In America you will encounter the occasional lucky horseshoe or four-leaf clover, but in Taiwan good luck charms are truly ubiquitous. There are literally hundreds of different ones, and Chinese New Year is the time they are especially featured.
|Large hanging charms of golden coins and yuan bao.|
Many of the charms represent money, which in turn symbolizes prosperity in general. After all, what could be luckier than money? These money charms often take the form of actual coins, usually the old Chinese cash which were round with square holes, as seen above. Even more common than coins are yuan bao, the hat-shaped objects which were the traditional Chinese form of gold and silver ingots.
|Traditionally gold or silver, yuan bao are also seen here in jade, amber, and crystal.|
|Jade bi, round jade discs with central holes.|
Jade bi (pronounced bee) like these were ritual objects in ancient China and pre-date coins. They are much used today, and because of their coin-like shape blend in well with other good-luck charms. Below some bi form a yuan bao, while others are printed to resemble coins.
|Strings of charms with yuan bao, bi, and coins|
|A Chinese money god holds a yuan bao and sits on a pile of golden coins and more yuan bao.]|
Many fruits and vegetables are lucky. A yellow or orange color symbolizes gold and money, while many seeds indicate abundance and prosperity. Although they never existed in ancient China, sweet corn and peanuts are now so popular that they are as familiar in lucky charms as they are to eat.
|The orange above represents prosperity and abundance, as do the ears of corn below.|
|If the peanut symbolism isn’t clear enough, these are additionally stamped with the words for happiness and luck.|
Chinese years work on a 12-year repeating cycle, with a special animal for each year: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat or Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. This year (Jan 23, 2012 – Feb 9, 2013) is a Dragon year, so I plan to cover dragons more thoroughly in another post. Whatever year you are born in becomes your special lucky piece. For example, if you are born in a monkey year, then you are considered a ‘monkey’, and will always want to wear or display monkey charms.
|Goat Year is long over, but this lucky goat charm continues to serve.|
|All the zodiac animals take part in this string of ceramic charms|
You likely noticed in several of the photos that the charms are tied with elaborate knots, usually with red string. These special lucky knots are a traditional Chinese craft, and some charms consist of knots all by themselves. A couple of major lucky symbols that I cannot omit are ruyi, a kind of good-luck scepter, and bats, already covered previously. Real firecrackers, useful in scaring away evil spirits, go off constantly during Chinese New Year, and fake firecrackers of all sizes are also seen everywhere:
|These firecrackers are one foot high not including the ‘fuses’.|
|The Taipei 101 building, for a while the tallest building in the world. (Photo from Wikipedia)|
|A close-up reveals pendant ruyi hanging above giant lucky coins, presumably symbolizing how much money you’ll need to shop in the boutiques inside|
These examples barely scratch the surface of Chinese good luck symbols. Let me know if you have a favorite good-luck charm of your own, either traditional or something that is your personal talisman. Here’s wishing all of you good luck and prosperity for the coming Dragon Year.
|The outer charms feature fish; the middle one with Guan Yin is especially made for use in cars, saying “Safety in Traffic” and “Leave happily, Return safely”.]|