spirit despite hardships and frailties. He is also the one who ‘gets away with everything.’
A Turtle (or tortoise) is also a sign of immortality, one who supports the whole earth. The outer shell represents the heaven, its flat belly a flat earth.
A Phoenix is beauty and a yin quality. A pair of phoenix means happiness and is associated with buried treasure. When pictured with a dragon, the two together represent the union of man and a woman.
The Dragon in Chinese Symbols is power, royalty and a yang symbol.
When pictured with a phoenix they represent the union of a man and woman. By itself, the dragon also represents protection.
An Elephant is wisdom and change.
A Carp epitomize the struggle to pass examinations and achieves affluence as a result. A single carp symbolizes patience and steadfastness.
Fish Scales equate with success.
A Gold Fish represent riches. When shown with a lotus, they means lavish riches- e.g. gold and jade together.
Pair of Fish denotes marital bliss.
Flying Geese also means marital bliss.
Magpies also signifies marital bliss.
Mandarin Ducks are another symbol of marital bliss.
Cranes represent longevity, wisdom, and the father-son relationship.
Deer Chinese symbols symbolize longevity or official wealth.
A Lion is a sign of power and protection.
A Butterfly represent longevity.
Cats also represent longevity.
A Horse is equated with success.
A Horse with a Monkey on its Back is a sign of official success.
Chinese Symbols representing Fruit, Flower and Vegetables and their meanings.
Bamboo is longevity.
A Pine is also longevity.
A Cypress is another symbol for longevity.
A Mushroom (or fungus) is yet another representation of longevity.
Peaches in its various forms of peach wood, peach branches, peach blossoms, peach tree all represent longevity.
A Plum Blossom is a symbol of longevity or winter.
A Chrysanthemum is a sign of longevity or endurance.
A Willow shows spring or gentleness.
A Pomegranate is a symbol of fertility.
A Peony represents success and wealth.
A Lotus stands for uprightness, endurance, or progeny.
Flowers show wealth.
A Single Peach is used for beauty or joy.
An Osmanthus Blossom is for something precious.
Other Chinese Symbols and meanings …
Wan is a symbol of immortality or very long life.
A Vase represents peace. The vase is often pictured with the elephants suggesting “wisdom and peace.”
Water Ripples are a symbol of wealth.
Clouds show wisdom and heavenly blessing.
Gold Pieces stand for wealth.
Coins represent wealth. Conjoined coins suggest double happiness.
A Gourd-Shaped Bottle is a sign of the capture of spirits.
A Fan stands for goodness.
A Flute demonstrates disappearing.
A Goose is a symbol of marital bliss.
A Hill is a symbol of backing.
Jade is a sign of purity.
A Square shows the earth or stability.
Taiji is a sign of the perfect balance of yin and yang.
A Triangle is a sign of instability.
Water is a sign of wealth or source of breath.
A Ruyi is a magic wand used to deliver what ever one wishes.
Eight Trigrams (ba gua) are a charm disliked by evil spirits.
Rocks are a symbol of longevity.
Red means happiness.
Green is for riches.
Blue is for things that are heavenly.
Yellow denotes royalty.
Black is a sign of solemnity.
Arrows, Swords, Axes, Mirrors and Scissors are all symbols to wand off evil, and are frequently found on external-facing doors.
A Scroll is a symbol of knowledge.
A Book is also a sign of knowledge.
A Paint Brush is yet another symbol of knowledge.
A Lantern is used to show happiness.
A Knotted Cord is a sign of longevity.
Fu is a important concept of good fortune composed of five elements:
- Love of virtue
- Natural death at an old age
Double Happiness is the symbol for both Fu (wealth) and Shou (longevity) used together.