Bats, one of the most frequent subjects in Chinese art, testify to the deep-rooted tradition and love of visual puns and wordplay in cultures of the Far East. Known as fú 蝠, the character for bat is a homophone for ‘blessings’ fú 福 and ‘riches’ fù 富, and when five bats are depicted, it is an unequivocal reference to wǔfù 五福 or the ‘five blessings’, a concept of positive hope for longevity, prosperity, health, virtue, and a peaceful demise of natural causes.
The propitiousness of the five bats is emphasised by further iconic symbology. Clouds, representing good fortune and high rank, fill the border design of lotus petals, the lotus plant a pun for harmony. The lingzhi motif symbolises immortality, the peony wealth and honour. Finally, the fú 福 character, stylised in a traditional roundel, marks every item with joyous sentiment.