Every culture has its own symbols for wealth and ushering in abundance. The Chinese are no different. Our symbols of wealth are deeply rooted in our history–and for a large part of it–we were farmers and fisherman. Nothing wrong with that, I say. Whatever can feed your belly, give you the means to provide shelter and allow you to nourish your offspring; is not only a symbol of wealth, but a wealth source in itself.
But as time changed, so did our source of wealth. The ‘iron rice bowl’ vanished and with that, fishing and farming ceased to be the sole revenue generator. These powerful symbols, however, continued to resonate in the collective consciousness of our people. We Chinese continue to use these symbols in our shops, businesses and in our homes to remind us of the abundance that we seek.
China is a big country and there are, of course, many different symbols. As an overseas Chinese living in Southeast Asia, I will share the most common ones that one sights in the sunny island of Singapore.
1. The Frog
What an ugly creature, you might think. So if you believe the modern fairy tale The Princess and The Frog, you will think that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you can land your prince. Not so, I say.
Why do the Chinese associate this amphibian with abundance? As I mentioned, we were largely an agricultural community–so for us, frogs, which are strongly associated with the element of water, came to symbolise abundance. If there is no water, there is no life.
In some legends, it is said that the frog can produce gold and silver from its mouth.
So perhaps, it’s not such a bad idea to kiss one, after all…
2. The Pineapple
Of all the fruits in the world, why the pineapple?
The Chinese are very fond of homophones. The pronunciation ong lai sounds like, “Luck has arrived.” In Singapore, it is commonplace for people to roll pineapples into a new property to usher in good luck. Some even place one behind the cash register. Some of these pineapples are simple while others are ornate and cost a fortune.
On a more general note, fruits are gifts of sweetness and abundance from Nature, therefore symbolising fruition, prosperity, and generosity. Even in modern times, Asian families offer gifts of fruit for celebrations.
May you have a fruitful year ahead!
3. Money Tree
Taking care of another living being, including a plant, can help us to cultivate compassion. We watch them grow and flourish as we care for them. Compared to other plants, the money plant is also an easy plant to nurture for it grows well indoors and can tolerate lower light environments.
Taking care of a plant can also teach us a lot about the cycle of life. Some shoots will grow tall quickly; while others will bloom late but surely. At the end of the day, it does not really matter, for everything in Nature blooms in its own time, in its own season, and in its own way.
Many people employ these techniques for fengshui purposes to attract Lady Luck. Do I believe in it? I dare not say that I do and I dare not say that I don’t. There is no need to upset Lady Luck.
Speaking of which, I have a story to share.
Sometime ago, I gave my boss, who is not Chinese, the above mentioned three gifts for Chinese New Year. While she appreciated the gesture, I later overheard her say to a taxi driver that in her culture, people don’t believe in luck.
I mused upon her comment, utterly perplexed. A few weeks later, I finally plucked up the courage to ask her what she meant.
“If you don’t believe in luck,” I started, “then what do you believe in?”
“Faith,” she answered.
I, the man of many words and jokes, was rendered speechless.
Allow me to continue with my story…
Sometime in March, a few weeks after Chinese New Year, I pitched an idea to my boss that I really needed her to accept. I had actually given her those gifts in an attempt to bring myself some luck–as I knew that she would say No.
Well, even after coaxing Lady Luck, in the end, my boss said No anyway. Joke is on me. It’s okay, I don’t mind.
But last week, after months of coaxing my boss (and not Lady Luck) I finally got a Maybe.
One thing I can say for sure is that it wasn’t the frog, the pineapple or the money plant. In fact, they brought me the very opposite of good luck. One of the founding partners heard about it in the grapevine and even got cross at me for buying such culturally inappropriate and thoughtless gifts.
Having grown up as an ethnic Chinese in Singapore–a Chinese majority country–I had mistakenly believed that these common symbols are universal to all Singaporeans, but they are not. I felt foolish for imposing my values and belief system on someone from a different cultural background. I’m thankful my boss is well-travelled and open-minded and didn’t think much of it–but the founding partner was furious.
Okay, so I’d made a mistake in my choice of gift. The gift was a reflection of me and not the person whom I was giving it to. If I had spent some time doing some research and thinking it through, I wouldn’t have made such a careless decision.
The founding partner is a hot-tempered guy–not too different to myself–if I may say so myself. After giving him some time to calm down, I decided to coax the answer out of him instead. He eventually told me that white roses are her favourite.
Aiyah! If only I had known…
The same Universal energy that created the Money Plant also created the Rose so why does it matter which one I buy? The symbols are just representations. The only meaning they have are the ones we ascribe to them.
Oh, and by the way, he also told me that my boss is terrified of frogs…
Joke is, indeed, on me. I hope, at the very least, Lady Luck had a good laugh…
4 thoughts on “The Top 3 Symbols of Wealth in Chinese Culture”
Thanks a lot for explaining these Chinese symbols of wealth. Jung had the idea that all symbols can be traced back more less to four basic symbols he called archetypes. It is the polarity male vs female (animus vs anima), the shadow (the negative) and higher self. His close friend Richard Wilhelm studied the structure of symbols of I Ging. In conversation with him he got the idea that these archetypes are the basis of the symbol systems in all cultures.
Anyway we enjoy huge money trees in our conservatory and have some frogs in our garden that should make us quite wealthy. At least we are happy although we have no pineapples 😉
Thanks for sharing
The Fab Four of Cley
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂