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Chinese Patterns — Ultimate Introduction to Origin, History, Meaning, Culture, and Utilization

Pursuing beauty and good luck has been an essential part of people's lives, from neolithic tribes to modern society. 


Chinese patterns embody traditional culture and aesthetics in daily utensils, ritual wares, clothes, and jewelry. 


Historically, patterns and colors were quite strict, as some of them would exclusively be used by certain groups based on social status, occupation, gender, age, etc. 


Therefore, every Chinese pattern has a unique origin, story, and meaning. 


Today, however, with restrictions lifted away, popular patterns inherited their traditional meanings as brilliant representatives of cultural legacy and beautiful wishes for auspicious lives.

All Photos on This Page Are From Dongmaiying Unless Noted

Jade Article of Liangzhu Culture (around 3300 BC — 2000 BC) with Decorative Patterns

Jade Article of Liangzhu Culture (around 3300 BC — 2000 BC) with Decorative Patterns — Zhejiang Museum

12 Imperial Patterns on Emperors' Robes


Originating in ancient history during the reign of King Shun, documented and formed in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), 12 patterns were used for emperors' imperial robes. 

The colors and positions of those patterns changed slightly in different dynasties; however, the content and essence had been well applied and inherited in millennium years.

Most importantly, these patterns were rigorous: Emperors of China (some dynasties included honorable prime ministers) would use 12 patterns; the lower social status, the fewer patterns one could wear. 

Sun (Ri)

Sun in Chinese Pattern Culture

Moon (Yue)

Moon in Chinese Pattern Culture

Star (Xing Cheng)

Star in Chinese Pattern Culture

Meaning people wearing these patterns are responsible for illuminating and enlightening all humankind.

Mountain (Qun Shan): Firm, Persistent, Steady.

Mountain in Chinese Pattern Culture

Dragon (Loong): Mysterious, Changeable, Unpredictable.

Dragon in Chinese Pattern Culture

Fire (Huo): Bright and Promising.

Fire in Chinese Pattern Culture

Colorful Flower and Bird (Hua Chong): Intelligent, Write Beautiful Articles.

Bird in Chinese Pattern Culture

Algae (Zao): Emerges from the filth and stays unstained, meaning characteristic of pure and noble.

Algae in Chinese Pattern Culture

Rice (Fen Mi): To Provide and Nurture.

Rice in Chinese Pattern Culture

Axe (Fu): To cut off negative aspects and stay resolute and decisive.

Axe in Chinese Pattern Culture

A Special Ancient Embroidery (Fu): It looks like two bows back against each other, which means smart perceive, back away from evil, and face toward benign. 

Special Embroidery in Chinese Pattern Culture

Tiger and Monkey (Zong Yi): A pair of ancient wine vessels in sacrifice ceremonies, meaning respect for the ancestors. The tiger represents power and dignity; the long tail monkey symbolizes wisdom, loyalty, and filial piety. 

Tiger and Monkey in Chinese Pattern Culture
Portrait of Hongzhi Emperor Zhu Youcheng, By Court Artist of the Ming Dynasty

Hongzhi Emperor in Imperial Robe with the 12 Patterns, Painted By Court Artist of the Ming Dynasty — Taipei Palace Museum

Patterns from Nature


Since the Neolithic era, people have begun to carve or paint patterns of natural elements to show respect and worship to grand nature, pray for blessings, or use them as decorations. 


Cloud, thunder, vortex, mountain, and water wave and their evolved patterns have been frequently used, till today, as representatives of auspiciousness, promotion, happiness, wealth, etc.