The Significance of Frogs in Chinese Culture
Frogs and toads are significant in Chinese culture as symbols of immortality, healing, money, the moon and frivolity. According to the Daoist Toads Page, ""The toad is an auspicious animal in East Asia, especially in its three-legged form.
Although associated specifically with China's Daoist traditions, toads have long been a well-known symbol in Chinese culture generally, and throughout East Asia as well."
Frogs or toads in many ancient Chinese folktales are magicians or escape artists but also possess the secret to immortality. In the article "Frog Myths Across Cultures" Noel Wanner tells of a recurring character in these tales, the famous Daoist immortal Liu Hai who has a three-legged toad named Ch'an Chu. The toad knows the secret of immortality and shares it with the man out of gratitude for his friendship. Wanner also states many of the legends say this secret to immortality comes from a fungus on the frog's forehead. Other Daoist immortals, such as Hanshan and Shide, also often are pictured with toads.
Toads and frogs also are thought by the Chinese to have medicinal properties. The book "Chinese Magical Medicine" tells of madness being cured by "having the patient drink, thrice daily, a spoonful of calcined toad steeped in wine." The Daoist Toads Page states that according to tradition, pills that treat heart conditions can be made from toads. It also tells of toad skin being used to cure skin rashes and wounds. Toads and frogs often are shown pounding medicine with a pharmacist's mortar and pestle. The Animal Legal and Historical Center also notes toad was used by the Chinese to relieve poisoning and ulcers and reduce fever and swelling.
Frogs and toads are called "celestial chickens" by the Chinese. The book, "Man, Myth & Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown" states that according to some legends the morning dew brings "frog spawn" ( a cluster of tiny eggs covered with a jelly-like coating that allows them to float) down from the moon. The Daoist Toad Page also explains the Chinese saw toads as a negative "female force," or yin, that balanced the positive "male force," or yang. Toads also were thought to cause eclipses by swallowing the moon. "Chinese Mythology A to Z" tells of Zhang E, the wife of the divine archer Yi, who in some Chinese legends lives on the moon as a toad.
money frog image by Jovan Nikolic from Fotolia.com
The Daoist Liu Hai also often is shown with money, so his companion the toad became associated with gold coins. According to the Daoist Toads Page, coins bearing images of Liu Hai and his toad are considered good luck charms in Chinese folklore. Ch'an Chu, "the money frog" or "fortune frog," also is depicted on a pile of coins, often with one its mouth.
According to the Daoist Toad Page, frogs and toads not only were symbols of immortality, but also of carefree enjoyment and spontaneity.
- Frog Myths Across Cultures
- "Man, Myth & Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown"
- "Chinese Magical Medicine" by Michel Strickmann, Bernard Faure