流書系列019> 葫蘆【hulu】gourd to express the energy (chi 氣) of Chinese gourd symbolism (1390mm X 700mm)
In Chinese, the gourd is called hulu (葫蘆). The first character hu (葫) is the homophone of the word 「to protect or guard」 (hu 護) and the word for 「blessing」 (hu 祜). In the olden days, hulu were tied onto the back of small children, in case they fall into a stream, river or sea. The hulu is popular as a charm to ward off evil spirits and diseases.
In Chinese mythology, many Taoist immortals (such as Iron-Crutch Li) were depicted as holding a gourd. Besides using the gourd as a container for liquors, magic elixirs or medicine, the immortals also used the gourd to suck and confine evil spirits to it. Hence, the gourd is believed to have the ability to absorb negative energy in the surroundings.
Hulu, the Chinese word for gourd, has other auspicious associations as well. Its pronunciation is very similar to fulu (福祿), which means 「happiness (or good fortune) and high official rank」. The trailing gourd vines are called wan dai (蔓帶), which sounds like 「ten thousand generations」 (萬代). By linking the above words together will result in the phrase 「fulu wan dai」, meaning 「good fortune throughout the generations」.
As the gourd contains many seeds, the Chinese also associate it with 「Hundred sons, thousand grandsons」 (百子千孫). The gourd, therefore, symbolizes fertility as well. (Note: To the ancient Chinese, having generations of descendants to carry on the family line is an important aspect of filial piety.)
The number 「8」 is the most favourite number of the Chinese. The Cantonese pronunciation for this number is fatt (發), which implies 「to prosper」. Since the shape of the gourd resembles 「8」, the gourd is regarded as an auspicious object.
Additionally, the shape of the gourd is likened to Heaven and Earth united; the top part of gourd being Heaven and the bottom Earth. This represents completeness and harmony.
In ancient days, travellers stored water or potions in bottle gourds. As water is essential to life and without it the travellers cannot survive the long journeys, the gourd earned the name of 「Giver of Life」 for its role in the storage of water.
Old men in those days were also frequently seen carrying gourds on their backs. Gradually, the gourd became associated with good health and longevity.
There is a Chinese idiom 「xuan hu ji shi」 (懸壺濟世), meaning 「practise medicine to relieve the pain and sufferings of others」. Literally translated, it will be 「carry pot to aid the world」. The pot 「hu」 (壺) is the ancient Chinese reference to the bottle gourd.
The phrase 「xuan hu ji shi」 often appears in the congratulatory message or plaque for the opening of a new clinic, especially Chinese physician clinic. Hence, the bottle gourd hulu becomes closely related to Chinese medicine and is a popular logo of Chinese pharmaceutical companies and traditional Chinese medical halls.