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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Upside Down Fortune

Chinese Lucky Knot Cookies with the character "Fu". The one in the middle is inverted.
I was clearing out my closet when I found a lucky knot with a Chinese character on it. Though I can speak 2 dialects of Chinese, I can't read or write the language. Following the strokes, I tried to reproduce the character on my phone using the Pleco Chinese character recognition app but it could not recognize the character. Dang! I had to seek the assistance of my very traditional aunt who is constantly on my back for my illiteracy. Rolling her eyes at me, she turned the knot upside down and  explained that the character was an inverted "Fu" (fortune)! No wonder the app couldn't recognize it!  I had written it upside down! :smack:  Who knew!  I was curious about the reason behind the inversion but I quickly disappeared before she had the opportunity to launch into another long tirade about how disgraceful I am for being a Chinese and not knowing the language.

 I googled for more information and here's what I learned

 A long, long time ago, in ancient China, a servant was putting up the character "Fu" (福) on the door in a rich man's dwelling to herald the arrival of the Spring Festival. However, this servant was illiterate and did not know the word "Fu". He inadvertently placed the character upside down on the door. This made the  master of the house very angry and he wanted to give the poor servant a good whooping.  Just then, another quick-thinking servant told the master that the occurrence must have been a sign of prosperity "arriving" upon his household. His words calmed the master and in fact, made him very happy. Now, why then did the servant say that?
That's because the Chinese are big on homophones and the character for "inverted"  (倒) nearly sounds the same as  "Dao" (到) meaning "arrive". Therefore, the phrase an "upside-down Fú" sounds nearly identical to the phrase "Good Fortune Arrives".
From then on, "Fu" is pasted upside-down  on all doors in every household as the inverted "Fu" translates into a wish for prosperity to descend upon a dwelling.

Another interesting version to share.

It is said that the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang once used the character "Fu" as a cryptic code when he marked someone to be killed.
One such person who knew too many secrets about the royal court was on the emperor's hit list.The assassin was to kill that person with the indication of a character “Fu” hung on his door.
The kindhearted wife of the emperor, Empress Ma,  could not bear to kill people and she worried that the insistence of their killing people would lead to broad and severe repercussions.
To thwart her husband's plan, she gave everyone the order to hang the character “Fu” on their doors. Interestingly, an illiterate family hung the “Fu” upside down by mistake. Confused by the "Fu' on all the doors,  the assassin was not able to identify his target. On hearing this, the emperor was enraged. In his fury, he ordered to kill the goof who hung the “Fu” upside down.

To avert the situation, the clever empress remarked that the inverted "Fu"  had an interesting meaning “Fudao”(福倒) which was homophonous  with that of “luck was on my side.” The Emperor was placated and the victim was spared.

Thus, besides praying for prosperity, the "Fu' is hung upside down in memory of the kind and wise Empress Ma.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday


  1. Interesting to read this :) At least your aunt was willing to help you, even though she might not be very happy you are not literate in writing the language :)


  2. I love this article! I am so interested in Chinese characters and calligraphy. I especially like to try with the special brush and ink set that was given to me by a friend of my father's when he and his wife came to visit. I practiced very hard but never mastered the skill.
    Love the stories in this blog.
    And happy to say I finally followed you! Took me long enough to figure how to do this blog thing.
    xo Dea

  3. Very interesting. Thanks for filling us in, Veronica. I've heard of Fu is Fu connected with them??

  4. I think it's great you can speak it!

    That's funny that you wrote it upside down.

    I love Chinese art!

    My Father swore up and down he had Native American in him. His Grandmother told him stories about his relatives he never met. He worked on Native American art. Then he decided to take a test to tell him what his genetics are. He has no Native American in him, but he does have some Chinese. Ha! It's funny because he's a tall, very white skinned, red head. I told him that he should start studying Chinese art!

  5. Great read. I love learning about other cultures. Well written as well. So thankful to find and meet others through the Mommy Bloggers Club who are doing this so well. Keep up the amazing work. April :)

  6. Interesting story! Thanks for sharing with the Thursday Blog Hop!

  7. This is really interesting!
    My son is learning Mandarin and so we're enjoying learning more about the Chinese history and culture.

    Laura xx

  8. Ohhh this is really interesting. As an English teacher in uk homophones and plays on words etc are really interesting to me so fun to learn how it happens with other languages. #KCACOLS

  9. I love to read your posts. I have actually just written about our recent exchange in my latest blog. I've tried to link you via twitter but I'm not sure you are on there? Nicky #KCACOLS

  10. Learning about different cultures and languages is always interesting! :) #KCACOLS

  11. What an interesting story! I wouldn't want anyone to hang one on my door!! Don't really fancy an assassin coming round ;) great that you figured out what it meant! Facinating read x #KCACOLS xx

  12. Oh wow this is so interesting. I love to learn about other cultures. It is just so fascinating those stories. I really don't know much about Chinese culture so I was so happy to read this post. Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS. I would love to see you again on Sunday! :-) x