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We’ve all seen this character flashing on many doors and windows in China. The 福 fú character is probably one the most popular during the Spring Festival and one of the most endeared by Chinese people but… do you, dear laowai, know the essence and origins of it?

The word is an image of worshipping the gods (示) by holding a wine jar (酉) with both hands. It is a comprehensive word composed of three parts: "hand", "wine" and "worship/pray".

Many scholars believe that the pictogram (below) is the earliest source of the meaning of . The original meaning of the word 福 at that time was “god’s blessing”; it means that only with the blessing of god can one obtain good fortune. Let’s take a look at the ancient character version that originated the modern version of .

The lower left part is two "hands", which means that both hands are holding a bottle of wine (酉); the right part of it is the word 示 shì, which represents praying to god; the whole word means knowing that both hands are holding a bottle of wine before the gods; it’s like worshipping the gods to ask for blessings while offering wine as a sacrifice.

As shown above, somehow the ancient shape of that wine vessel (酉) evolved to a more abstract version which is compiled by the radicals 一,口 and 田 (one, mouth and field), (and switched position to the right side) these radicals imply the meaning “一人一口田, 每个人都有工作有食物”, a field (a piece of land) for one person to work means more food, in other words: work, wealth and happiness.


Why do people paste the word 福 upside-down? Here comes one of those pun/homophone situations. Let’s remember that Chinese people love to play with them. It’s all because of the word 倒 dào, which is very similar to 到 dào in looks and in sound. The first one means “upside-down”, while the second one means “to arrive” this is why people will always paste the character upside down (倒) as a wordplay to signify that fortune has arrived “福倒 / 福到”.

Like many things in China, language implies many meanings, all abstracted in one single character. It's through time when people have given 福 (fú) many other associative meanings so in modern times 福 is a blessing, it’s luck, it’s fortune, it’s wealth, and it’s happiness.

Now that you know the origins of one of the most popular characters in China, share your comments! Also, take a look at our last CHARACTER ORIGINS article to know more! Would you like to know about other special characters? Feel free to ask in our social media channels: Facebook and Instagram.

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