The legend of Ruyi

Ruyi (如意) literally means “as you wish” in Chinese.

Jade RuYi

Jade RuYi

A typical ruyi is composed of two parts: a head in the shape of cloud, heart, or lingzhi, and a long handle in the shape of a flat S. Ruyi can be made of a variety of valuable materials, such as precious metals, jade, hardwood, semi-precious gems, ivory, coral, and so on. Ancient Chinese craftsmen exquisitely decorated ruyi by relief, openwork, inlaid gems, among other things. Ruyi itself, along with decorating motifs upon it, conveys good wishes, such as longevity, blessing, good fortune, and prosperity.

No matter how valuable the material is and how meticulous the appearance is, ruyi nevertheless has a humble origin: it was born out of a household tool to scratch itches on one’s back (Yangyangnao, meaning “scratching itches”). The cloud-shaped head of ruyi simply mimics a human hand with bent fingers and the long handle enables one to reach his/her back. With time passing by, people gradually appreciated ruyi more from its symbolism, decoration, and aesthetics. During late Han and early Jin Dynasty on, literati, nobles, and royal members often held ruyi during conservations and other social occasions, which gives ruyi another name Tanbi (literally, “a stick held during conservation”). In Ming and Qing Dynasty, ruyi finally emerged as a pure symbol of blessing and good fortune, used for ornament and gift.

Ruyi was particularly appreciated by Qing court. It became a tradition that on occasions of important court celebrations, such as enthronement, imperial wedding or birthday, New Years Day, nobles, generals, and government officials presented the most elaborate and valuable ruyi to emperors. Emperors also directly commissioned ruyi at the imperial workshop. Throughout imperial palaces, ruyi were placed on the side of thrones, on the top of desks, and on beds for emperors’ daily appreciation. During this period, ruyi symbolized not only blessings, but also power and wealth.

The Palace Museum, originated from Qing imperial collection, possesses about three thousand pieces of ruyi, mostly made during Qing Dynasty. The majority of the collection were presented by Qing emperors’ subjects, while some were made by the imperial workshop, under emperors’ order.
There are different stories about the origin of Ru Yi.

Visitors to Beijing’s Forbidden City will notice a valuable exhibit called ruyi (formerly spelt as juyi) with a head like a shred of cloud and a long body or handle in the shape of a flat S. It may be made of any of a wide range of valuable materials: gold, jade, jadeite, crystal, agate, coral, agolloch eaglewood, bamboo, bone and what not. And the workmanship is often quite meticulous: it is carved with patterns in incision, low-relief or openwork and sometimes inlaid with silver, gold and gems. The designs may be simple or very elaborate but invariably convey messages of good wishes, such as “pine and crane” (standing for vigorous old age), “immortals wishing you longevity”, “phoenix and peony” (standing for wealth, happiness and prosperity), and the like.

The ruyi, it is said, was born out of a common Chinese article of household use- the itch-cratcher. This is a stick about 1.5 feet long, with one end in the form of a miniature hand with bent fingers. Holding it, a man can scratch the itches on his own back and thus get a feeling of well-being. It is still used by some people in China today. Usually made of commonplace wood or bamboo, it is popularly called by the descriptive name laotoule (“old man’s joy”).

The itch-scratcher, being a joy, began to be made of more valuable materials for those who could afford it. But apart from being an art object, it continued to be used for its original purpose until sometime during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It gradually became a pure ornamental object called ruyi (“as you wish”). The right place for the elevated and transformed itch-scratcher was now on the bedside table of the imperial sleeping chamber, by the side of the throne. . . to be appreciated daily by the emperor and his numerous wives. On every occasion of court celebrations, such as enthronement, royal wedding or birthday, the nobles and courtiers would be busy raising money and ordering whole sets of ruyi for presentation. On the 60th birthday of Emperor Qianlong (1700), for instance, the ministers presented to him 60 ruyi of gold filigree. Likewise, on the 60th birthday of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1894), she got 9 times 9 or 81 ruyi. (The number 9 X 9 symbolizes infinity or an endless long life.) The ruyi was also used by the emperor, when he chose a concubine out of a number of candidates, to point at the one catching his fancy.

The presentation of ruyi was not a one-way affair: it was often bestowed by the emperor upon his ministers or subjects. There is still a valuable collection of them in the Mansion of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong. They were given by various emperors to the descendants of the great sage.

It is still difficult to pinpoint the time of the first emergence of the ruyi, although no archaeological finds of them date from before the Qing Dynasty. They are much valued but commonly seen objects of decoration in the old Qing palaces, but outside of Beijing one rarely comes across them in provincial museums.

The advantages of carrying a Ru Yi

The Ru Yi became a symbol of abundance and wealth since the times when it was carried by powerful Imperial Chinese officials. Since then, the Ru Yi became one of the most important Chinese symbols for everything which is related to authority, leadership and power. It can often be seen on the desk of people who have a powerful or high level position.

This symbolic item is also known by the fact of being carried by Luk, one of the three stars Fuk Luk Sau. Luk is the star which represents abundance and wealth, which becomes enhanced by the power and leadership which the Ru Yi gives him. Therefore, depending on the goals which you might wish to achieve, you can either buy a Ru Yi by itself or as a part of the three stars group.

Often, a Ru Yi is depicted with a bat next to him. The Chinese name for this bat is Pien Fu and it symbolizes health and longevity. It is considered to be a lucky object, adding good luck to the powers of the Ru Yi as well as whenever it is bought and carried by itself. Besides the bat, the Ru Yi usually also carries a scepter which symbolizes protection from bad luck and evil in general.

According to oriental cultures, the Ru Yi helps its owner achieving his career and profession related goals by allowing him to gain more power and leadership. Ideally, it should be carried as a lucky charm in order to allow its owner to have the authority and leadership he needs at any place or meeting in which he might need it. Another great way to use this feng shui item is by placing it on the desk where it can help you while you work.

Whenever authority and leadership are very important in a person’s profession, a Ru Yi might be an ideal item for him to have. If your career and position success depend on your leadership skills, you should have a Ru Yi on your desk and allow it help you improving such aspects and achieving your goals.

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