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Symbols of Happiness

Content created: 2011-02-01
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decorative graphic roof

Babies as Symbols of Happiness

For centuries the Yángliǔqīng 杨柳青 studio in the northern city of Tiānjīn; 天津 has put out a constant stream of garrish but sometimes technically adept prints for use in celebrations. A common symbol of success and happiness was babies, a less common theme in these days of the One-Child Policy.

photo by DKJ

The following is a detail from a larger print made some time between 1821 and 1850. It shows babies carrying a pomegranate, which has burst open showing its seeds, some of which are already beginning to hatch into yet more babies. (The picture at the right shows an actual pomegranate, in case you have not cut into one lately.)


In the scene below, from the same period, we see babies carrying three fruits in a variant of the Fúlùshòu theme. In this case they carry:


The occasion is the birthday of King Wén 文王 (him of the Eight Trigrams rearrangement and the Yìjīng), who was held by folk tradition to have had 99 children. The inscription reads: Much happiness, much longevity, many male children. (The word "male" —nán — is explicit here, even though it forces the word for child —zǐ — into a fourth column of text.)


The association of progeny with happiness is often seen in the use of children as icons for the character fú , as we saw on the previous page. But in some cases progeny, tagged with children, may be represented separately from happiness. In that case salary (or more broadly high position and emoluments) drops out of visibility. (King Wén is already in a high position, but one can never have too many children, assuming they all behave themselves.)

Picture Sources:

PĀN Yuánshí & WĀNG Lìxiá 潘元石、汪立峽
1976 Yángliǔqīng bǎnhuà. 楊柳青版畫。 (Woodblock prints from Yángliǔqīng.) Taipei: 雄獅圖書公司. Pp. 134-335, 138-139.
Pages Citrus
Internet Photo of Citrus medica (slightly edited)

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