Chinese Animal Symbols Meanings

Animal Symbols Introduction

The animal symbol is one of the most fundamental and significant images in the art and decoration of every major culture on earth. From the days of our ancestors' prehistoric cave paintings to today's fine art prints, animal symbols have always graced the walls of man's interior environments. See the topics below to gain a greater understanding of the history and uses of Chinese animal symbols:

Introduction to Chinese Animal Symbols
Categories of Chinese Animal Symbols
Chinese Animal Symbols: Domestic Animal Symbols
     Farm Animal Symbols
     Dog and Cat Symbols  
Chinese Animal Symbols: Wild Animal Symbols
     Lion Symbolism
     Tiger Symbolism
     Bird Symbolism
     Tortoise Symbolism
Chinese Animal Symbols: Mythical Creatures
     Dragon Symbols
     Phoenix Symbols      
Using Chinese Animal Symbols for Success

For more information on animal symbolism, see these recommended books on Amazon:
Animal Life in Nature, Myth and Dreams
Animal Symbolism of the Chinese Zodiac
Nature and Its Symbols

Understanding Chinese Animal Symbols

Animal SymbolAnimal symbols contain a wealth of meaning in both social and religious contexts. Various animal forms have multiple psychological meanings and tap into the power of the unconscious realm.

Understanding Chinese animal symbolism not only helps one to understand a particular people and their artistic expression, but also connects individuals from any culture with the powerful forces of nature symbolized by various members of the animal kingdom.

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Categories of Chinese Animal Symbols

The rich and varied animal motifs of China can be divided into three major categories--domestic animals, wild animals and mythical beasts:

  • Domestic animals are indicative of conscious cooperation with nature through positive interrelationships between man and animals.

  • Wild animals depict untamed nature and man's own untamed desires.

  • Mythical beasts exist in the realm of the imagination and are especially compelling in their graphic representation of future potential and magical, unlimited resources.
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Chinese Animal Symbols: Domestic Animals

Domestic animals can be further divided into two major categories: farm animals and pets. Both types of domestic animals play extremely important roles in modern life. Even in today's highly industrialized societies, images of farmyards full of sheep, chicken, goats and pigs evoke a certain sense of nostalgia. Additionally, the muddy, playful antics of these creatures contain a welcome element of humor and lightheartedness.

Animal Symbol Farm Animal Symbolism

Many of the symbolic associations that the Chinese have maintained for domestic farm animals contain universal elements. In China, sheep and their lambs represent both filial piety and peace. Likewise, in Christian iconography, images of shepherds and flocks are synonymous with safety and security. The horse is also one of the twelve astrological signs in Chinese astrology. Learn more about Chinese astrological symbols.

Using Farm Animal Symbolism

Images of farm animals can be extremely useful in the home in areas where a joyful sanctuary is desirable. The bedrooms of young children and playrooms are good examples of possible decorative applications for a variety of images of domestic farm animals.

Dog and Cat Symbolism

Animal SymbolThe second type of domestic animal, the pet, plays an undeniably important role in the psyche of mankind. Dogs and cats have warmed themselves at our hearths for millennia.  Loyalty and service are unanimously recognized as the dog's outstanding virtues. The lure of the companionship of a dog, "man's best friend," crosses all cultural boundaries.

The cat, also a favorite pet worldwide, is associated more closely with the traditional feminine role. Cats in China often lived indoors in order to help keep the house free of rats and mice. Independent but affectionate, the nocturnal cat is also connected to the more mysterious, hidden forces of nature.

Using Dog and Cat Symbolism

Animal SymbolThe comfort and pleasure of such pets make them fitting images for family rooms, game rooms and other areas used for relaxed, congenial activities and casual entertainment. These images serve as symbolic reminders of the importance of friendship and socializing, especially for those who want to give more attention to this area of their life. Images of cats and dogs playing together can also help to increase harmony in homes where very different personalities often co-exist!

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Chinese Animal Symbols: Wild Animals

The thrill of freedom embodied in innumerable depictions of wild animals is undeniable. Hunters, scientists, photographers and various wildlife enthusiasts attest to the primeval connection to nature that comes from association with wild animals.

By keeping what we admire in the untamed nature of wild animals in the forefront of our mind through strategically placed artwork, their images can serve as sources of strength, flexibility and courage. Lions, tigers, birds and tortoises are among the most significant animals depicted in traditional Chinese art.

Animal Symbol Lion Symbolism

Although China is not an indigenous home for lions, the lion is visible everywhere. Some art historians believe that the image may have arrived in China during the time of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Since lions have never been a real danger in China, their symbolic function has emphasized their protective powers.

Using Lion Symbols

Lion statues are common guardians of temples, villages and even private homes. The lion's fearlessness is legendary. Lion images can be suitable and effective in artwork intended for entranceways and as protectors of the fame and reputation of the individual or family.

Tiger Symbolism

Animal SymbolThe tiger is also featured prominently in Chinese mythology and ranks second behind the lion as a badge of military rank. Tiger claws and whiskers are talismans against fear and ill-luck and tiger images have been traditionally painted on interior walls to ward off demons. The strength of the tiger combined with feline stealth make this animal a fearsome enemy but a tremendous ally.

Western images likewise emphasize the concealed might of this ferociously energetic animal. After all, don't we all recognize the appeal of having a "tiger in your tank"? Learn more about Chinese astrological symbols.

Using Tiger Symbols

Tiger images can spur us on to action at critical junctures in our lives, giving us the audacity to go forward with new ventures in our personal and professional lives. Depending on the personality and goals of the individual, tiger images can be used successfully in private offices or in areas where household administration tasks and finances are handled.

Chinese Symbols: Birds

Animal SymbolismThe Chinese are highly fond of birds, and the range of climate in China is so extensive that practically every family of birds is represented. For this reason, the symbolic importance of birds is also wide-ranging. If images of domestic animals are too quaint and pictures of carnivorous wild animals are too extreme for a particular room or space, an illustration or painting of birds may well yield the desired symbolic significance.

The following are some recommended bird symbols:

  • The crane is well known as the bird of happiness and longevity.
  • The goose is supposed to mate for life and both geese and ducks serve as symbols of fidelity and conjugal bliss.
  • The peacock symbolizes dignity, beauty and official rank.
  • The dove and pigeon are revered for their devotion to their young.
  • The swallow is a general bird of good omen and fortune.

Learn about Celtic bird symbolism.

Using Bird Symbols

Birds of various types can gently remind us to channel our energy in positive ways. Images of birds can be suitable for many areas in the home, including children's rooms, master bedrooms, dining areas, family rooms and living rooms.

Tortoise Symbolism

Animal SymbolismAmong amphibians, the tortoise is clearly separated from the poisonous snake and the fearsome lizard. Supernaturally endowed with amazing powers, tortoises are emblematic of steadfast effort and eventual, inevitable success. Their shells were one of the earliest divination tools and the tortoise shell is generally recognized as the original source of the bagua utilized today as a fundamental Feng Shui tool.

Learn more about Five Element Feng Shui.

Using Tortoise Symbols

Depictions of tortoises can be used where images of balanced, unyielding exertion are beneficial. Libraries and areas where tasks such as research, writing, and long-term projects or investments are pursued can benefit from the persistence and solid strength of the tortoise.

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Chinese Animal Symbols: Mythical Creatures

The mythical beasts of China add an exciting third dimension to animal symbolism. Along with the comfort and material wealth of domestic animals and the vibrant energies of wild animals, the mythical beasts give access to the boundless realms of power inherent in the imagination. The dragon and phoenix are undoubtedly the most prominent and symbolically useful mythical beasts.

Dragon SymbolismChinese Symbols: The Dragon

More than any other image, the dragon is associated with the Orient. A symbol of the emperor himself, the dragon was master of all of the elements of nature. The sinuous dragon can take many forms and can be victorious in any circumstance. The dragon is often used in corporate logos and can be either male or female.

Using Dragon Symbols

A pregnant dragon is particularly auspicious as a symbol of future growth and expansion. The dragon is most useful in connection with fame, reputation and career. When used in the fame area of a home or in connection with a home office, an impressive representation of a dragon can be of tremendous positive benefit. Read more about dragon meaning and symbolism. Learn more about Chinese astrological symbols.

Chinese Symbols: The Phoenix

Animal SymbolThe phoenix, the second outstanding mythical beast, was traditionally associated with the Chinese empress, but was available for use by all women. The phoenix, an enormous winged bird, dwells immortally in the highest regions of heaven. The phoenix comes to earth to presage great events for mortals.

Using Phoenix Symbolism

The phoenix can be used as a symbol of one's greatest aspirations-the birth of a child, the accomplishment of a formidable task, the building of a lasting monument, and so forth. The phoenix can be depicted in areas of the home where the impetus to create or accumulate the greatest treasures in life occur: social spaces, the master bedroom, music rooms, studios, libraries and home offices would all be appropriate locations for this amazing icon. Read more about phoenix symbolism.

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Using Chinese Animal Symbols for Success

Animal SymbolismFrom the humble tortoise and the common swallow to the spirited tiger and the majestic dragon, the fantastic pantheon of both real and imaginary Chinese animals yields a treasure trove of symbolic images available for the creative interior designer.

Fortunately, images of animals are abundantly available today in an almost infinite number of styles. Finding one that fits with your décor and tastes should prove to be an enjoyable and rewarding task. Most importantly, whatever impetus needed in a particular situation in your life, somewhere there is an applicable symbol for success in animal form! 

Learn About Chinese Symbolism and Feng Shui

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Ready to ZOOM AHEAD in 2010?  2009 Left a lot of people in the dust. Don't be one of them this year.  Put the power of feng shui to work for you with the Year of the Tiger Success Pack -- it has all the feng shui tools, tips, and secrets revealed to show you how to put feng shui to work for you this year so you can you leap ahead this year in career, love, money, and prestige!

More Resources for Chinese Astrology

Learn more in our article about Chinese astrolgy and Chinese signs of the zodiac. For more information on Chinese astrology, see these recommended books on Amazon:
Chinese Astrology: Exploring The Eastern Zodiac
Animal Symbolism of the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese Astrology Bible: The Definitive Guide to Using the Chinese Zodiac
The Year of the Tiger: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac

More Resources for Chinese Symbolism and the Five Elements

For more information about the Chinese five elements, try the following Amazon books:
Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life
Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements
Power of the Five Elements: The Chinese Medicine Path to Healthy Aging and Stress Resistance
Fusion of the Five Elements: Meditations for Transforming Negative Emotions

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