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Chinese Symbols — Cultural Meanings and Aesthetic Values

Chinese symbols encompass a series of aspects that represent the culture:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides these cultural signs, Chinese Characters (from Oracle Bones Script, different written scripts throughout history, and traditional Chinese characters, to modern Hanzi) are explicit ways to convey information, such as people's Surnames, Given Names, Ancient Poetry, Imagery, or proverbs. 

Like other meaningful symbols, certain characters today are popularly used as decorative patterns or tattoo ideas. 

 

Here is a list of some popular Chinese character symbols that are frequently used and carry rich cultural meanings:

Chinese Symbols, Phrases, and Poems for Honor

  • 荣誉: Honor

  • 荣耀: Glory

  • 信誉: Reputation

  • 誉满天下: One's good reputation knows by the world.

  • 名扬四海: Renown is praised all over the world.

  • 载誉而归: Returning with honor and glory. 

  • 名不虚传: Great reputation fits reality. 

  • 赞不绝口: Too good to stop praising. 

  • 功勋卓著: Outstanding contributions, especially to the country and people. 

  • 独占鳌头: Achieving first place in Imperial Examinations in ancient history today means the championship. 

  • 金榜题名: Achieving good scores in Imperial Examinations in history today represents obtaining great success in the career or good scores on essential exams.  

Carved Lacquerware Writing Brush of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)

Carved Lacquerware Chinese Writing Brush of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • 家喻户晓: Well known by every family. 

  • 名垂千古: Good reputations spread and last forever.  

  • 青史留名: One's great fame or contribution notes on important historical records. 

  • 光宗耀祖: One's great fame or contribution gloried the ancestors and clans.

  • 春风得意马蹄疾,一日看尽长安花。Meng Jiao (751 — 814)

 

(After winning Imperial Exam) galloping amid the warm spring breeze proudly and pleasantly, having appreciated all the beautiful sites of the capital city Chang'an in one day.

 

  • 但使龙城飞将在,不教胡马度阴山。Wang Changling (698 — 757)

 

If the great general (Wei Qing) were there guarding the country, no enemies would dare to cross the mountain on the border. 

Chinese Words, Phrases, and Poems for Prosperity

  • 繁荣: Prosperity

  • 富强: Prosperous

  • 昌盛: Flourishing

  • 兴旺: Thriving

  • 灯火辉煌: Numerously and brilliantly illuminated lights at night.

  • 车马如龙: Countless carriages and horses come and go like a vast moving dragon.

  • 川流不息: (Countless Pedestrians and carriages) moving on roads, like constant streams in rivers.

  • 百花齐放: Hundreds of species of flowers are blooming simultaneously, representing the diversity of art, ideology, and culture.

  • 黄金时代: Golden age and prosperous epoch.

  • 地上天宫: Heavenly palace on earth, meaning beautiful and wealthy environment.

Part of Tang Dynasty Mural "Guan Wu Liang Shou Jing Bian" in the 217th Cave of Mogao Grottoes

Part of Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) Mural in the 217th Cave of Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Photo by Dongmaiying.

  • 生机勃勃: Full of vigor and vibrant.

  • 欣欣向荣: Plants grow flourishingly, which represents a thriving career.

  • 繁荣昌盛: Thriving and wealthy, mainly used to describe a country.

  • 方兴未艾: Something is developing flourishingly.

  • 蒸蒸日上: Things are growing upward and progressing to better situations.

  • 扶摇直上: Reputation, status, or career are skyrocketing.

  • 如日方升: Like the rising sun, representing a bright, promising, and vigorous future. 

Cranes on Poyang Lake

Sunrise and Cranes on Poyang Lake, Photo by Hu Yeqing.

  • 忆昔开元全盛日,小邑犹藏万家室。Du Fu (712 — 770)

 

During the Great Reign of Kaiyuan (713—741), even small towns resided with thousands of wealthy families.

 

Through recalling prosperous lives in Emperor Li Longji's early great reigns, it was written to motivate current emperor Li Yu.

  • 九天阊阖开宫殿,万国衣冠拜冕旒。Wang Wei (701 — 761)

 

Gates of the magnificent royal palace opened successively in the morning, and officials and envoys entered to worship the emperor. 

  • 烟柳画桥,风帘翠幕,参差十万人家。Liu Yong (about 984 — 1053)

 

Willows are enveloped by mist, painted bridges stand across rivers, and colorful curtains of buildings blow by the breeze, is a picturesque peaceful city with tens of thousands of families.

Chinese Symbols, Phrases, and Poems for Victory

  • 胜利: Victory

  • 成功: Success

  • 成就: Accomplishment

  • 凯旋: Triumph

  • 战胜: Defeat

  • 捷报频传: Continuously receiving news of victory.

  • 大获全胜: Obtaining absolute and substantial success.

  • 百战百胜: Invincible person who wins all battles.

  • 马到成功: Winning a battle as long as war horses arrive, meaning to obtain victory in the beginning stage.

Sculpture Stone Horses in Tang Tai Zong's Mausoleum (Zhao Ling), War Horses of His Six Important Wars.

War Horses of Emperor Li Shimin (599 — 649), Served in His Six Decisive Wars — the Forest of Stone Steles Museum of Xi'an and Penn Museum

  • 旗开得胜: Winning a battle as long as the flag unfolds, meaning to obtain victory in the beginning stage.

  • 决胜千里: One can command and win a war that takes place far away, represents exceptional insight and intelligence.

  • 功成名就: Achieving outstanding accomplishments and obtaining an excellent reputation.

  • 大功告成: A remarkable feat or project is about to complete.

  • 名利双收: Gaining good reputations and benefits.

  • 丰功伟绩: Remarkable feat or contributions.

Inscriptions on Mount Tai, Written by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang

Inscriptions on Mount Tai, Written by Emperor Li Longji (685 — 762) to Memorize the Grand Fengshan Ceremony (the Gold Characters on the Right), Which held to Eulogize his Exceptional Accomplishments.

  • 长风破浪会有时,直挂云帆济沧海。Li Bai (701 — 762)

 

A time will come to ride the wind and cleave the waves, I'll set my cloud-white sail and cross the sea which raves. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

  • 大鹏一日同风起,扶摇直上九万里。Li Bai (701 — 762)

Mythical bird Peng will take off with the wind someday, soaring tens of thousands of miles away. 

  • 山重水复疑无路,柳暗花明又一村。Lu You (1125 — 1210)

 

At the end of the mountain and river and doubting if there's a way out, amid willow tree shadows and blooming flowers appears a beautiful hamlet. 

Chinese Symbols, Phrases, and Poems for Wealth

  • 财富: Wealth

  • 富裕: Affluence

  • 富有: Rich

  • 阔绰: Extravagance

  • 金玉满堂: Gold and jade fill the hall, meaning abundant wealth or family members. 

  • 丰衣足食: Abundant food and clothes.

  • 富可敌国: As wealthy as a country. 

  • 荣华富贵: Rich and prosperity. 

  • 富贵尊荣: Honorable, respectable, wealthy., and good fortune.

  • 钟鸣鼎食: (Ancient nobles) strike bells and place food in bronze tripods at dinner, which now represents prominent and wealthy families and extravagant lifestyles.

Gold and Silver Inlaying Bronze Tripod of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC)

Gold and Silver Inlaying Bronze Tripod of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • 家财万贯: Affluent family with a large number of properties.

  • 锦衣玉食: Wear brocade clothes and eat refined food. 

 

  • 金樽清酒斗十千,玉盘珍羞值万钱。Li Bai (701 — 762)

 

Crystal wine in golden cups is pricey; fancy dishes in jade plates are lavish.

 

  • 稻米流脂粟米白,公私仓廪俱丰实。Du Fu (712 — 770)

 

Rice and maize are plump and affluent; national and private granaries are all stocked and full.

Chinese Symbols, Phrases, and Poems for Courage

  • 勇气: Courage

  • 勇敢: Brave

  • 魄力: Boldness

  • 勇往直前: Marching forward fearlessly. 

  • 一身是胆: Full of boldness. 

  • 身先士卒: General charge ahead of the soldiers, meaning leaders take action and set examples first.

  • 奋不顾身: Moving forward bravely regardless of one's safety. 

  • 冲锋陷阵: Attacking enemies and taking up their positions. 

  • 履险如夷: Walking through dangerous paths easily as on flat ground, means fearlessly overcoming difficult situations.

  • 一马当先: Ride a horse and take the lead (in the army).

  • 赴汤蹈火: Walking through boiled water and fire, meaning absolute dedication and fearlessness. 

Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

Terracotta Army of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), Unearthed from the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang. (Photo by Zhao Zhen)

  • 前仆后继: Inherit the fights of the sacrificed ones, representing continuous heroic struggles.

  • 勇冠三军: The bravest in the army. 

  • 智勇双全: Intelligent and courageous.

  • 英勇善战: Heroic, brave, and skillful fighter.

  • 临危不惧: Be calm, sophisticated, and fearless in front of danger and calamity. 

  • 见义勇为: Bravely take righteous actions. 

 

  • 夜静海涛三万里,月明飞锡下天风。Wang Yangming (1472 — 1529)

 

Flying smoothly in the righteous universe, since the bright heart like the moon is my magic cane. 

 

The cane represents the author's strong mind and exceptional ideology, which guided him to conquer everything in life successfully.

Boat floating in the sea
  • 道之所在,虽万千人逆之,吾往矣。Meng Ke or Mencius  (372 BC — 289 BC)

Wherever truth lies, even if a multitude defies, I shall pursue and realize.

  • 千磨万击还坚劲,任尔东西南北风。Zheng Banqiao (1693 — 1766)

 

Countless grindings and strikes, yet they stay sturdy; severe blows from all directions, yet they remain solid.

 

  • 马作的卢飞快,弓如霹雳弦惊。Xin Qiji (1140 — 1207)

 

Riding a warhorse that gallops as fly, shooting fast arrows as thunderstrike. 

 

  • 捐躯赴国难,视死忽如归。Cao Zhi (192 — 232)

 

The hero dedicated his life to defending the country, he considers sacrifice as resting and returning home.

Chinese Symbols, Phrases, and Poems for Loyalty

  • 忠诚: Loyalty

  • 忠实: Faithfulness

  • 诚信: Sincerity

  • 奉献: Devotion

  • 精忠报国: Dedicating everything to serving one's country, representing extreme loyalty. 

  • 忠心耿耿: Extremely loyal.

  • 披肝沥胆: Trust others with dedication, sincerity, and heartfelt ideas. 

  • 指天誓日: Swear loyalty by the heaven and sun.

  • 碧血丹心: Jade-pure blood and loyal heart, meaning absolute commitment. 

  • 忠贯日月: Extreme dedication impressed the sun and moon, firstly used to describe great general Guo Ziyi (697 — 781). 

  • 赤胆忠心: Devoted spirit and loyal heart.

  • 忠贞不渝: Eternal, unchangeable loyalty.

  • 至诚高节: Sincere, noble, and reliable.

  • 葵花向日: Sunflowers facing the sun, represent eternal loyalty and respect.

sunflowers
  • 人生自古谁无死?留取丹心照汗青。Wen Tianxiang (1236 — 1283)

 

Everyone will die; my loyalty will be noted on historical records and shine. 

  • 报君黄金台上意,提携玉龙为君死。Li He (790 — 816)

 

To repay the emperor's trust and kindness, he's willing to fight and die to defend the country. 

  • 三十功名尘与土,八千里路云和月。Yue Fei (1103 — 1142)

 

Three decades of fights and honors are insignificant like dust, thousands of miles of marches under clouds and moonlight. 

Emperor Zhao Gou's Imperial Edict Wrote to Yue Fei

Emperor Zhao Gou's Imperial Edict Wrote to Yue Fei, Appraising His Loyalty and Exceptional Achievement — Taipei Palace Museum

  • 先天下之忧而忧,后天下之乐而乐。Fang Zhongyan (989 — 1052)

 

Be concerned before everyone starts to worry; be joyful after the whole world is happy. 

 

  • 苟利国家生死以,岂因祸福避趋之。Lin Zexu (1785 — 1850)

I dedicate my life to protecting the interests of my country; I shall not do things only for personal benefit or escape because of danger.