Chinese good fortune symbol fu2 福 - Why is it pasted upside down during Chinese New Year?

I bet you’ve seen paper cuts of the Chinese good fortune symbol fu2 福 pasted upside down everywhere during Chinese New Year.

Do you know why?

Well, maybe you do know that it means “good fortune has arrived”, but do you know the story behind it?

This is one of my favorite stories related to Chinese characters.

One day, during the Ming Dynasty about 600 years ago, Emperor Zhu Yuan Zhang was traveling in disguise in a small town.



He saw a group of people gathered around a poster and laughing heartily. It was a caricature of a woman with large feet holding a watermelon.

Emperor Zhu recognized the woman as his wife, the Empress Ma.

Enraged he ordered his bodyguards to follow the men responsible for the poster and write a fu2 character – the Chinese good fortune symbol -- on their doors, so his soldiers could return the next day and put them to death.

(“good fortune” certainly is “misfortune” in this case!)

The Emperor went back to his palace and told the Express about the day's events.

Now, Empress Ma was a kind-hearted woman. To avert the disaster, she immediately sent her trusted servants to order the towns people to put up a fu2 character before dawn the next day.

When the soldiers came to the town the next morning, they found every house with a fu2 character on the door!

But they also found a family who could neither read nor write who stuck a “drawing” of fu2 upside down on their door.

The Emperor was informed and he immediately ordered the soldiers to arrest the family with upside down fu2.

When Empress Ma knew about this, the quick-witted woman told Emperor Zhu:

"This family knows you're coming, that's why they turned the fu upside down to welcome you. Isn't this the meaning fu2 dao4 福到 (good fortune has arrived)?"

(Upside down dao4 倒 and arrived dao4 到 are different Chinese characters with the same tone in Mandarin.)

Hearing this, the emperor let go of the family, and a disaster was avoided.

From then on the tradition of hanging the Chinese good fortune symbol fu upside down, especially during Chinese New Year, was passed down the ages.

More Chinese good fortune symbols


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