What Does The Bear Symbolize In Chinese Culture?

A potent symbol in Chinese mythology and folklore, the bear has been an integral part of Chinese culture for centuries. The bear symbolises many things in traditional Chinese culture, including sturdiness, power, protection, and even long life. Learn more about the bear’s significance in Chinese symbolism as we explore it here.

what kind of bears live in china?

The Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the giant panda are the two types of bears that can be found in China (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).

Forested areas of Asia, including China, are home to the Asiatic black bear, also called the moon bear or white-chested bear. They have a white or cream patch on their chest that stands out dramatically against their jet-black fur. As omnivores, Asiatic black bears eat everything from fruit to nuts to insects to small mammals.

However, the giant panda is a well-known species of bear that is native to the southwestern region of China, specifically the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu. The black and white fur of a giant panda is instantly recognisable, and the animal’s diet consists almost entirely of bamboo.

Loss of habitat and poaching are major problems for both the Asiatic black bear and the giant panda. However, the Chinese government and other conservation organisations are making an effort to save these animals by safeguarding their remaining habitats and discouraging illegal hunting and poaching.

Where do bears live in China?

Both the Asiatic black bear and the giant panda can be found in various regions of China.

Asiatic black bears are found in forested areas throughout China, particularly in the mountainous regions of the southwest, including Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet. They also inhabit forests in northern China, such as the forests of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Inner Mongolia.

Giant pandas, on the other hand, are found in the bamboo forests of central China, particularly in the Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. The largest population of giant pandas is in Sichuan province, where they inhabit mountainous regions at elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet.

It is worth noting that both species of bear are endangered, and their habitats are threatened by human activities such as deforestation, poaching, and habitat fragmentation. As a result, conservation efforts are underway to protect their remaining habitats and ensure the survival of these magnificent animals in China.

bear in chinese culture

For thousands of years, bears have served as cultural icons in China, representing a wide range of symbolic meanings and beliefs.

The bear is a powerful and protective symbol in Chinese mythology, often representing the Earth Element. Bears, it is said, have a powerful connection to the earth and can ward off negative energy and evil spirits because of this. Bears are portrayed as divine beings with supernatural abilities in some Chinese legends.

Not only that, but in Chinese belief, the bear also represents eternal life. Bears are often used as metaphors for rebirth and renewal because of their seasonal hibernation and subsequent appearance in the spring. Longevity and health are linked to this natural cycle of birth, growth, and death.

Several Chinese deities and mythical figures have bears in their lore. The legendary Yellow Emperor of China, for instance, was rumoured to have been endowed from birth with the fortitude and might of a bear.

The giant panda is without a doubt the most well-known bear in China. The giant panda is a treasured symbol of China and an international ambassador for peace and friendship. Because of its calm demeanour, the panda has become an internationally recognised symbol of China.

bear symbolism in china

The bear holds significant symbolism in Chinese culture and mythology. The bear is considered an auspicious animal, representing power, strength, and courage. Here are some key examples of bear symbolism in China:

  1. Bear as a sacred animal: The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) and Fuxi, two legendary figures in Chinese mythology, are both associated with bears. Huangdi was known as Youxiong, meaning “having a bear,” while Fuxi was known as Huangxiong, meaning “yellow bear.” Even the rulers of the Chu Kingdom, who were descendants of Huangdi, bore the surname Xiong, meaning “bear.” This family considered the bear as a sacred animal.
  • Bear as a symbol of energy: The bear’s ability to hibernate and emerge in the spring was considered a symbol of energy and vitality. In ancient China, the character for “ability” (neng) was originally written in the shape of a bear. The bear was also associated with the goddess of life and rebirth, as it could undergo cycles of change and renewal.
  • Bear as a hero: The myth of Xia Yu, a hero who controlled the flooding of the Yellow River, tells the story of how Xia Yu transformed into a bear to move rocks and clear a path for the water. According to legend, Xia Yu made an agreement with his wife, Tushan Shi, to use drumbeats to signal when it was time for her to bring him food. One day, Xia Yu was so focused on his task that he turned into a bear and accidentally hit the drum with a rock. Tushan Shi heard the sound and was surprised to find a bear instead of her husband
  • Negative connotations: In modern times, the term “bear” (xiong) is used to describe a bear market or declining stock prices. It is also used as an insult to describe someone who is weak or incompetent.
  • Bear in mythology: The bear plays an important role in Chinese mythology. In the central position of Chinese gods is a “divine bear.” All the kings of the Chu Kingdom were called “Bear Kings,” and there were more than 20 “Bear Kings” recorded in the historical text, “Shiji.” In the Wei and Jin tombs in the western part of the Hexi Corridor, rows of bears can be seen. The Hezhe people, an ethnic minority in China, have a traditional bear totem made from fish skin.
  • Bear as a masculine symbol: In Chinese culture, the bear is often associated with masculinity and courage, just as the snake is associated with femininity. Dreaming of a bear is considered a sign of giving birth to a son. In Chinese astronomy, the Big Dipper, also known as the “Northern Dipper,” is composed of seven stars and is often referred to as the “Northern Seven Stars” or “Northern Bear.”
  • King Wen of Zhou dreamt of a bear with wings, and he desperately needed someone who was both knowledgeable and skilled in warfare to assist him. He searched long and hard for such a person. One day, he had a dream that a strange beast with wings flew into his arms. The next day, he had someone divinate and was told that he would find the person he was looking for near the Wei River. He led his men to the Wei River and found Jiang Shang, who was fishing with a straight hook. Jiang Shang, who called himself Fei Xiong (flying bear), was then brought into the court. He had the abilities of Yi Yin and helped both King Wen and King Wu of Zhou. He led the army to defeat the tyrant, and he saved the people from calamity. Jiang Shang was the first great hero of the Zhou dynasty.
  • Four BeastsThe original gods of the Western Heaven were the bear and the owl, but later the totem of the ancient Qiang tribe changed from the bear to the dragon. As the Qiang people migrated eastward during the time of the Yellow Emperor, the dragon totem was brought to the east and merged with the “Eastern Azure Dragon constellation,” while the vermilion bird became the new abode of the phoenix totem in the heavenly realm of the unified southern tribes, resulting in the popular symbol of “dragon and phoenix bringing auspiciousness.” As an ancient totem, the phoenix was in the east and the dragon was in the west, while as a star symbol, the azure dragon was in the east and the vermilion bird was in the west. After the establishment of the feudal system in the Zhou Dynasty and the mature development of the Five Elements theory, the heavenly bodies were reclassified, and the vermilion bird was worshiped in the south, together with the god of fire, Zhurong. In the west, the white tiger was worshipped. During tribal conflicts and migrations, the dragon in the northwest moved eastward, the phoenix in the east moved southward, and the tiger in the south moved northward, demonstrating a large-scale concept of circulation. By the Han Dynasty, the Five Elements theory became a unified ideology, with the addition of the Black Tortoise to complete the “Four Gods of the Four Directions.”
  • Chiyou’s mount was a panda. It is said that he raised two pandas at that time, one as a mount and the other as a pet. The national treasure panda may only appear cute and have weak combat power in many people’s eyes, but this is just an illusion, because pandas are also bears and can be extremely destructive when they go crazy. Moreover, thousands of years ago, pandas were a fierce carnivorous animal, so fighting alongside tribal leader Chiyou was feasible.

bear in chinese history

Bears have been significant in Chinese history and culture for thousands of years. In ancient times, bears were considered to be divine animals that possessed supernatural powers. They were often depicted in Chinese art and literature, including poetry and folk tales.

In Chinese mythology, the bear is often associated with the stars and constellations. For example, the Big Dipper constellation is known as the “Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper,” and the two stars at the end of the handle are referred to as the “Two Bears.”

In addition, there are many Chinese legends that feature bears as central characters. For example, the story of the “Foolish Old Man Removing the Mountains” features a bear who helps the old man in his quest to remove two mountains.

In the ancient Yellow Emperor tribe, the bear was considered a totem animal. Because bears represented strength, speed, and the ability to climb trees and swim in rivers, they were highly regarded by the ancient people. They firmly believed that a jade bear was a symbol of good luck. If someone happened to obtain a piece of jade, they would naturally carve it into the shape of a bear!

bear in Chinese mythology

Bears hold a significant place in Chinese mythology and folklore. In ancient times, bears were believed to possess divine powers and were revered as sacred animals.

One of the most famous Chinese myths involving a bear is the story of the Great Bear constellation, known as Dou in Chinese. According to the legend, the goddess Xi Wangmu selected a bear to represent her on earth. The bear was given the task of guarding the heavenly peach garden, where the peach trees only bloom once every 3,000 years, and the fruit of the tree grants immortality. The bear was rewarded for its duties by being lifted up into the heavens and transformed into the constellation known as the Great Bear.

Black Bear Spirit, also known as Bear Monster, is a character in the Chinese novel Journey to the West. Originally a black bear living in Black Wind Mountain’s Black Wind Cave, it had practiced for many years to become a monster. It wielded a black-tasseled spear, was skilled in transformations, and had powerful abilities. Later, it was taken in by Guanyin Bodhisattva as the guardian god of the mountain.

On their journey to retrieve Buddhist scriptures, the Tang Monk and his disciples passed by Guanyin’s temple and were plotted against by the greedy and foolish Elder Jinchi, who set fire to the temple to kill them. Black Bear Spirit went to put out the fire, but took advantage of the situation to steal the precious kasaya, or robe, given by Buddha to the Tang Monk. Despite Sun Wukong’s repeated attempts to retrieve it, he was unable to do so and had to seek help from Guanyin Bodhisattva in the South Seas. Guanyin Bodhisattva transformed into Lingxuzi, a good friend of Black Bear Spirit, and presented it with an elixir as a birthday gift. The Black Bear Spirit swallowed the elixir disguised as Sun Wukong, causing it to reveal its true form in pain. The Bodhisattva retrieved the kasaya for the Tang Monk and used the Golden Headband to subdue the Black Bear Spirit, making it convert to Buddhism and take the vows of monasticism. It then became the guardian god of Mount Laojung, watching over the South Sea.

bear in Chinese medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bear bile has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties and is used to treat liver and gallbladder problems, fever, and sore throat, among other conditions. Bear bile is often combined with other herbs to form a TCM formula or prescription, which is tailored to the specific needs of the patient.

However, the use of bear bile in TCM has been controversial due to concerns about animal welfare and conservation. The extraction of bile from bears, which involves surgically implanting tubes or catheters into their gallbladders, is considered inhumane and cruel. In response, many TCM practitioners and researchers have sought alternatives to bear bile, such as synthetic or plant-based substitutes.

Today, the use of bear bile is illegal in many countries, including China, but it remains a persistent problem in illegal wildlife trade. The Chinese government has taken steps to crack down on the illegal trade in bear bile and promote the use of alternatives in TCM.

bear food in china

Bear paw is considered a delicacy in some parts of China, particularly in Cantonese cuisine. It is often served as a banquet dish for special occasions, such as weddings or business dinners.

The preparation of bear paw involves a lengthy and complicated process. The paws are first soaked in water, vinegar, and wine to remove any odors. They are then boiled for several hours until the meat is tender and falls off the bones. The cooked paws are then chilled, sliced, and served with a sauce made of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and other seasonings.

However, it’s worth noting that the consumption of bear paw is controversial and illegal in many countries due to concerns about animal welfare and the impact on bear populations.

bear meaning in feng shui

In Feng Shui, the bear is often associated with strength, protection, and courage. The bear is also believed to bring good luck, prosperity, and abundance, particularly when depicted with a full belly or carrying a fish, as it symbolizes abundance and prosperity. However, the bear can also have negative connotations in Feng Shui, particularly when it is depicted as aggressive or violent, as this can be seen as bringing negative energy or conflict into a space. Additionally, in some Feng Shui schools of thought, the bear may be associated with the element of earth or the direction of the north. Overall, the bear is a complex symbol in Feng Shui that can have both positive and negative meanings depending on the context and interpretation.

bear in yin and yang

In traditional Chinese philosophy and medicine, the concept of yin and yang refers to the complementary yet opposing forces that are present in all aspects of the universe, including the human body.

In terms of the bear, it is often associated with the yin energy, which is associated with femininity, darkness, coldness, and passivity. This is due to the bear’s hibernation during the winter months and its association with the moon, which is also associated with yin energy.

However, it’s important to note that the bear can also be seen as a symbol of strength and power, which are typically associated with yang energy. Therefore, the interpretation of the bear’s meaning in yin and yang can vary depending on the context and perspective.

bear in five elements

In traditional Chinese philosophy, the Five Elements (also known as Wu Xing) are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each element represents a different aspect of nature and is associated with different qualities, organs, and emotions.

The bear is not typically associated with any of the Five Elements in traditional Chinese philosophy. However, as an animal that is strong and powerful, it could be associated with the element of Earth, which represents stability, grounding, and strength. The bear’s ability to hibernate during the winter months could also be seen as a representation of the Earth element’s ability to rest and conserve energy before springing back to life in the spring.

bear in Buddhism

In Buddhism, there are some mentions of bears in various scriptures and teachings, often used as a metaphor or symbol.

In some Buddhist traditions, the bear is considered as one of the eight auspicious symbols, representing strength, fearlessness, and confidence. It is often depicted as standing on its hind legs and holding a vase, representing abundance and good fortune.

In the Jataka tales, which are stories about the previous lives of the Buddha, there is a story about a bear who willingly sacrifices itself to save a monkey from a hunter. This story is often used as an example of selflessness and compassion.

In other Buddhist teachings, the bear is sometimes used as a metaphor for the mind, which can be wild and uncontrollable, like a bear. Through meditation and spiritual practice, one can tame the mind and bring it under control.

Overall, the bear is not a central figure in Buddhist teachings, but its symbolism is used to convey important lessons and values.

bear in Taoism

In Taoism, bears are often associated with the power of the earth and the cycle of nature. They are seen as symbols of strength, courage, and determination, and are believed to possess a strong connection to the spiritual realm.

In Taoist mythology, the bear is often depicted as a shape-shifting creature that can transform into a human form. In some stories, bears are also considered to be the guardians of sacred mountains and forests, and are revered as spiritual protectors.

In Taoist philosophy, the bear is sometimes used as a metaphor for the practice of cultivating inner strength and resilience. Just as a bear draws on its inner resources to survive and thrive in the wilderness, Taoist practitioners seek to cultivate their inner virtues and wisdom to navigate the challenges of life.

In the description of the Donghua Emperor’s appearance, he is a mythical figure with a human face and a beast body covered in white hair, and his mount is a black bear. The black bear symbolizes his strong abilities.

is the bear in the Chinese zodiac

The bear is not a part of the official Chinese zodiac. The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each animal represents a year in a 12-year cycle, and people born in a certain year are believed to have certain personality traits associated with that animal. The origins of the Chinese zodiac date back to ancient China, and the animals were selected based on their symbolic significance and practical use in traditional Chinese culture, such as agriculture and hunting. While the bear is not part of the official Chinese zodiac, it may hold cultural and symbolic significance in certain regions of China.

the story of the bear in china

The legend of “King Wen’s Dream of the Flying Bear” has been circulating for about thousands of years. “Fengshen Yanyi” describes this legend in detail. King Wen ordered the construction of an altar for sacrifice and named it “Lingtai.” On the day of completion, King Wen and his courtiers held a banquet to celebrate, and he slept on the altar that night. In the middle of the night, King Wen had a dream of a white-faced tiger with wings flying towards him. He woke up frightened by a loud noise and saw a fire behind the altar. The next day, a physician named Sanyi explained to King Wen that the dream was a good omen, and the “flying bear” referred to Jiang Ziya. Jiang Ziya was a famous figure who was known for his fishing skills and was called “flying bear.”

Jiang Ziya, whose surname was Jiang and given name was Shang, was also known by the Daoist name Feixiong. At the time, Jiang Ziya was fishing and recited the following poem: “Short rod and long line guard the stream, this mechanism is hard to know; Only fish for the current ruler and ministers, why bother with the fish in the water?” Jiang Ziya used a straight hook to fish and did not listen to the woodcutter’s advice: “Rather take from the straight than seek from the curved; Not for the brocade-scaled fish, only for the king and nobles.”

From this, it can be seen that in ancient times, tigers and bears were considered auspicious creatures. In the novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” Dong Zhuo’s elite troops were called the “Flying Bear Army.” However, for some reason, the word “tiger” still carries a powerful connotation, while “bear” has lost its glory over time. Especially when paired with the word “dog,” it becomes the derogatory term “dog-bear.” It is a shame to see a hero being referred to as a “dog-bear.” The stock market also looks down on “bears.” A good market is called a “bull market,” but a market crash is referred to as a “bear market.” Even insults include the phrase “you are such a bear!” Most words containing the character “bear” have a negative connotation. Fortunately, the idiom “tiger-backed and bear-waisted” has a positive meaning.

Idioms of bear in china

鱼与熊掌(yú yǔ xióng zhǎng)

This means that it is difficult to choose between two desirable options. One must make a clear decision and be willing to give up one option in order to gain the other, which is even more valuable. This concept is derived from “Mencius: Gaozi II,” a classical Chinese text.

虎背熊腰(hǔ bèi xióng yāo)

The meaning is “broad back like a tiger, thick waist like a bear”, describing a person with a robust and sturdy body. It comes from the novel “Flying Daggers and Shooting Arrows”.

bear vs panda

Bears and pandas are both members of the bear family, but they have some differences.

Bears are a diverse group of mammals that can be found in many different habitats around the world. They are generally large, with shaggy fur, a stocky build, and a powerful sense of smell. They have sharp claws and strong jaws, which they use to hunt and scavenge for food. Some well-known species of bears include grizzly bears, polar bears, and black bears.

Pandas, on the other hand, are a species of bear that are native to China. They are much smaller than other bear species, with distinctive black and white markings on their fur. They are herbivores and feed primarily on bamboo. Unlike other bears, pandas do not hibernate during the winter months.

In Chinese culture, bears and pandas have different symbolic meanings.

Bears are generally associated with strength, courage, and ferocity. In ancient times, bears were often depicted in Chinese art as fierce and powerful animals that were feared by humans. However, bears were also believed to possess supernatural powers and were sometimes worshipped as deities.

Pandas, on the other hand, are seen as gentle, peaceful, and cute creatures. They are considered a national treasure in China and are often used as a symbol of the country. Pandas are also associated with harmony and friendship, as they are known for their social behavior and close relationships with other pandas. In Chinese culture, pandas are often depicted in art and literature as friendly and lovable creatures.

Overall, while both bears and pandas are respected and admired animals in Chinese culture, they are seen as having different characteristics and symbolic meanings.

chinese bear vs Kirin

In Chinese culture, the bear (熊) and the Kirin (麒麟) hold different symbolic meanings.

The bear is seen as a symbol of strength, courage, and longevity. It is believed that the bear’s gallbladder has medicinal properties and can be used to cure various ailments. In ancient China, bear worship was prevalent, and the animal was considered to be a symbol of power and might.

On the other hand, the Kirin, also known as the Qilin, is a mythical creature that symbolizes prosperity, peace, and good luck. It is often depicted as a dragon-like animal with antlers, scales, and hooves. According to Chinese mythology, the Kirin appears during times of peace and prosperity and brings good luck and fortune to those who see it.

Overall, while both the bear and the Kirin hold significant cultural significance in China, they represent different values and beliefs. The bear is associated with strength and power, while the Kirin is associated with good luck and prosperity.

chinese bear vs tiger

The bear and the tiger hold significant places in Chinese culture and folklore, both being symbols of power, strength, and courage.

In ancient China, the tiger was seen as the king of all beasts and was regarded as a symbol of power and bravery. It was believed that the tiger was capable of overcoming any obstacle or challenge, and that its strength and ferocity could protect against evil spirits and bring good luck.

On the other hand, the bear was seen as a symbol of strength and tenacity, often revered for its ability to survive in harsh environments. It was also believed to possess the power to heal and was associated with the practice of traditional Chinese medicine.

In terms of a direct confrontation between a bear and a tiger, there is a Chinese proverb that says, “A tiger is strong, but a bear is stronger when it’s angry.” This suggests that while the tiger may be more agile and fierce, the bear’s strength and tenacity may give it an advantage in a fight.

Overall, both the bear and the tiger hold significant cultural significance in China and are regarded as symbols of power, strength, and courage.

chinese bear vs dragon

In Chinese culture, the bear and the dragon are also significant symbols, but they are generally not compared directly in the same way as the bear and tiger.

The dragon is one of the most revered creatures in Chinese mythology, symbolizing power, prosperity, and good fortune. It is often depicted as a benevolent creature, capable of bringing rain and controlling the elements.

The bear, on the other hand, is seen as a symbol of strength and resilience, often associated with protection and healing.

While there are no direct comparisons between the bear and dragon, there are some traditional stories and myths that involve both creatures. For example, there is a tale in Chinese folklore about a bear who is transformed into a dragon after successfully climbing a mountain to reach a magical pearl.

Overall, both the bear and the dragon hold significant cultural importance in China, and their symbolism is widely recognized and celebrated.

chinese bear vs taotie

The Taotie is a mythical creature in Chinese culture, often depicted as a ferocious beast with an insatiable appetite for food and flesh. It is typically shown with a gaping mouth and no body, representing its insatiable hunger.

In comparison, the bear in Chinese culture is seen as a symbol of strength and tenacity, often revered for its ability to survive in harsh environments.

There is no direct comparison between the bear and the Taotie in Chinese culture, as the Taotie is considered a mythical creature with no physical form or real-world counterpart. However, both creatures do share a common association with strength and power, and they are both recognized as important symbols in Chinese folklore and mythology.

Overall, the bear and the Taotie hold their own unique places in Chinese culture, and their symbolism continues to inspire and fascinate people around the world.

Chinese bear vs Viking bear

The bear holds significant cultural significance in both Chinese and Viking cultures, but they are viewed and depicted quite differently.

In Chinese culture, the bear is typically seen as a symbol of strength, resilience, and healing. It is often associated with traditional Chinese medicine and revered for its ability to survive in harsh environments.

In Viking culture, the bear is also a symbol of strength and courage, but it is often viewed as a fierce and aggressive warrior animal. In Viking mythology, the bear is associated with the god Odin, who was believed to have the power to transform into a bear and harness its ferocity in battle.

There is no direct comparison between the Chinese bear and the Viking bear, as they are viewed and interpreted differently in each culture. However, both creatures are recognized as powerful symbols of strength and resilience, and their cultural significance continues to inspire and fascinate people around the world.


In conclusion, the bear is a powerful symbol in Chinese culture, and it is associated with various meanings, including strength, power, protection, and longevity. Its symbolism is deeply ingrained in Chinese mythology and folklore, and it continues to be a significant cultural symbol in modern times.

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