Evan Mantyk, Contributing Writer
Perhaps you’ve noticed a similar pattern in classical Chinese designs as well as many of our jewelry pieces. You may not even have been aware of what the source of the similarity was. In fact, it’s probably the pattern known as the ruyi.
What is the Ruyi?
Looking at it from a Western perspective, the ruyi looks something like a combination of a four-leaf clover, a heart, and a cloud. There are many varieties of the ruyi, but most commonly it features five cloud-like humps. One hump ends in a point and two other humps (opposite to the pointed hump) curl splendidly inward. This is the ruyi and it carries deep and rich cultural meaning.
The word ruyi itself comes from the two characters rú (如) and yì (意), and together they literally mean “as one wishes.” However, that is only the surface meaning; the inner meaning has been enriched over thousands of years of Chinese history.
The Legend of the Ruyi
At the beginning of Chinese civilization almost 5,000 years ago, the Yellow Emperor reigned. He is the earliest known Chinese monarch and is considered the forefather of the Han Chinese (the largest ethnic group in China). During his reign, the Yellow Emperor faced Chi You, a powerful adversary known for his military prowess. After winning an epic battle against Chi You, the Yellow Emperor 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.
By the Tang Dynasty (618-917 AD), the ruyi had come to be a rich symbol of power, peace, and happiness for the Chinese people. In ancient paintings and sculptures, emperors and Buddhist saints can be seen holding a scepter, also called a ruyi, that has a ruyi shape at its top. The Monkey King, a mythical Buddhist monk from classical literature, is known for carrying a magical staff called Ruyi Golden Hoop Staff (如意金箍棒). The 7.5-ton ruyi staff can grow enormous or tiny at his command and is used for pummeling any bad guys who get in the way of his holy mission to retrieve scriptures from India. That’s the legendary power of the ruyi!
The Ruyi in the Last Dynasty
Over time, the ruyi only continued to grow in popularity, becoming a favorite gift among the nobility and royalty. A ruyi staff was often carved in gold, jade, stone, bamboo, or ox tail and given on a special occasion. In the last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, on the 60th birthday of Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century, the ministers presented him with sixty ruyi of gold filigree. By the end of the 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, and from the heavy copper shields and battle axes to the stitching on household linens. Each variation of the symbol was given its own special meaning and could be found bringing a touch of beauty to vases, shoes, jewelry boxes, and plates.
The Ruyi Today
Even today the word “ruyi” is found in many Chinese greetings, 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 translate to something like “all the best” “good luck” and “best wishes.”The Shen Yun Shop continues this grand and beautiful tradition with its Ruyi Collection, featuring 18k gold-plated earrings, necklaces, a bracelet, and a ring; all adorned with a cloud-shaped double ruyi that emanate a sense of peace, power, and happiness. Most pieces are paired with freshwater pearls to accentuate their purity and preciousness.