Why the Chinese are batty about bats and westerners are not.


The Chinese are not spooked by bats, in fact they really rather like them. Bats feature prominently in Chinese art, embroidered on silk robes for an Emperor, painted on porcelain, b11e12a1c2c1ccc5393a17f3216d5453carved in lacquer ware or wood. On the landing outside our apartment is a beautifully carved screen which features a bat and fishes – the bats represent good fortune and the fish represent wealth – what more could one want?!authentic-hand-carved-chinese-cinnabar-lacquer-trinket-box-bats-1

Now that I’ve told you about bats being depicted on Chinese items, you will start noticing it yourself .*

mingbats

In the USA and Canada, the bat has become irrevocably linked to witches, demons, vampires and general spookiness – mainly as a result of the increasingly commercialised celebration of Halloween in North America.

th-3                                                                                                                                                                      In the UK they are  mainly thought of as a bloody nuisance’.                                                                                                                                          This is because all bats in Britain are protected by law, and when they settle in churches,  houses, or other buildings it is almost impossible to be allowed to remove them –  despite the damage their urine and faeces causes to fixtures and furnishings.  Some years ago I read the despairing letter a country vicar had written to the local newspaper who was at his wits end about how to contain the damage to the ancient paneling in his church which had become home to a colony of over 200 bats – he ended his letter by saying  “…if only they would stay in the belfry where they belong.”!

th-6

In English, the words bats/batty are often used to indicate a level of craziness, obsession, eccentricity etc.   You might hear someone say ‘Jim is bats about vintage cars’ meaning he really loves them; or someone else saying ‘that old man is completely batty, you won’t get much sense out of him’.

th-4

Then there are the many misconceptions about bats.                                                       Women, in particular, seem to be afraid of them,  they fear that bats will fly down and become entangled in their hair – this very common belief is highly unlikely to ever happen, bats will do almost anything to keep away from people, certainly it is not a common situation, not even an uncommon situation – it is as rare as finding a hen with teeth.

As experts say about many wild creatures: ‘they are more afraid of humans than humans are of them’.  Bats are also feared as spreaders of disease, – whilst that is always a possibility – but there is little evidence to show it actually happens regularly;  and as for them flying in to your home to suck your blood whilst you are asleep– forget it!       Unless of course you are living in the middle of a Central or South American jungle or a stone’s throw from the Amazon river – which rules out most of us – and even then it would be a rare occurrence.

Having bats in your neighbourhood is the sign of a clean environment, and as most bat species live on insects, they are helpful as they reduce the need for pesticides.

In China, unlike in the West, bats are considered lucky.

BatsBats have been living in China for millennia;  they were (and are) revered for their longevity and for the way they pollinated some fruits – particularly peaches.

Bats and Peaches B60P1707

As I have mentioned in other blog posts, the Chinese language has many, many words that are pronounced the same, but written with a different character. These words are often paired up, with one representing the other in symbols and puns.

One of the most common designs you see is that of five bats surrounding the symbol th-2shou which represents longevity, this also links to the Chinese idea of bats, as bats often live in caves and some colonies of bats are believed to have been living in such caves for over 1000 years.

The Chinese word for bat (fu 蝠) sounds identical to the word for good fortune(fu 福) making bats a popular Chinese rebus. Five bats together (wufu 五福), represent the ‘Five Blessings’:

images12

Long life, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death.

I have never been a particular fan of bats, as I had bought in to the  many misconceptions  about them. Now I am trying hard to change my views and understand these amazing creatures which are the only mammal that is able to fly; however I have quite a way to go before I will believe, as the Chinese do, that they bring good fortune.

 

* When I was staying in Cape Town recently, the guest room in my friend’s house had a jar on an upper shelf, and – of course – it showed the lucky five bats and a shou symbol!

 

 

 

About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
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11 Responses to Why the Chinese are batty about bats and westerners are not.

  1. victualling says:

    Fascinating. I will think of bats differently now — though still would not want them in my attic as happened once.

  2. Bea dM says:

    Never notices them on Chinese art, will do so from now on. And as I love Asian good luck pieces, I’ll look for a wufu from now on! Thanks for the – as usual – very interesting take on China

  3. camparigirl says:

    I have come to love bats since I moved where I currently live, which is somewhat rural for Los Angeles. As you say, bats are a sign of clean environment – they keep a lot of insects and small rodents out of the way.

  4. Behind the Story says:

    I confess that I haven’t noticed bats in Chinese art. As you say, now I’ll start seeing them. When we lived in the South Pacific, we saw many fruit bats zooming past our papaya trees at night. At first I was a little afraid, but knowing that they just ate fruit, I learning to accept them.

  5. Never really noticed bats in Chinese art. What i was always surprised at that many people here in Germany have never seen a bat. But what actually happened that those people never noticed that the flying things at evening time were bats and not some birds. Here at our apartment block there are so many bats each evening and none of my neighbours have ever noticed that till I told them that they are no birds

  6. Alistair Michie says:

    Brilliant batty blog XXX Your biggest fan

    From: JASMINE TEA & JIAOZI
    Reply-To: JASMINE TEA & JIAOZI
    Date: Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 11:50
    To: Alistair Michie
    Subject: [New post] Why the Chinese are batty about bats and westerners are not.

    herschelian posted: “The Chinese are not spooked by bats, in fact they really rather like them. Bats feature prominently in Chinese art, embroidered on silk robes for an Emperor, painted on porcelain, carved in lacquer ware or wood. On the landing outside our apartment is a b”

  7. tantalus2013 says:

    I’m a bit behind on my reading but this blog made the catch up interesting and amusing. Thank you.

  8. Christine says:

    Where can I buy the red trinket box

    • herschelian says:

      Hi Christine, I bought the one pictured at a local market in Beijing. The stall holder claimed it was real lacquer, I very much doubt it; but as I liked the box I bought it, but not at the inflated price he first quoted me!
      If you look online you may find some people selling boxes like this.
      If you are in the USA try gift shops in your nearest ‘China Town’, but don’t be bamboozled into believing it is ‘real’ lacquer – and pay accordingly. Real lacquer is hard to find, usually with reputable antique dealers, and very expensive. Good hunting!

  9. Pingback: Is VPN legal? The 4 countries where the VPN is banned.

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