With the influence by the combination of myth and religion, such as, Taoist and Buddhist concepts, historically the Chinese believe that certain animals are auspicious, and able to processing magical power. These creatures of the air, land and sea are regarded with deference, are decorated in the temple in believe that bring good fortune for the visitors. The auspicious meanings of each particular meaning-based homophony between the animal name and a wish or blessing.

          Meaning the pronunciation of the word could be similar to a certain auspicious word, for instance, the fish is also a visual metaphor for an endless flow of good things such as prosperity and descendants. The Chinese character for fish (鱼) pronounced as Yú, which shared the same sound with surplus (余). According to New Year’s Eve of the lunar calendar, Chinese people will gather up to consumed fish during the reunion dinner to signify endless surplus or a bountiful new year. Some family might leave some of the fish of the fish uneaten.

Figure 1: Fish painting on Chinese temple wall in Thailand: /source: ROYALTY-FREE STOCK PHOTO
Figure 2 : Fish gargoyle in Chinese Buddhist temple / source: German Vogel

          People might wonder why bat considered as the auspicious animal. In many cultures, bat has seen to be the animal of darkness, while Chinese regarded as the symbol of the happiness due to the homophonic reason. Bat in Chinese pronounced it as bian fu (蝙蝠) with fu being a homophone of the happiness or Fu (福) , thus it represent a good fortune. For instance, the symbolic of bat appear in various combinations, such as singly, in pairs or in fours because it pronounced as Ci Fu (赐福) meaning “bestowing happiness” , and also homophonic with Si Fu (四福), which refers to the collective four bliss : longevity, wealth, health, and virtue. Moreover, the Chinese are also fond of rearing goldfish in the hope of accumulating more wealth. Besides regular fish symbol, the mythical fish also contain story as a auspicious meaning. Ao Yu (鳌鱼) the dragon’s son, with a dragon’s head and the body of a fish, is derived from the Chinese historical text Records of Sanqin (三秦及) “A water fall cascade below the dragon gate” which stand between two mountains. Thousands carp swim upstream against the river flow, but few succeed in the challenge of leaping over the waterfall and the Dragon gate. But those carp successfully, legend has it that they will be transformed into powerful dragons. Thus, Ao Yu refers to a person who achieved success in the imperial examinations through hard work, diligence, and perseverance. Ao Yu also has a power to prevent the fire, it always installed over the beam bracket or the top of the door to prevent the fire.

Figure 3 : Ao Yu installed over the beam bracket / source: 臺南三山國王廟
Figure 4 : Ao Yu on the roof top of the Chinese shrine/ source: 苏州六悦博物馆

          As we know, one of the successful life for Chinese people is the opportunity to serve as the government servant in the Chinese court through imperial examinations. Crustaceans such as pawn and crab are common in traditional Chinese buildings. They are visual metaphor of the success in the Chinese imperial examinations. Their shells are pronounced colloquially as ke jia (科甲) , the word jia (甲) also means “first”. According to a twist word play homophony, the decorative motif of crustaceans takes on a positive connation and is associated with the wish to achieve the top score in the imperial examination.

Figure 5 : Two Crabs by Qi Baishi / Source: mutualart.com

          To sum up, homophony is the words share the same characters and pronunciations but have different meanings reflected the cultural identity that inspired the creation of Chinese auspicious animal motif in the Chinese architecture. However, for the cultural outsider might see that these animals are not referring to any meaning or different meaning. Therefore, to understand these Chinese homophonic symbols, knowledge of the language needs is required. There are many Chinese homophonic simples awaiting to be interpreted.


  • อชิรัชญ์ ไชยพจน์พานิช.(2562).ประวัติศิลปะจีนโดยสังเขป.บมจ.อมรินทร์พรื้นติ้งอินด์พับบลิชชิ่ง
  • Kang, GER-WEN.(2013).Decoration & Symbolism In Chinese Architecture : Understanding Singapore’s historic Chinese Building. Preservation if Sites and Monuments.

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