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Symbolism is an essential part of Chinese culture, contained within fundamental methods of communication, such as speech patterns. Chinese languages are tonal, resulting in a fondness for puns and wordplay. In Mandarin Chinese, four distinct variations in tone are used to distinguish words from one another. For instance, “fu” can represent either good fortune or a winged bat, depending on the intonation used.  For this reason, bats-feared in the West-are symbolic of good fortune in China, so bats and their depiction are considered good luck.  In ancient China, bats were used to be the most popular being reflected in furnitures, architecture and including the embroiderment in imperial robes for high ranking officials and the emperor to signify prosperity and excellent fortune.

In the Yu Garden of Shanghai, they often seen as two bats or five bats but seldom alone.  Two bats “shuang1 fu2” 双福 means double luck. A design of two bats with a scepter ru2 yi4 means “double happiness as wished”. Five bats “wu3 fu2” 五福 means Five Fortunes referring to longevity, wealth, health, love and a natural death at a ripe age. For example, Five bats surrounding the Chinese character for longevity shou4 寿 is a very powerful symbol of fortune and longevity. A red bat is especially auspicious because red “hong2” 红 has the same sound as vast “hong2” 宏. So a red bat means “vast fortune”.

When a bat symbol is shown with a coin – fu2 zai4 yan3 qian2 福在眼前 – it means fortune before your eyes. Why? Because before “qian2” and coin “qian2” sounds exactly the same. Another great visual pun.

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