Dream Interpretation and Meanings in Ancient Chinese Culture

Dream Interpretation
 

Dream Definition and Categories in Ancient China

 

The dream is a vast, mysterious world that shows or occurs when people sleep.

 

Dreams can be joyful, funny, magical, scary, blue, bizarre, predictable, and reflective, and have been interpreted and studied by people for thousands of years, yet remain mystical in many aspects.

Moon and Birds in Dreams

In ancient China, the dream was divided into 11 main categories.

 

  • Ordinary Dream or Zheng Meng: casual and carefree dreams during sleeping that happen naturally.

 

  • Direct Dream or Zhi Meng: predictive dreams that would happen in the real world soon.

 

  • Scary Dream or E Meng: dreams that make people fear, such as nightmares with ghosts, monsters, and horrible encounters.

 

  • Mind Dream or Xiang Meng: dreams that reflect one's mind during the daytime, such as the people one loves, exams, or jobs one has been working on.

 

  • Emotion Dream or Jing Meng: dreams that reflect one's emotional status, especially in extremely happy or sad periods.

 

  • Causal Dream or Yin Meng: dreams that are caused by stimulus from surroundings, such as a cold room may cause dreaming about snow.

 

  • Opposite Dream or Fan Meng: dreams that predict the opposite side of reality.

 

  • Entrust Dream or Ji Meng: dreams about deities, ancestors, or dead people entrusting or forecasting things.

 

  • Sense Dream or Ji Meng: predictive dreams about close relatives and loved ones, based on telepathy among people with special bonds.

 

  • Ailment Dream or Bing Meng: dreams that presage sickness and reveal one's health condition.

 

  • Symbolism Dream or Xiang Meng: dreams that inform information through symbolized images and objects, such as fire, water, celestials, animals, etc.

Girl and Cat and Moon in Dreams
 
Dream Interpretation

Importance of Dream Interpretation — as A Profession and Influences in Politics

 

Because of dreams' complexity and mystery, interpreting dreams have been quite significant, especially in ancient times.

 

In Oracle bone scripts of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC) documented the kings' frequent divination about their dreams.

 

In Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), professional dream interpreters were set in central government, who would divine and explain dreams for the kings and other royals, which would play important roles in their future decision-making processes.

 

Therefore, in many historical documentations, many of the ancient kings and officials' dreams were clearly noted.

Oracle Bone Inscription or Jiagu Wen During the Reign Period of King Wu Ding (? — 1192 BC)

Oracle Bone Inscription or Jiagu Wen During the Reign Period of King Wu Ding (? — 1192 BC), — National Museum of China

Later, dream interpreters were no longer a professional in emperors' palaces, but dreams' omens and symbolisms remained important: as presages about the future, or might be used for political purposes.

 

Throughout history, many mothers of emperors, or many emperors themselves, in historical documentation, had dreamt about Dragons or the sun, such as embracing a dragon or the sun, riding a dragon and flying, etc.

 

Those dreams that had been believed truly or with a grain of salt successfully predicted their future enthronements or proved their honorable origin as the Son of Heaven and the Divine Right of Kings.

Unearthed Gold Dragon of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Golden Dragon of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907 — 979) — Zhejiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 
Dream Interpretation

Some Facts and Rules about Interpreting Dreams in Traditional Customs

 

  • Bad dreams should be said out loud as soon as possible, as a means to break them.

 

  • Good dreams are suggested to keep to oneself or very close ones, to not jinx the lucky omens.

 

  • Incomplete or unclear dreams usually should not be interpreted.

 

  • Dreams that are obviously related to daily encounters or emotions are not predictive, and not necessarily to be interpreted.

 

  • Dreams that contain entrusted things from ancestors are suggested to follow, or at least discuss with relevant people.

Boating in Dreamy Lake under the Sun
 
Dream Interpretation

Important Dream Interpretation Books

 

The Duke of Zhou's Interpretation of Dreams or Zhougong Jiemeng

 

Duke of Zhou, the fourth son of King Wen of Zhou (1152 BC — 1056 BC), was a powerful regent that further consolidated Zhou's reign and established Rituals of Zhou.

 

It is unclear if he's the writer of the book, nor when this book was finished. However, this book under his name has been one of the most popular dream interpretation books in China.

Bronze Water Container (Qiang Pan) with 284 Characters Carved Inside, Recorded History of First Seven Kings of the Zhou Dynasty

Unearthed Bronze Ritual Water Container (Qiang Pan) with 284 Characters Carved Inside, Recorded History of First Seven Kings of Zhou Dynasty — Baoji Museum

Dream Interpretation or Meng Lin Xuan Jie

 

Believed written by Ge Hong (283 — 343), an exceptional Taoist, chemist, and doctor, and edited by Chen Shiyuan (1516 — 1597).

Dream Interpretation Book
 
Dream Interpretation

List of Some Common Dreams and Meanings

 

 

Celestial Object

 

  • Dreams about celestial objects, including the sun, the moon, most stars, and bright and colorful clouds, rising or hanging in the sky, and shining brightly, are usually good omens, presaging happiness and success.

 

  • Dreaming about celestial objects covered by dark clouds, turning dark, or falling down, are usually unlucky signs.

 

If they are falling into one's house, that is a sign of a great career, health, and sweet love life.

 

  • Dreams about swallowing, embracing, riding, or hunting celestial objects usually predict great success.

 

  • Dreams about solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, or shooting stars are signs of failure or sickness.

 

  • Dreaming about the galaxy is a sign of separation. If successfully come across the Milky Way, it's a sign of fortune and happy marriage.

 
Galaxy or Milky Way

Nature

 

  • Natural phenomena, including wind, rain, thunder, snow, and rainbow, are generally lucky omens.

 

Dreaming about getting caught in the rain, getting shined by bright thunder, or sitting or walking on the rainbow, are portents of big success.

 

However, if those natural phenomena caused damage, such as fierce winds destroying one's house or heavy snow blocking one's path, they are signs of failure.

 
Rainbow
  • Dreams about mountains are usually symptoms of triumph, including climbing, walking, living, building paths, planting, and appreciating beautiful views of mountains, as well as finding food and treasure from mountains.

 

However, dreams about going down mountains or landslides are signs of frustration.

 

  • Dreams about clear water, including rivers, springs, lakes, and seas, are generally signs of wealth and success.

 

Walking, swimming, and playing in the water, or crystal clear water flowing into one's house, are all presages of fortune.

 

Turbid, muddy, or dried-up rivers, lakes, springs, and seas are bad omens.

Lake
 

Plant

  • Dreams about beautiful and thriving trees and flowers, and planting, receiving, or holding them, are all signs of blessing.

 

Withered, dead plants or destroyed trees and flowers are usually unlucky omens.

Sunflowers

Animal

 

  • Dreams about dogs running, walking, eating, playing, swimming, or hunting, are good signs, while dreams about dogs fighting, barking, biting, or speaking the human language, are unfortunate.

 

  • Dreams about cats chasing rats, hunting fishes, or giving birth to babies are presages of wealth, as well as keeping cute cats. In other cases, dreams about cats are not good signs.

 

  • Dreams about birds are generally signs of pleasant messages, wisdom, and achievement in academics.

 

Dreams about a flock of birds flying around aimlessly, fighting against each other, or dying are bad omens.

Dreams about most birds are symptoms of sweet lovers or good careers, except for peckers, cuckoos, and hairless birds.

 

  • Dreams about rabbits are all fortunate, except for killing them.

 
Rabbit
  • Dreams about snakes are very complicated and can be both lucky and unlucky.

 

Auspicious signs of dreaming about snakes:

 

Got bitten by snakes;

Huge snake surrounding one's body or house or a city;

Big snake passing by or staying on the path;

Killing snakes;

Hunting or stepping on snakes;

Yellow snake;

White snake;

Red snake;

Dead snake;

Colorful snake;

Water snake;

Snake gets into one's body or house;

Snakes moving under thunder;

Snakes swimming in water.

 

Unfortunate omens of dreaming about snakes:

Red snake;

Cyan snake;

Green snake;

Black snake;

Poisonous snakes;

Snake crawl under or on one's bed;

Snakes escaping out of a place;

Snakes getting into caves;

Snake eats frogs;

Snakes growing out of feet.

Snake
  • Dreams about spiders are generally not good omens unless one killed the spider or the spider in the dream is golden or dead.

 

Dreams about spiderwebs, however, are signs of a successful career and happy love lives.

 

  • Dreams about horses are usually auspicious presages, except for hurting, killing horses, getting kicked by horses, falling out from horses, or horses dancing.

 

  • Dreams about bears are generally signs of trouble, danger, or challenge, except for seeing bears running, disappearing in mountains, or white bears dancing.

Bear
  • Dreams about lions are lucky presages of success, strong and smart spouses, and beautiful kids. However, being conquered by a lion is a sign of failure.

 

  • Dreams about tigers are generally symptoms of pressure and difficulty, except dreams about one beating, riding, eating, or killing tigers, or tigers showing up in one's house.

 

  • Dreams about Mythical Animals are generally signs of great success and luck, based on the status and cultural importance of the creature.

Nine-Tailed Fox Drew by Shi Lin

Mythical Creature Nine-Tailed Fox Drawn by Shi Lin

 

Body

 

  • Dreams about eyebrows are generally signs of success and longevity, such as drawing or shaving eyebrows, eyebrows growing, turning white, or falling. However, dreams about disconnecting eyebrows are bad luck.

 

  • Dreams about eyes shining, getting pierced by needles, growing out of flowers or extra pupils, gaining more eyes on the face, washing eyes, or changing eyeballs, are presages of wealth and success.

 

Dreams about eyes bleeding, growing extra eyeballs, or with thorns on eyeballs, losing sight, or getting dust are signs of unpleasant encounters.

  • Dreams about noses are generally auspicious, except for dreams of nose bleeding, getting hurt, being ugly, or having a stuffy nose.

Tree under Moon
  • Dreams about mouths being big or stuffed with food or bugs, growing out of hair, or getting hit are signs of luck, and red lips are a presage of healthy.

Dreams of one's mouth being blocked, burnt, or one's lips turning white, yellow, or black, are presages of unluck or disease.

 

  • Dreams about ears are generally good signs, including one's ears getting cut off, picked, and cleaned, grown out of hair, snakes, bugs, or long earlobes.

 

However, dreams of one's ears bleeding, getting pinched, or being deaf are unlucky signs.

Galaxy and Desert
  • The dream about teeth falling out is quite unfortunate; in ancient dream interpretation, it is the presage of losing relatives.

 

If one dreamt about teeth falling out and bleeding, it is believed the signs of unpleasant encounters might happen to relatives.

 

However, dreaming about teeth falling out and then growing again is extremely lucky.

 

Moreover, dreams about growing, changing, and extracting teeth, or toothache, are auspicious.

Hot Balloon
  • Dreams about blood are generally signs of wealth and auspiciousness, except for eyes bleeding or seeing blood on the bed.

 

  • Dreams about limbs, including hands, fingers, legs, and feet bleeding, getting cut off, growing bigger or longer, or gaining extra limbs, are all auspicious signs.

 

Dreams about limbs being missing or broken, or covered by mud, are quite unlucky.

Yulania denudata
 

Pregnancy Dreams and Conception Dreams

 

  • The dream about being pregnant is a sign of wealth and happy life, or wishing for (more) kids.

 

  • Dreams about giving birth to babies are lucky as well.

baby wearing scarf

Conception Dreams

 

Conception dreams (Tai Meng) have been an important type of all pregnancy dreams throughout history.

 

They are mysterious, yet have been believed to be accurate by countless people, which can foretell conception, gender, or the future of a baby, usually dreamt by the mother during or slightly before pregnancy, sometimes by the father too.

 

For instance, in ancient history, many mothers of emperors had dreamt about embracing a dragon or the sun, which predicted these emperors' future enthronement and excellent reigns.

Sun

To most ordinary people, conception dreams also can foretell something about the baby.

 

A conception dream should be very clear (not those that cannot or are vaguely remembered), and the commonest are the mother dreaming of eating, swallowing, embracing, or wearing something, or some objects jumped into her belly.

Baby

Common Conception Dreams of Smart, Beautiful, and Healthy Baby Girls

 

  • Nature -- Moon, rosy clouds, field, peaceful river, lake, or sea;

 

  • Animal -- Carp, lobster, butterfly, pigeon, mandarin duck, cow, calf, white horse, sparrow, etc.;

 

  • Food -- Egg, tomato, cabbage;

 

  • Plant -- Most flowers, willow tree;

 

  • Fruit -- Peach, pomegranate, cheery, grape, watermelon, strawberry, apple, etc.;

 

  • Ware -- Cosmetics, golden jewelry.

A box of valuable jewelry

Common Conception Dreams of Smart, Beautiful, and Healthy Baby Boys

 

  • Nature -- Sun, stars, waves, surging sea, mountain;

 

  • Animal -- Dragon, snake, bull, turtle, tiger, rooster, pig, horse, red-crowned crane, etc.;

 

  • Food -- Persimmon, ginseng, sweet potato, chili, cucumber, eggplant, pumpkin, carrot, date, potato, corn, etc.;

 

  • Plant -- Bamboo, fruit tree, chrysanthemum;

 

  • Fruit -- Pear, muskmelon;

 

  • Activity -- Wearing husband's clothes or silk outfit, drinking from golden or silver cups, looking into the mirror, lying on earth or touching clay, praying on a mountain, fixing the front door, etc.

 

Some neutral gender common conception dreams of smart, beautiful, and healthy Babies include trees, chestnuts, gems, golden cups, silver tableware, golden seal, gold ring, and so on.

Forests
 

Food

 

  • Dreams about eating, seeing, or cooking food, are usually quite auspicious, including rice, wheat, corn, fruit, vegetable, meat, soup, dessert, etc., as well as drinking tea or alcohol.

 

However, if the food is decayed or others asking for food are bad omens.

Chinese food

Deity and Ghost

 

  • Dreams about seeing or worshiping deities or their statues are generally signs of blessing and great success, unless the deity is crying or angry, or the statue is broken.

 

  • Dreams about ghosts sometimes are lucky too, such as giving birth to a ghost, expelling a group of ghosts, ghosts wearing nice clothes, ghosts surrounding or getting into one's left part of the body, and attacking, hunting, or successfully running away from ghosts.

 

In other scenarios, dreams about ghosts are signs of unpleasantness.

 
Part of Murals of Taoism Deities on the Walls inside the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province

Part of Murals of Taoism Deities on Walls inside the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province

Death and Scare

 

  • The dream someone dies is a sign of longevity and wealth, no matter if it's the death of oneself or a loved one.

 

  • Dreams about seeing or holding a dead body, coffins, dead people talking, crying, walking around, or resurrecting, and talking or dining with dead people, are auspicious as well.

 

  • Dreaming about killing someone or someone trying to kill me, are both presages of wealth and blessing in the future, unless one failed the killing and didn't see any blood in the dream.

 
Love and happiness

Activity

 

Dreams about activities in people's lives have different meanings as well.

Activities with auspicious presages in dreams

 

Reading, writing, or taking exams;

Going to school;

Planning, hosting, or participating in weddings;

Building or moving to a new house;

Walking across a river;

Showering or pooping;

Washing or combing hair;

Doing farm work;

Planting or cutting off trees;

Traveling;

Crying;

Being angry;

Appreciating pleasant music or playing musical instruments;

Playing firecrackers;

Harvesting crops;

Receiving, giving, or wearing jewelry;

Losing things.

 

 

Activities with bad omens in dreams

 

Losing or cutting hair;

Shouting loudly;

Crawling;

Lying in bed;

Playing chess;

Flying kites;

Guessing puzzles.

 
Colorful dreams