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DTP Design Elements: Taoist Animal Symbology

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 12/29/2010

Taoist animal symbology has been a subject of great interest in recent years. Whether you are looking to create Chinese New Year cards or you're looking to incorporate Taoist animals in another desktop publishing project, understanding the symbology behind Taoist animals can help your efforts.

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    Why Learn about Taoist Animal Symbology?

    What do different animals signify in Taoist animal symbology? Whether you're creating cards, fabric, a flier, or a wall decoration, learning about Taoist animal symbology could help you when you're trying to decide what elements you would like to include in your designs. Taoist animal symbology involves understanding that each animal signifies a specific aspect of Taoist life. For example, the badger (huān), a little funny looking omnivore, signifies great happiness. When he's incorporated on a card or a t-shirt in design, then some may take this item to be symbolic of happiness. This means that you wouldn't want to put a badger on a condolence card, especially if that card's recipient understands the Taoist philosophy. Instead, he would be better suited for a birthday card or a congratulations card.

    Image "Young Eurasian Badger" courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (BadgerHero)

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    Don't Let Them Bug You - Insects and Other Invertibrae in Taoist Symbology

    While insects may cause humans much grief, they also carry with them powerful symbols in Taoist animal symbology. In fact, you may be familiar with the symbol of the grasshopper (zhàměng) and how it signifies nobility and wisdom. Some individuals in China keep grasshoppers as pets due to the symbolism of the creature, and some individuals believe that grasshoppers transport the spirits of the deceased. What are other insect symbols in Taoist symbology?

    • Shrimp (xiā) - a long and prosperous life
    • Butterfly (húdié) - young love, beauty
    • Crab (pángxiè) - prosperity and wealth
    • Bee (mì fēng) - hard work
    • Cicada (chán) - the afterlife
    • Praying Mantis (tángláng) - mindfulness and stillness
    • Cricket (xīshuài) - harmony and good luck
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    Birds of a Feather...Taoist Bird and Mythological Creature Symbology

    Birds may represent freedom to you, or maybe when you use birds in your desktop publishing projects, you don't think much about the symbolism and you use them for their beauty. Taoists, however, revere birds in their symbology and have even added a few mythical bird-like creatures to the mix. For the Chinese, birds (niǎo) symbolize the sun, probably because of their sky-dwelling nature. What is the symbolism associated with particular birds?

    • Rooster () - wards off negative spirits and symbolizes a desire for advancement
    • Peacock (kǒng què) - fame and dignity
    • Pheasant (zhì) - good luck
    • Magpie (què) - joy and celebrations
    • Duck (pinyin) - a happy marriage
    • Crane () - long life and wisdom
    • Owl (māotóuyīng) - death
    • Phoenix (fènghuánɡ) - virtue and duty, also associated with the feminine
    • Dragon (lóng) - male fertility and great abundance
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    Slither, Swim, Hop, and Scurry: Amphibians, Fish, Reptiles, and Small Mammals

    Taoist animal symbology does not skip any type of animal. Cute, beautiful, and even slithery--many types of animals are represented in the Taoist animal symbology. The great thing about understanding Taoist animal symbology is that you can give depth to your desktop publishing projects with symbology. Whether you're using the snake (shé), a symbol for femininity and other-worldly powers, or the rat (shǔ), a symbol for intelligence and sociability, knowing what these symbols mean can help you in the long-run. Here are some other small animal symbols from Taoist beliefs:

    • Turtle (wūguī) - immortality
    • Rabbit () - hope
    • Frog (chánchú) - protection against bad luck
    • Carp () - wealth and prosperity
    • Bat (biānfú) - happiness

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    Taoist Symbology of the Larger Mammals

    Finally, larger mammals in Taoist symbology are often covered through the Chinese horoscope. The horse () symbolizes endurance whereas the dog (gǒu) symbolizes subservience and is indicative of impending wealth. Some of the other mammals in Taoist symbology include:

    • Cat (māo) - cleanses the home of evil spirits
    • Elephant (dàxiàng) - signifies strength
    • Ox (niú) - symbolizes the coming springtime
    • Panda (xióngmāo) - signifies man when it appears
    • Tiger () - courage and bravery
    • Sheep (yáng) - masculine energies
    • Boar (zhū) - optimism and faith in the good
    • Monkey (hóu) - another symbol for protecting against evil

    By studying Taoist symbology and other symbologies including Native American symbology and ancient symbology, and incorporating such symbols into your desktop publishing projects, you can create a richer experience for those who view your work.