Decorative Elements

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The decoration of houses can be traced to a combination of practical concerns, folk beliefs, and pure ornamentation. Walls and eaves are often decorated, but particular attention is paid to doorways and windows because these are places where good or evil spirits were thought to enter. Elegant decorative schemes would also provide ventilation or shading.


Many openings would be covered with latticework in an endless variety of patterns that "shape the wind" or alter the way air flows into a home.

In the image at right, the lattice in the doors serves several functions.

Can you think of some of them?

Doors in Sichuan Province                                                       source



One way to summon good fortune is to invoke the character fu, seen on the wall to the right. Fu can be translated as "happiness," "good fortune," "blessings," or "luck."

"Fu" on wall in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province                   source




Not only is the character fu auspicious, but representations of homonyms of fu are also good luck. 

Because Chinese people honor age and desire long life, the character representing longevity shou is also often seen on Chinese houses. A stylized form of shou can be seen in the middle of the door to the right.

Can you guess why bats decorate this door?





Door decorations found in Zhejiang province       source


Another character thought to express longevity is wan which means "ten thousand." This character is often represented stylistically as a backwards swastika, such as on the lattice work to the left.


What triple function does this carving provide?

Lattice found in Sichuan Province                                            source


Other symbols of longevity are the peach, the tortoise, the deer, the crane, and evergreen trees.


Fish symbolize abundance because
the two words are homonyms. Fish
are often seen on Chinese houses. 

In addition to happiness, wealth, and
longevity, the Chinese also desire harmony at home. This is represented by a pair of fish swimming or pairs of geese, cranes, or ducks. 

Things with many seeds, such as
lotus pods and watermelons, reflect a desire for many children.

How many of the decorative elements described above can you find on the door to the right?

 Detail from carved wooden doors             source

To the left is a picture of a tiger with the eight trigrams. This is often hung above doors. In some parts of China, particularly Fujian province, the word for tiger is pronounced "fu." The eight trigrams are thought to ward off evil influences. In combination with the tiger's fierce face, this image makes a powerful amulet.

A tiger hanging above a door in Zhejiang province source



Mirrors are also thought to deflect evil influences.


Can you guess why there is a pair of scissors hung with a mirror in the picture to the left?






This combination of mirror and scissors is hung above an entryway facing an oncoming lane     source




How many decorative elements can you find in the image to the left?


The banners can be translated as:

Every time I hear of good deeds, my heart is happy.



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