Bats in history and legend were feared as sinister denizens of the night throughout much of the world. But not in China. There, bats have long been celebrated as symbols of good luck and happiness. Their images abound in fine fabrics, jewelry, furniture and tapestries. Stylized bats are carved of jade and ivory. They embellish the palaces, thrones and robes of emperors.
That is exactly what BCI member Tatsuo Takehana of Japan discovered when she visited Beijing recently. “I visited a place called the Summer Palace, a huge, beautiful garden – the Garden of Virtuous Harmony – made by the Empress of Qing,” she reports in a letter to Bat Conservation International. “There I saw many figures and ornaments of bats.”
She shared a number of photos (some of them shown here), including many versions of the “wu-fu” symbol that became BCI’s original logo. The Chinese word for bat is “fu,” which is pronounced the same as the word for happiness. The popular wu-fu features five bats (“wu” means five) encircling the symbol for prosperity. The bats represent the five happinesses: health, wealth, long life, good luck and tranquility. This ancient design is often depicted in red, the color of joy.
But bats of many designs and colors have a rich legacy throughout Chinese art. China, in fact, was the first nation known to feature a bat on postage stamps – more than 100 years before the United States got around to it in 2002.
Two bats on the wrapping of a gift convey best wishes and good fortune. The bat pair often appears with two butterflies, a symbol of marital bliss, on gifts for newlyweds.
Bats also appear in Chinese art with peaches, which symbolize fertility. Peaches, in fact, were first cultivated in China nearly 5,000 years ago, and before humans took control of the fruit, wild peaches depended on bats to disperse their seeds.
Although other cultures of Asia share some of China’s delight in bats, no Western nation comes close. If more of us accepted the Chinese view of these invaluable flying mammals, Bat Conservation International would have far less work to do.