The story of the Chinese bat is overwhelmingly one of an animal that represents good fortune and health.
In most times and places, the symbolic meaning of an animal tattoo tends to draw almost entirely on the actual physical and behavioral characteristics of the particular animal in nature – the powerful and majestic eagle, for example, or the owl, who hunts in darkness and is also a conductor of souls to the afterlife.
Occasionally, however, the meaning of a tattoo symbol has a much more accidental and fortuitous origin, as in the case of the Chinese bat.
Fu for Good Luck
In China, the character for “bat” is fu. In a happy coincidence, the character for “good luck” is also fu. Thus, in the ancient cultures of the Far East, unlike vampire bats, the bat is a symbol of good luck.
But the positive association don’t stop there. In messages of good wishes and hope for a long life, a bat is sometimes accompanied by the character for longevity.
Long Life and Fertility
In this case, though, it is the creature’s attributes that make for the additional meaning, since bats dwell in the darkness of caverns and such caverns are also the passageway to the realm of the Immortals. From the symbolism of good fortune and long life, it is a just a small step to that for fertility as well.
Crossing over into western culture, even Pliny the Elder, Roman natural historian of the first century, acknowledged that the blood of a bat, when placed under the pillow of a woman, acted as an aphrodisiac. It’s interesting to note that bats are the only mammal to truly fly. Also, only three species of bat actually drink blood, out of the 1400 species worldwide.
Wu Fu (Five Bats)
Perhaps one of the most popular positive bat tattoos, however, is the Chinese wu fu, or five bats. In this symbol, sometimes four bats are shown surrounding a fifth bat or five bats circulate around a stylized sign for longevity.
So Much Happiness
In both cases, the Wu Fu stands for the Five Happinesses (or Five Blessings): wealth, long life, peace, cultivation of virtue (or sometimes good health), and a good death.
Luck Arrives with The Upside Down Bat
Taking the symbolism one step further, Chinese bat tattoos (or simply the character for fu) will sometimes be placed upside down. That orientation derives from the fact that the words for “upside down” and “to arrive” also sound the same in Chinese (dao), such that the upside down bat means that good luck has arrived.
For your first tattoo or your fifth, the Chinese bat could hardly be more positive. This tattoo symbol has evolved through time from simply being associated with luck to encompassing just about every positive thing in living.
Frequently Asked Questions
In tattooing and elsewhere, the Chinese bat (or fu) is a symbol of luck.
The upside down Chinese bat carries the sense that good fortune is arriving.
The Wu Fu or five bat symbol represents the Five Happinesses of wealth, long life, peace, cultivation of virtue, and a good death.