The Ruyi : More Than Just a Pattern

Evan Mantyk and Natasha Stevanovic, Contributing Writers

Perhaps you’ve noticed a recurring pattern which is used in many classical Chinese designs. This pattern is made up from recurring ruyi symbols which embody an insightful and rich cultural meaning.

What is the Ruyi?

Most ruyi symbols have two swirls curling inward with a point opposite the curls, as shown below. But there are many variations on the theme. Our Ruyi Collection features a double ruyi with a curved base.

The word ruyi itself comes from the two characters rú (如) and yì (意), and together they literally mean “as one wishes.” However, the embodiment of its meaning has been enriched over thousands of years of Chinese history.

The History of the Ruyi

At the beginning of Chinese civilization almost 5,000 years ago, the Yellow Emperor reigned. Being the earliest known Chinese leader, he is considered to be the forefather of the Han Chinese (the largest ethnic group in China). During his reign, the emperor faced Chi You, a powerful adversary known for his military might. It is said that the Yellow Emperor wielded a legendary sword which formed part of an epic and successful battle against Chi You. He then named his weapon “Ruyi,” implying that, literally “as wished” (rúyì), he was victorious in protecting the nation and establishing a culture that would last up to the present day.

By the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-917 AD), the ruyi had become an opulent symbol of power, peace and happiness for the Chinese people. Paintings and sculptures show emperors and Buddhist saints holding a scepter (also called a ruyi) which displays a ruyi symbol at its top. The mythical Monkey King from Journey to the West is also known for carrying a magical staff called the Ruyi Golden Hoop Staff (如意金箍棒). He used it to fulfil an undertaking to protect his master, the Tang monk, on their quest to bring back Buddhist scriptures from India.

Over time, the ruyi grew in popularity, especially amongst royalty and the nobility. A ruyi staff was often carved in gold, jade, stone, bamboo, or ox tail and given as a gift on special occasions.

By the end of the Qing Dynasty in the 20th century, the ruyi was seen almost everywhere; from the bricks and stones in the imperial palace to the intricate ceramics used as home décor in the Forbidden City, from the heavy copper shields and battle axes to the stitching on household linens. Each variation of the symbol added its own special enriched meaning to the artifact’s design.

The Ruyi Today

Today, the word “ruyi” is found in many Chinese greeting traditions, especially those used during the Chinese New Year, including “wànshì rúyì”  (万事如意), “jíxiáng rúyì”  (吉祥如意),”xìngfú rúyì” (幸福如意)—which translates to “all the best”, “good luck” and “best wishes.”

The ruyi symbol is special in that it has lasted from the first dynasty until today. Over the course of Chinese history, a change in a dynasty could mean that traditions or customs which were not deeply rooted would then become lost or forgotten. The ruyi, however, has become more established in Chinese culture, with each dynasty adding its own particular variation to the ruyi design and its accompanying interpretation.

The ruyi’s success has even spread to nearby countries like Mongolia.

To help maintain Chinese cultural traditions, the Shen Yun Performing Arts Company often features the ruyi patterned costumes during the Mongolian and Manchurian dance performances. Taking inspiration from these ruyi patterns, the Shen Yun Shop is now proudly presenting the Ruyi Collection. It features 18k gold-plated earrings, necklaces, bracelet, and ring, all adorned with a cloud-shaped double ruyi, which radiates a sense of peace, power, and happiness. Most pieces are paired with freshwater pearls to accentuate their purity and preciousness.

The Ruyi Collection offers you the opportunity to continue the tradition of ruyi, wherever you go. And may your endeavours bring good fortune and to go “as wished!”