Pacific Asia Museum

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46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
Open Wednesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm
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USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Secret Codes and Bats


In Chinese art, flowers, animals, fruit, mythical creatures can be more than just decorations - sometimes they are special messages in a code you can figure out.

The “secret” to these codes is that the same sound can mean different things. In English we might see a bird soar in the sky and get a sore neck watching it. Like that, the Chinese word for bat, fu, sounds like the word for “blessings” and “riches”. So not only do these bats look pretty, they make the dish full of blessings and riches.

Want more? The word for upside down, “dao”, sounds like the word for “arrived”. So if you have your bats upside down, then… “blessings have arrived”!

Different items can even be combined. Behind you, by the window, there is a monkey on a horse The word for monkey, “hou”, sounds like the word for a certain high-ranking official. And the phrase “to be on top of a horse”, “ma shang”, can also mean “immediately”. So now it’s not just a monkey sitting on a horse, it’s a wish that you may immediately be given a high-ranking position!

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