When someone wishes you a Happy Valentine’s day, you’d expect a gift of chocolates (qiǎokèlì 巧克力) or roses (méigui huā 玫瑰花）. The supplementary vocabulary on the valentine’s lesson below shows that even in China these gifts have become the most common ones to give.
Roses and chocolates are obviously the more casual, modern choices. However while they are very nice gifts, these weren’t always the traditional symbols of love. Instead, in much of Chinese art, it is something you wouldn’t normally expect: a pair of Mandarin ducks.
A native of China, the brightly coloured male and more sombre-coloured female are often pictured together: swimming side by side and preening one another. The pair are immortalized in wooden carvings for wedding gifts, on ceramics and even in the language of love. This is because these ducks are monogamous and once they have found their partner they mate for life. Therefore they have become the perfect symbol of fidelity, marriage and affection.
When the Mandarin ducks are shown swimming through lotus leaves, it not only stands for a harmonious marriage but also a wish for many sons. This symbolism appears often in Chinese art, especially on items that were gifted for dowries (jiàzhuang 嫁妆).
Mandarin Ducks And Other Meanings
The word for mandarin ducks in Chinese is yuānyāng 鸳鸯. This can also mean an affectionate couple, or a happily married couple.
On the saucier side of things the phrase “Mandarin ducks playing in water“ (鸳鸯戏水 yuānyāngxìshuǐ) is a figure of speech for making love.
Mandarin Ducks and Feng Shui
The strong symbolism of these ducks as a symbol of love plays an important part in fēngshuǐ 风水). A pair of mandarin ducks is supposed to be able to attract and enhance love when kept in the home.
This time of year can put a lot of pressure on singles to find a partner, so instead of going to the trouble of finding a rental boyfriend, it may be easier to put a pair of mandarin ducks in the home! However remember to always keep them as a pair and always keep them in a well lit area. Otherwise the ducks may attract bad feng shui!
鸳鸯 yuānyāng – mandarin ducks, also means an affectionate couple, or a happily married couple.
鸳鸯戏水 yuānyāngxìshuǐ – mandarin ducks playing in water (figure of speech for making love).
鸳鸯蝴蝶 yuānyanghúdié – mandarin ducks and butterflies, a derogatory term for romantic literature in the 1900s.
鸳鸯献瑞 yuānyangxiànruì mandarin ducks offer auspiciousness (for your marriage)
More information on Mandarin ducks and Feng shui: http://www.fengshuipundit.com/mandarin-ducks/
Favourite ChinesePod lesson: "The frog prince in the well".