Chinese Tree of Life: Symbolism, Mythology, and Meaning

Published Categorized as Tree Symbolism
The Chinese Tree of Life
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The Chinese Tree of Life

Historians have long noted the significance of the Chinese Tree of Life symbolism, which is often found in Chinese mythology and religious symbolism. Typically, the motif would depict a phoenix or fenghuang perched on top of a tree, with coins, leaves and people hanging from its branches.

What is the Chinese tree of life?

The Chinese Tree of Life motif is believed to have first appeared in ceramic vessels found in Sichuan dating back to 1200 BCE, which depicted trees of life with phoenixes at their tops.

The dragon at the bottom of the tree symbolized immortality, while the fruit represented eternal life.

Its enduring legacy is evidenced by its continued use as an inspiration for artists around the world, as it is a representation of the belief that those who consume the magical peach will achieve immortality.

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Chinese Immortality Tree

The Chinese tree of life is also called Chinese Immortality Tree. Another artifact from the Han dynasty was a ceramic base found in Sichuan with horned beasts guarding it along with coins representing leaves on the tree top and birds resembling phoenixes at its apex.

These artifacts have lead historians to believe that the Chinese tree of life symbolizes the legend of a tree that bears a peach every three thousand years, granting immortality to whoever eats it.

Chinese Scholar Tree

Historians have long recognized the significance of the Chinese Scholar Tree. It has been associated with scholars and politicians for much of China’s ancient history, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Rites of Zhou and other documents.

Shen Kuo wrote in his Dream Pool Essay that the imperial Hanlin Academy had a dormitory nicknamed “Scholar Tree Hall” due to its large size and presence in front of the building.

This tree symbolizes knowledge and political power and is seen as a sign of luck due to its long life span of up to 1000 years. In more recent times, scientists have noted the tree’s value as a fertilizer, helping other plants to grow more effectively. It is clear that the Chinese Scholar Tree holds an important place in Chinese culture and history.

What are the different types of trees in Chinese mythology?

Mayan World Tree

The Mayan World Tree, or Yaxche, was a large ceiba pentandra tree, which was believed to be planted by gods in the four corners of the world to support the heavens.

Due to its symbolic connection between heaven and earth, as well as its connection between different worlds, the Mayan World Tree had become quite popular in Chinese mythology.

It has been suggested that this theme had been passed down from pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, due to its significance in these societies.

Ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven

Throughout history, the Ailanthus altissima tree has been an object of fascination for historians. Native to both northeast and central China and Taiwan, this deciduous tree is capable of growing up to 15 meters (49 ft) and is commonly known as tree of heaven, ailanthus, or in Standard Chinese as chouchun.

Its rapid growth rate and ability to thrive in temperate climates has made it a popular choice for creating traditional Chinese furniture due to its lightweight but durable wood. In traditional Chinese medicine, the tree is also used for various ailments such as skin conditions like acne and eczema. As a result, the tree of heaven has been surrounded by myths and folklore for centuries.

Yew

Historians have noted the significance of the yew tree in Chinese mythology, particularly its connection to Xi Wang Mu, the god of medicine and the grantor of immortality. It was believed that Xi Wang Mu’s palace was made entirely out of yew trees, and this connection has created a powerful association between the tree and long life and rebirth after death.

Today, the yew tree is still seen as a symbol of death and mourning, and is often used during funerals and on gravestones to pay tribute to the deceased. In addition to its spiritual significance, the yew tree is dangerous due to its poisonous properties, as the leaves, bark, and berries contain toxic chemicals that can be fatal if ingested.

Chinese Elm

The long-standing use of the Chinese Elm in traditional Chinese medicine and ceremonies is noted. Its leaves were believed to have medicinal properties that could treat a range of illnesses, while its fruit was edible, either fresh or dried, and could be used to make tea to aid in digestion.

The Chinese Elm was also valued for its diverse uses in everyday life, from the production of furniture to pest control. Furthermore, its appearance changed depending on the season, making it an attractive addition to any landscape. This tree, with its long history of use, has played an integral part in Chinese culture.

Mulberry

The mulberry tree has played in Chinese mythology. It is thought to have been the first tree to appear on earth and to have given humans the ability to create silk. The mulberry tree was also essential for silkworm farming, which was a key source of income for farmers centuries ago. Many people planted mulberry trees close to their homes as a practical way to access the leaves used for silkworm rearing.

Chinese catalpa

The Chinese catalpa was also often found near dwellings as it provided wood for furniture and tools, in addition to medicinal benefits from its bark and leaves. Both these trees were especially revered for their utilitarian uses, and so it was common to plant them in the vicinity of newly built or restored houses.

Chakras

Chakras have been a part of Eastern religions for centuries. The chakras are said to be energy centers in the body which connect physical and spiritual wellbeing. The Sanskrit word for wheel or disc “Chakra” is where the term originates.

The Tree of Life in Kabbalah has 10 channels, known as Sefirot, compared to the seven chakras of the East. Chinese mythology also has a concept of five elements which link to certain parts of nature, each element having its own color, season, and organ or bodily function related to it.

Animals on trees

Historians have long recognized the importance of animals in Chinese mythology, in particular their connection to the tree of life. Dragons, phoenixes, birds, and water monsters all figure prominently in this symbol. Dragons are often found at the base of the tree, symbolizing strength, power, wisdom, and knowledge. At the top of the tree, a phoenix can often be found, representing rebirth, renewal, and immortality. Birds, meanwhile, are thought to represent fertility, rebirth, and renewal in Mesoamerican artworks, often residing in the branches of world trees. Finally, in some depictions of world trees from Mesoamerica, there are roots that lead down into an underworld populated by a water monster, representing danger or death.

How does the symbolism of the Chinese tree of life relate to other symbols in Chinese culture?

Historians have noted the significance of the Chinese tree of life and the dragon in Chinese culture for centuries. The tree is believed to symbolize immortality, and the dragon is revered for its power.

The presence of a peach fruit that appears once in three thousand years is thought to be representative of the phoenix, which is second only to the dragon in terms of respect. Both symbols are displayed with birds perched atop them; however, the phoenix stands for rebirth while the bird-like creature at the top of the tree of life from Sanxingdui symbolizes immortality.

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What are the myths and legends surrounding the Chinese tree of life?

1. The roots of the tree of life represent the world of the dead

Historians have described the Chinese tree of life symbol as representing interconnectedness and dependence on Mother Earth. The tree’s roots spread inward towards the ground and its branches reach outward towards the sky, indicating the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Furthermore, the tree signifies strength, wisdom, longevity and continual rebirth, as it sheds its leaves in autumn, hibernates in winter, grows new leaves in spring, and is full of life in summer.

2. The trunk of the tree of life represents the world of the living

The trunk of the Chinese Tree of Life symbolizes the present living world, as well as representing the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. It is seen as a physical and spiritual connection to both Mother Earth and the universe, while also embodying the idea of evolution and results. By providing us with wisdom, the trunk serves to promote harmony and growth within the natural world.

3. The branches of the tree of life represent the heavens

The tree of life in Chinese mythology is a symbol of immortality, the branches were seen to represent different aspects of life that are essential to survival, the spiritual energy that flows through all living beings in a never-ending cycle.

The roots of the tree were thought to represent our physical ties to Earth, while the branches reaching towards heaven signified our desire to transcend beyond earthly limitations.

4. The leaves of the tree of life represent knowledge

The Chinese tree of life is a symbol of continuous growth, its branches and leaves were believed to represent the wisdom that could be gained from it, allowing people to lead a life full of meaning and purpose.

5. The fruits of the tree of life represent immortality

The Chinese tree of life, or “peach of immortality” was a mythical tree that only grew once every three thousand years and consuming the fruit from this tree would be able to grant someone immortality and heal any sickness or injury.

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Those who were fortunate enough to consume the fruit from this tree were said to be granted great wisdom from the gods, allowing them to repent for their sins and learn from their mistakes, bringing them closer to eternal peace.

6. The snakes of the tree of life represent evil

The role of snakes in Chinese mythology and religion are symbols of good fortune, wealth, fertility, and longevity. It is believed that snakes possess the power to connect people to their ancestors and deities through their ability to travel between worlds.

Snakes were viewed as protectors against evil spirits, as they had the ability to sense danger from afar.

FAQs

How is the Chinese Tree of Life used in rituals?

Ancient historians have documented the power of trees to balance universal forces and provide passage between the three realms of heaven, Earth, and the underworld. One of the most popular symbols of this power was seen in the carving of a Tree of Life, which featured a phoenix and dragon.

To heighten the power of the Tree of Life

  • Coins were used as leaves on the tree, representing wealth in Chinese culture.
  • Small figurines were also placed at the apex of the tree, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.
  • Sacrifices were offered at the base of the tree, showing gratitude for the blessings received from it.
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By leslieszabo

I like silence. I like balance.