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China Symbols

China Symbols SymbolsBamboo, a giant panda, kiwifruit, ginkgo leaf, jade goldfish, red-crowned crane, and tree peony.

Welcome to China!

The legendary Chinese dragon and giant panda alone are a potent duo symbolizing an ancient civilization that has transformed into a global superpower. While the United States’ national bird, the bald eagle, is a symbol of bullying, war, and terrorism, China’s symbols represent peace, natural beauty, and thousands of years of culture.

China Symbols Flag China Symbols Emblem
Flag and Emblem

Plants ˆ

The tree peony apparently hasn’t been officially adopted as China’s national flower. However, its status as the de facto national flower was cemented centuries ago when tree peonies were embraced by artists. Through the ages, the beautiful blossoms have been celebrated in paintings, poetry, ceramics, and sculpture.

China’s national tree, the ginkgo, also has deep roots. In fact, it’s considered a living fossil. Once widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, the species was apparently exterminated outside China by Ice Age glaciers.

Some ginkgo specimens growing in Chinese temples are claimed to be over 2,500 years old.

Despite its New Zealand-inspired name, the fuzzy kiwifruit is native to China and is said to be the national fruit. Long prized for its medicinal properties, the kiwifruit has quite a story to tell. You can learn more about it here.

The jujube is sometimes described as China’s second national fruit. Also called Chinese date, red date, or Tsao, the species Ziziphus jujuba originated in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and has been cultivated in China for more than 4,000 years. However, some sources say the species that ranks as a national symbol is Ziziphus zizyphus.

Bamboo is the giant panda’s primary food source.

Though China doesn’t have a national grass, bamboo is a powerful unofficial symbol. Since ancient times, bamboo has symbolized honesty, humility, and loyalty. It bends in a storm but does not break, making it a symbol of flexibility, gracefulness, endurance, and long life.

Animals ˆ

In 2003, China’s State Forestry Administration and the China Wildlife Protection Association began a search for a national bird. The magpie and golden pheasant were among the contenders that were defeated by the red-crowned crane, which reportedly garnered 65% of the vote.

Like so many Chinese symbols, the red-crowned crane is deeply interwoven in China’s cultural fabric. Associated with birthdays and the New Year, it is also a symbol of fidelity, good luck, love, nobility, and long life, even immortality. Unfortunately, the sacred bird is in fact mortal and is seriously endangered, similar to the giant panda.

The world’s most lovable mammal is a far more famous symbol of China than the red-crowned crane. But is it the national mammal, animal, or something else?

The panda was reportedly appointed as a “GuaBao,” or national heirloom. It’s probably safe to call it China’s de facto national mammal and animal, all rolled into one. However, some might argue that the Chinese dragon is the national animal.

Yin and Yang

Like the ginkgo, the panda is a living fossil, an archaic bear that feeds on bamboo and has what superficially resembles an opposable thumb. Ironically, it took scientists a long time to figure out that the panda is in fact a bear.

Traditionally, pandas have represented peace and friendship, aligning with Chinese values and worldview. To a philosopher, the panda’s black-and-white coloration is a symbol of dualism, recalling the ancient Chinese concept that is popularly known in the West as yin and yang. The two forces represented on the famous yin-yang icon are complementary, not opposing, yet another reminder of China’s non-Western policy of building infrastructure rather than blowing it up.

If China had a national fish, it would almost certainly be either the carp or goldfish. In fact, the two species are closely related. The goldfish is essentially a carp that was selectively bred for color in imperial China more than 1,000 years ago. Several distinct breeds were developed, and modern goldfish vary greatly in size and appearance. A related species, the koi, was introduced to Japan where it now serves as the national fish.

While the few countries with national insects are usually represented by butterflies or ladybugs, China’s most notable contender for the title is doubtless the cricket. Crickets have been kept as pets in China for at least 1,000 years. Though beloved for their song, most devotees were fans of cricket fighting. Alas, even the Chinese aren’t peaceful all the time.

Earth Symbols ˆ

Yet another famous Chinese icon that doesn’t need to be officially designated is jade, China’s de facto national gemstone.

Highly resistant to breakage and chipping, jade was used to make tools, weapons, and utensils by prehistoric humans. Its roots in Chinese culture therefore predate China iteself. Though jade comes in many colors, the most familiar is green.

Known as the “stone of heaven,” jade symbolised prosperity, success, good luck, longevity, and even immortality. In his Book of Rites, Confucius ascribed 11 virtues to jade: benevolence, justice, propriety, truth, credibility, music, loyalty, heaven, earth, morality, and intelligence.

The eyes of Chinese dragons are often carved out of deep green jade to represent strength and the ability to live a better life.

Cultural Symbols ˆ

China is the birthplace of countless famous cultural symbols, from Confucius to chopsticks to ceramic China. In fact, most of the plants and animals discussed above have deep cultural roots. America’s bald eagle looks rather shallow in comparison.

China Symbols Symbols

The Great Wall of China snakes across the land like a giant stone dragon. In fact, the dragon may be China’s premier symbol. However, it probably isn’t what you think it is. While medieval European dragons were fire-breathing monsters that valiant knights sought to slay, Chinese dragons were far less threatening. In Chinese culture, the dragon commonly represents good luck, strength, and health. The dragon is the only mythical animal in the Chinese zodiac.

Yin and YangFlag of the Chinese Empire under the Qing dynasty (1889-1912).
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Wow, are you exhausted yet? The information above barely scratches the surface. If you want to learn more about Chinese symbols, there are countless resources to explore. Keep in mind, also, that Taiwan (aka The Republic of China) has distinct symbols. When it is reunited with China, will these symbols abolished, or will they survive as subnational symbols?

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