Exploring the Significance of the Bear Symbolism in Chinese Culture: What Does the Bear Symbolize in Chinese Culture?

Have you ever wondered what the bear symbolizes in Chinese culture? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given it much thought. But in Chinese folklore, the bear is a powerful and significant symbol that represents a range of ideas and concepts.

According to ancient Chinese mythology, the bear was seen as a symbol of strength, bravery, and ferocity. Many Chinese heroes were known to have bear-like qualities, such as the legendary archer Hou Yi, who was said to possess the strength and agility of a bear. But beyond its physical attributes, the bear was also seen as a spiritual guide, offering wisdom and insight to those who sought it out.

In modern Chinese culture, the bear has taken on new meanings, often associated with wealth, abundance, and prosperity. Whether in the form of stuffed toys or figurines, bears are a popular symbol of good fortune and success. So the next time you see a bear-related symbol in Chinese artwork or decor, remember that it represents much more than just a cute and cuddly animal.

The History of the Bear in Chinese Culture

In Chinese culture, the bear has been a symbol of power, strength, and courage for centuries. The bear has been a prominent feature in Chinese mythology, literature, and art, and has played a significant role in shaping the Chinese cultural identity. The bear is often associated with divine beings and is revered for its ferocity and tenacity. Here is a closer look at the history of the bear in Chinese culture.

  • Mythological Roots: The bear has been a key figure in Chinese mythology since ancient times. According to legend, the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), one of the legendary Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors of China, was born with a bear spirit. The bear is also associated with the Daoist Immortal, Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West, who is often depicted riding on a black bear.
  • Symbol of Power: In ancient China, the bear was considered a symbol of power and strength and was often featured in artwork and architecture. The bear was seen as a fierce animal that could protect against evil, and many warriors wore bear-skin headdresses to gain strength and courage before battle.
  • Medicinal Properties: In traditional Chinese medicine, the bear’s gallbladder and bile are believed to have healing properties. However, the harvesting of bear bile has been controversial and is now illegal in China. Despite this, the bear’s medicinal properties continue to be valued in Chinese culture.

Today, the bear continues to be celebrated in Chinese culture, with the panda bear being a beloved national icon. The bear’s enduring popularity in Chinese culture is a testament to its symbolism of power, strength, and courage.

Bear Worship in Ancient China

Bears have been significant animals in the early civilizations in China. They have been incorporated in various aspects of their culture, including folklore, religion, and art. Indeed, bear worship in ancient China was common, and the Chinese people had a high regard for this animal.

Why Did the Chinese Worship Bears?

  • Bear Symbolism: The Chinese regarded bears as symbols of strength, courage, and protection. They believed that the bear had the power to bring good luck, and as such, they revered the animal.
  • Bear Medicine: The Chinese used bear parts in traditional medicine, believing that they could cure many illnesses. The bear’s gallbladder, for instance, was thought to cure liver diseases while its paws were believed to treat rheumatism.
  • Bear Hunting Rituals: Ancient Chinese hunters revered bears. They believed that when a hunter killed a bear, they should conduct a ritual to honor the bear’s spirit. This, they believed, would appease the spirit and prevent any harm from befalling them in the future.

The Role of Bears in Chinese Folklore and Mythology

Bears played a significant role in Chinese mythology and folklore. One such myth is the story of the “bear and the emperor.” As the story goes, the bear was once the king of the forest, but he was overthrown by the monkey. In order to recover his pride, the bear went to the emperor and pleaded with him to allow him to become a servant of the empire. The emperor agreed, and the bear became the official protector of the empire, a role he played for many years.

Another myth is the “bear and the celestial maiden.” As the story goes, a bear fell in love with a beautiful celestial maiden and tried to win her affection. The celestial maiden was flattered by the bear’s attention and allowed him to court her. Eventually, the bear won her heart, and the two were married. This myth was meant to represent the harmony between man and nature, as well as the importance of love and loyalty.

Bear Symbols in Chinese Art

Bears were also popular subjects in Chinese art. Ancient Chinese artists frequently depicted bears in various forms, including ceramics, paintings, and carvings. These bears were often depicted as fierce and powerful, symbolizing strength and courage. One of the most popular bear symbols in Chinese art is the “three-legged bear,” which represents a powerful military leader who is unstoppable in battle.

Bear Symbol Meaning
White Bear Represents purity and innocence
Black Bear Represents protection and strength
Three-Legged Bear Represents a powerful military leader

Bears have been an integral part of Chinese culture for centuries. Their symbolism, strength, and courage have made them revered animals in traditional Chinese religion, mythology, and art. Today, although the practice of bear worship has diminished, bears continue to be an important symbol in Chinese cultural heritage.

The Symbolism of the Bear in Chinese Mythology

The bear holds significant symbolism in Chinese mythology and folklore. It is seen as a powerful figure that represents strength, courage, and protection. The bear has played a significant role in the history and culture of China, and its symbolism is still prevalent today.

  • Ying-Yang: In Chinese mythology, the bear represents one of the five primal creatures that exist between heaven and earth. These creatures are believed to maintain the balance between ying and yang, the two opposing forces that make up the universe. The bear symbolizes the ying or negative force, and its counterpart is the phoenix, which represents the yang or positive force.
  • Protection: The bear is often associated with protection in Chinese culture. It is believed that the bear has the power to ward off evil spirits and protect individuals from harm. In certain areas of China, people keep statues of bears in their homes for this purpose.
  • Goddess Xi Wangmu: The goddess Xi Wangmu, also known as the Queen Mother of the West, is a prominent figure in Chinese mythology. She is often depicted riding a bear or seated on a throne carried by two bears. The bear symbolizes her power and strength, and it is believed that she can control the animal to do her bidding.

The bear has also appeared in Chinese literature and art, such as in the story of Sun Wukong in Journey to the West, where he is seen as a fierce and powerful creature. The bear is also featured in traditional Chinese paintings as a symbol of courage and strength.

Overall, the bear holds great cultural significance in China. Its representation of ying-yang balance, protective power, and association with powerful deities make it a significant symbol in Chinese mythology and folklore.

Symbolism Meaning
Strength The bear is seen as a powerful figure that represents physical and emotional strength.
Protection The bear is believed to have the power to protect individuals from harm and ward off evil spirits.
Ying-Yang The bear represents the ying or negative force that must coexist with the yang or positive force for balance in the universe.
Association with deities The bear is often associated with powerful figures such as the goddess Xi Wangmu, representing their strength and power.

As can be seen in the table, the bear’s symbolism in Chinese mythology encompasses various meanings, making it a significant figure in the country’s culture and history.

The Bear in Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Chinese have long believed in the healing properties of plants, animals, and other natural resources. In traditional Chinese medicine, many animal-based medicines are still used today, including those derived from bears. Historically, bear parts were believed to have a wide range of medicinal properties, and as a result, bears have been hunted to near extinction in China.

  • Bear bile, which is extracted from the gallbladder of the bear, is believed to cleanse the liver and improve eyesight.
  • Bear’s paw is often used to treat rheumatism and other joint pain.
  • Bear meat is used to promote healing and strengthen the body’s immune system.

Despite these beliefs, the use of bear parts in medicine is highly controversial, and many conservation groups are working to prevent the hunting of bears for medicinal purposes.

Furthermore, many Chinese people are turning to alternative, plant-based medicines that are more ethical and sustainable. As a result, the use of bear parts in Chinese medicine is slowly declining, and the practice is becoming increasingly rare.

Part of the Bear Medicinal Properties
Bear Bile Cleanses the liver, improves eyesight
Bear’s Paw Treats rheumatism and joint pain
Bear Meat Promotes healing, strengthens the immune system

The Bear in Chinese Literature and Art

The bear has been a significant animal in Chinese culture, and its symbolism has been depicted in various literary works and pieces of art.

  • In Chinese folklore, the bear is believed to possess magical qualities and has been associated with healing and medicine. The bear’s gallbladder and bile have been used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments.
  • In the Chinese Zodiac, the bear is not included, but one of the 12 animals that represent the cycle of the lunar calendar is the pig, which is closely related to bears in Chinese culture.
  • Bears appear in various Chinese art forms, including paintings, sculptures, and embroidery. In ancient Chinese art, bears were often portrayed in combat with humans, emphasizing their strength and ferocity. In contrast, in contemporary Chinese art, bears are often depicted in a playful and whimsical manner, showcasing their cuteness and cuddliness.

The table below showcases some of the notable works of literature and art that feature the bear symbol in Chinese culture.

Literature Art
The Classic of Mountains and Seas, a Chinese work of geography and mythology, describes a humanoid bear. “Bear in Mind” is a famous painting by the Chinese artist Xu Beihong, depicting a bear in a thoughtful pose.
The mythical figure of Tao Wu, a bear that could transform into a human, appears in Chinese poetry. The “Jade Bear” is a famous sculpture in Chinese art, featuring a bear made from jade.

Overall, the bear symbolizes many different things in Chinese culture, including strength, ferocity, healing, and playfulness. Its presence in literature and art has helped to immortalize its importance and significance in Chinese society.

Bear as a Chinese Zodiac Sign

The bear is not included in the Chinese zodiac, which instead consists of twelve animals, each corresponding to a year in a twelve-year cycle. These animals, in order, are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. However, the bear still has significance in Chinese culture and mythology.

Symbols and Meanings Associated with Bears

  • In Chinese mythology, there is a bear god named Xiong Jing who is believed to oversee the growth of crops and is a symbol of peace, harmony, and love.
  • Bears are sometimes portrayed in Chinese artwork, appearing on pottery and as carvings, and are often associated with strength, determination, and ferocity.
  • Some Chinese stories and legends also feature bears as cunning and wise creatures.

The Number 6 in Chinese Culture

In Chinese numerology, the number 6 is considered a lucky number. This is because in Mandarin, the pronunciation of the word for “six” sounds similar to the word for “smooth.” Thus, having six of something is seen as a way to ensure smoothness and stability in life.

The number 6 is also associated with longevity and prosperity. It is frequently used in lucky charms and decorations, such as the six-happiness symbol, which features six Chinese characters representing happiness, wealth, longevity, peace, love, and virtue.

Number Meaning
6 Luck, smoothness, longevity, prosperity

Bears are not commonly associated with the number 6 in Chinese culture, but it is possible that the number could be used in connection with bears in a lucky or auspicious context, such as in certain types of artwork or decorations.

The bear in Chinese feng shui

The bear has long been considered an important symbol in Chinese culture, with many different meanings depending on its context. In Chinese feng shui, which is the practice of arranging the physical environment to promote harmony and balance, the bear is typically seen as a powerful and protective animal that can help to ward off negative energy and promote positive energy.

One of the key aspects of Chinese feng shui is the use of symbols and objects that have specific meanings and associations. These symbols are believed to attract or repel different types of energy, and they are often used in specific ways to create a sense of balance and harmony in the environment. The bear is one such symbol, with a long history of use in feng shui practice.

Here are some of the most common associations and meanings of the bear in Chinese feng shui:

  • Strength and protection: The bear is seen as a powerful and protective animal in many cultures, and in Chinese feng shui it is believed to have the ability to ward off negative influences and promote a sense of security and safety.
  • Healing and health: The bear is associated with healing and health, and it is often used in feng shui to promote physical well-being and to help prevent illness.
  • Abundance and prosperity: In some Chinese cultures, the bear is seen as a symbol of abundance and prosperity, and it is believed to attract wealth and good fortune.

The number 7

The number 7 is also an important symbol in Chinese feng shui, and it is often associated with positive energy and good luck. This number is believed to represent completion, perfection, and harmony, and it is often used in feng shui to create a sense of balance and harmony in the environment.

One of the most common ways that the number 7 is used in feng shui is through the placement of objects in groups of 7. This could mean placing 7 crystals together, or 7 bamboo stalks, for example. This is believed to create a sense of abundance and positive energy, and it can be used to promote specific areas of life, such as wealth, health, or relationships.

The number 7 is also associated with the different elements in Chinese feng shui. In the Five Element theory, which is a fundamental aspect of feng shui practice, the number 7 is associated with the Metal element. This element is associated with clarity, focus, and precision, and it is often used in feng shui to promote a sense of strength and stability.

In addition to its associations with the Metal element, the number 7 is also associated with the colors gold and white, which are both believed to promote positive energy and good luck in Chinese feng shui practice.


In Chinese feng shui practice, the bear is a powerful symbol that is often used to promote positive energy and protect against negative influences. Whether used in the form of a statue, a painting, or simply as a visual image, the bear can help to create a sense of balance and harmony in the environment. Similarly, the number 7 is another important symbol that is associated with positive energy and good luck, and it is often used in feng shui to promote a range of positive outcomes in life.

Symbol Meaning
Bear Strength, protection, healing, health, abundance, and prosperity
Number 7 Completion, perfection, harmony, abundance, clarity, focus, and precision
Metal element Strength, stability, and precision
Colors gold and white Positive energy and good luck

The use of the bear in Chinese proverbs and idioms

The bear is a powerful animal that is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. It has been used in various proverbs and idioms to symbolize different meanings and characteristics. Below are some examples:

  • 熊心豹胆 (xióng xīn bào dǎn) – The heart of a bear, the gallbladder of a leopard. This idiom is used to describe someone who is brave and fearless.
  • 维尼熊 (wéi ní xióng) – Winnie the Pooh. This beloved bear character from Western literature has become a popular icon and reference in Chinese pop culture.
  • 熊熊烈火 (xióng xióng liè huǒ) – A raging inferno. The image of a bear on fire conjures up the idea of immense and uncontrollable power.

One of the most significant numbers in Chinese culture is the number eight, which is considered lucky as its pronunciation is similar to that of the word for wealth. Interestingly, the bear has also been associated with the number eight in Chinese culture.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the bear’s paw is believed to have medicinal properties that can help with physical ailments such as arthritis and joint pain. The bear has eight paws, which symbolize the number eight. As such, products made from bear paws have been highly sought after and considered a luxury item.

Bear-related item Prized for Price (in ancient China)
Bear bile Used for medicinal purposes 1,200 coins for a small quantity
Bear paw soup Considered a delicacy Up to 980 coins per bowl
Bear paw carving Used as a decorative item Price varied based on size and intricacy of design

Despite this cultural significance, the bear is a protected animal in China and hunting or poaching of bears is strictly prohibited. Instead, today’s Chinese culture celebrates the bear more for its qualities of strength and courage than for any material value it may bring.

The bear in Chinese festivals and celebrations

In Chinese culture, the bear symbolizes power, strength, and bravery. It has been featured in various festivals and celebrations that are held throughout the year.

One of the most significant festivals that features the bear is the Duanwu Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival. This festival is held to commemorate the life and death of Qu Yuan, a famous poet and politician from the Warring States period. According to legend, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River to protest against the corruption of the government. Villagers who admired Qu Yuan raced to the river on boats to search for him and throw rice dumplings into the water to feed the fishes and prevent them from eating his body. One of the boats was decorated with a bear’s head, symbolizing the courage and bravery of those who participated in the search for Qu Yuan.

  • The bear is also a common motif in Chinese New Year celebrations. People display decorations and costumes featuring the bear to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck and fortune.
  • The Yulin Dog Meat Festival, which takes place in Guangxi, China, also features the bear. According to tradition, eating bear meat during the festival is believed to have medicinal properties and can provide strength and vitality.
  • The bear dance, also known as the “opening the mountains” dance, is a traditional folk dance in which dancers dress up in bear costumes and perform in front of the villagers. The dance is believed to bring good luck, happiness, and prosperity to the community.

Bears also make an appearance in Chinese mythology. One famous myth tells the story of the goddess Xi Wangmu, who lived in a palace on the mythical Mount Kunlun. According to legend, the goddess had a bear that guarded the peaches of immortality in her garden. The bear was believed to have the power to grant wishes and was often depicted in paintings and sculptures.

Festival/Celebration Symbolism
Duanwu Festival Courage and bravery
Chinese New Year Good luck and fortune
Yulin Dog Meat Festival Medicinal properties and strength
Bear Dance Good luck, happiness, and prosperity

In conclusion, the bear has played a significant role in Chinese culture and is often celebrated for its strength, bravery, and mythical powers. From festivals to mythology, the bear continues to be an important symbol in Chinese traditions.

The Declining Population of Bears in China due to Hunting and Habitat Loss

In Chinese culture, the bear is a symbol of courage, strength, and power. It is also associated with the moon and the female energy of yin. However, the once-abundant population of bears in China has been declining rapidly due to hunting and habitat loss.

  • According to the World Wildlife Fund, the population of Asiatic black bears in China has decreased by 50% in the past 30 years.
  • The hunting of bears for their gallbladders, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, is one of the main reasons for their decline.
  • Deforestation and habitat loss are also major factors in the decreasing bear population. As China continues to urbanize and expand its agriculture, bears are losing more and more of their natural habitats.

The decline in bear populations is not just a loss for Chinese culture, but for the entire global ecosystem. As apex predators, bears play a crucial role in regulating prey populations and shaping the landscape.

The Chinese government has taken steps to protect bears and their habitats, such as designating protected areas and cracking down on the illegal trade of bear products. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure the survival of these magnificent creatures.

Threats to bear populations in China Protection measures taken by the Chinese government
Hunting for bear gallbladders Crackdown on illegal trade of bear products
Habitat loss due to deforestation and agriculture Designated protected areas for bears
Human-bear conflicts Public education campaigns on coexisting with bears

By raising awareness of the threats facing bear populations in China and supporting conservation efforts, we can help ensure that these magnificent animals continue to thrive in the wild.

What Does the Bear Symbolize in Chinese Culture?

Q: What is the significance of the bear in Chinese culture?
A: In Chinese culture, the bear is a symbol of strength, bravery, and power.

Q: Is the bear a common symbol used in Chinese art?
A: Yes, the bear can be found in various forms of Chinese art, such as paintings, sculptures, and embroidery.

Q: Are there any myths or legends that involve the bear in Chinese culture?
A: Yes, there are many Chinese myths and legends that feature bears as powerful and important characters. For example, the goddess of childbirth is often depicted as riding on the back of a bear.

Q: What do bears represent in Chinese astrology?
A: In Chinese astrology, the bear is associated with the element of earth and is believed to symbolize determination and hard work.

Q: Is the bear a common totem animal in Chinese culture?
A: Yes, the bear is one of the most popular totem animals in Chinese culture, representing strength, courage, and protection.

Q: How does the bear compare to other animal symbols in Chinese culture?
A: The bear is considered to be one of the most powerful and respected animal symbols in Chinese culture, alongside the dragon, phoenix, and tiger.

Q: Can the bear symbolize different things in different parts of China?
A: Yes, the meaning and symbolism of the bear can vary depending on the region of China. For example, in some parts of southern China, the bear may be associated with evil spirits or bad luck.

Closing Thoughts

Now that you know more about what the bear symbolizes in Chinese culture, you can better understand the significance of this powerful animal in Chinese art, mythology, and astrology. Whether you are interested in totem animals, Chinese culture, or simply enjoy learning about different symbols and traditions, we hope you found this article informative and entertaining. Thanks for reading and we hope you visit us again soon!