Wu Gui/Xuanwu: Turtle/Tortoise Symbolism Meaning In Chinese Culture

The Chinese culture recognizes different animals and items as crucial aspects of the culture, and they carry different important meanings, which means that the animals are mostly held in very high regard.

The turtle is one such animal, and it is auspicious in Chinese culture. But what exactly does the turtle symbolize?

What’s The Chinese Symbol For Turtle?

tortoise phoenix dragon tiger

The turtle or the tortoise is one of the sacred animals in Chinese culture, and it is believed to be the symbol of power, longevity, and tenacity.

Culturally, the turtles are often depicted as patient, easy-going, and wise creatures; and thanks to their slow movement, long lifespan, wrinkled appearance, and their sturdiness, the turtle is practically the symbol and emblem of longevity. In other cultures, the turtle is regarded as a symbol of stability.

As a result, the turtle is often incorporated into human cultures, with poets, photographers, painters, sculptors, and songwriters incorporating the turtles as subjects for their creative works. And you also have the sea turtles, which are the most charismatic megafauna that are symbols of environmentalism and the marine environment.

But what’s the difference between turtles and tortoises? While these terms are often used interchangeably, the turtle is a flat-shelled sea creature, while the tortoise has a dome-shaped shell and lives on land. But even with these differences in habitat, both the turtle and the tortoise are auspicious animals. The tortoise lives much longer than the turtle – 150 years for the tortoise vs. 40 years for the turtle. With this in mind, the tortoise rather than the turtle is the creature that is associated with longevity.

It’s worth noting that there are four sacred creatures in Chinese culture – the phoenix, tortoise, dragon, and unicorn likeness the Ky-Lin. The tortoise is a creature of the North, and like the other 4 creatures, it is very auspicious, and they all promote good luck. In Feng Shui, for example, the turtle makes your home auspicious, as long as you keep it away from the bathroom and the kitchen. You could also wear the turtle as an amulet because it is the sensible thing to do. The turtle is also known for its oracular powers, with the ability to hold all the wearer’s future secrets.

Tortoise In Chinese Mythology

Chinese mythology places the tortoise (turtle) as a creature in one of the most prominent positions, which is regarded highly as the symbol of tranquillity and steadfastness. According to Chinese mythology, the longevity of the tortoise is associated with the longevity and the strength of the tortoise’s shell. It is also a symbol of protection from enemies, which is why it’s often worn as an amulet or a charm.

With a great deal of tortoise and turtle mythology derived from the Far East, and with the word turtle used as a collective term that refers to the turtles and tortoises, it makes sense that the symbolism is important. In most cases, the people from the Far East view the turtle as the symbol of heavens and earth. The turtle’s shell is considered a symbol of the heavens, while the flat bottom is a symbol of the earth. Notably, the Chinese view the turtles/ tortoises as more than symbols of heaven and earth, but also symbols of endurance, wisdom, long life, and wealth. And so, the Chinese choose the turtles to represent the traits of the most enduring animals. The Chinese also believe that that between the soft underbody and the hard shell is what holds secrets, and as a result, the tortoise and turtles shells were used in different Chinese ceremonies, especially during the time of the Shang dynasty (1766-1122BC) as predictors of the future. And to increase the potency of the symbol and the animals, a dragon-headed turtle would be spliced with the turtle’s shell.

And the fact that these hard-shelled animals can for a really long time without any food while never contracting disease is why some people in the Chinese culture believe that these animals have supernatural powers.

In Feng Shui, turtle figurines are considered guardians of the compass and also believed to have the power to bring and add prosperity, support, as well as wealth to the family involved. This is because, in Feng Shui, the turtles are regarded as energy enhancers and enhance protection to the family. Just make sure that the turtle’s orientation is North-facing.

And then there is also the Northern Constellation, which according to Chinese culture, is made of a turtle with a snake that is wrapped around it, and it’s otherwise known as the Black Warrior or Black Tortoise. Turtles on display, especially the single turtle image or figurine, are believed to have the power to provide success, family support, and also riches.

dragon headed turtle

Chinese Turtle God

According to Chinese mythology, Ao is this large marine turtle believed to have lived in the South Chinese Sea when the earth was formed by the goddess Nüwa who is believed to be the creator of mankind. Ao is believed to have had an influence on the half-turtle, half-dragon figure Bixi.

What stands out is the Black Tortoise or the black turtle called the Xuanwu, which is one of the 4 symbols from the Chinese constellations. This turtle is also known as the black warrior, and it represents the winter seasons and the north. In Japan, this creature is known as the Genbu, and it’s one of the guardian spirits that protect Kyoto and the city in the north.

Tortoise Meaning In Chinese

  • The Chinese have different meanings associated with the turtles and the tortoise, and according to Chinese culture, these are the meanings associated with the turtle.
  • In Feng Shui, the turtle is considered one of the sacred animals that is regarded as the symbol of wisdom, long life, wealth, and endurance. And the shells were believed to carry secrets of the universe, the heavens, and earth. The tortoise’s extraordinary survival is associated with longevity.
  • The Chinese also consider the turtle a good luck charm that is carried as a totem pole with the power to bring prosperity and protection to the home. It is also associated with wealth attraction in Feng Shui, while the turtle dragon is an effigy that brings success to businesses.

Oracle Bone

oracle bone china

The Chinese oracle bones, also known as the Dragon’s bones, were used by the Shang dynasty for divination purposes. The oracle bones are shoulder blades made of the plastrons of the turtles or the oxen’s blades – this is the turtle shell’s flat underside. These bones have symbols carved in the bone with words that are now recognized as part of the Chinese script.

The fortune-tellers carved symbols on the bones until the shell or the bones cracked, then the cracks formed would help in the predictions and the interpretations of the future. Most oracle bones were discovered in Shang Dynasty, although others are believed to be from as early as the times of the Zhou dynasty.

Essentially, the practice of telling the future is called scapulimancy, and it translates to the practice of telling the future by examining or studying the scapula or the shoulder bone for animals and plastromancy that makes use of the turtle’s plastron or use of fire (pyromancy).

The oracle bones remain an important part of human history, and the people of China used the bones for decision-making. The oracle bones were used across most dynasties, and fortune-tellers and psychics would use the oracle bones to help them communicate with the spirits.

So, in Chinese cultures, history, and writing, the oracle bones were a crucial part. And the scripts are now recognized as an important part of the written Chinese language.

The information on the oracle bones mostly covered the reigns of the later kings that ruled in the Shang Dynasty.

Sea Turtle Meaning In China

sea turtle chinese

The sea turtle, also called Haigui, is one of the 4 sacred animals that is associated with wisdom, wealth, and longevity. These sea creatures are charismatic megafauna that are great symbols of environmentalism and the marine environment.

Although the sea turtles are misconceived as sedentary sea creatures, they are actually very resilient, traveling over long distances in the sea. So, the sea turtles are considered symbols of steadfastness and perseverance.

They also represent the true spirit of the turtle, which represents perseverance in a negative world. They also symbolize a home or a retreat, the ultimate symbol of protection, persistence, healing, and transformation. Although the sea turtles are semi-aquatic, they are not disconnected from the sea, and thanks to their years of evolution and how they journey across the sand and the sea shows the powerful transformational power of the turtles.

On top of all these, the sea turtle is the real spirit animal with a powerful impact on the human experience. It serves as a guide and brings you messages from the universe.

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