What Does the Dream Mean? Dream Interpretation in China

When I was a kid, there were mornings when I’d wake up and was eager(急切的,jí qiè de) to tell my mom about the dreams I’d had. But she would say, “Don’t tell me about your dreams until you brush your teeth(刷牙,shuā yá), otherwise the bad dreams(噩梦,è mèng) will come true, and the good dreams(美梦,měi mèng) won’t.” I always believed this was an important rule as a kid until I grew to realize it was probably just a trick that my mom played on me to get me up and about in the morning.

What Does the Dream Mean? Dream Interpretation in China

I’m still not sure if what she told me was a common superstition(迷信,mí xìn) about dreams, or whether my mom made it up(编造,biān zào). What is certain though is that interpreting the symbolic meaning(象征意义,xiàng zhēng yì yì ) of dreams is an ancient tradition in China, much as it is elsewhere around the world, albeit with different interpretations(解释,jiě shì).

Zhougong (the Duke of Zhou) is a semi-legendary figure who lived around 3,000 years ago and is credited with founding much of what we know as Chinese culture. Among the works attributed to him is a book called Zhougong’s Dream Dictionary (《周公解梦》zhōu gōng jiě mèng), which provides interpretations of dreams, and takes a particular interest in unusual and weird ones. The book has been passed down through generations(世代相传,shì dài xiāng chuán), and is still popular and widely read nowadays.

In this book, dreams are categorized and decoded based on the subject of the dream. Many of the interpretations don’t make much sense or have much of a connection to reality. We provide some here, for entertainment purposes only(仅供娱乐,jǐn gōng yú lè):

Dreaming of a snake biting you is a sign that you will get a lot of money;
Dreaming of someone dying means the person you dreamed of will live a long and healthy life(健康长寿,jiàn kāng cháng shòu);
Dreaming of the sun or moon rising means your family will be prosperous;
Dreaming of bamboo trees growing in your front yard means you will soon receive good news(好消息,hǎo xiāo xī);
Dreaming of walking with your wife means you will soon be buying a property(买房,mǎi fáng);
Dreaming of visiting a temple means that you will experience good fortune;
Dreaming of seeing a dead person coming back to life(起死回生,qǐ sǐ huí shēng) means you will soon earn a lot of money;
Dreaming of someone blowing a flute(吹笛子,chuī dí zi) or hitting a drum(打鼓,dǎ gǔ) means there will be a celebration party soon;
Dreaming of someone killing a chicken, goose, duck, or pig is a sign of good fortune;
Dreaming of a dragon, phoenix, or peacock(孔雀,kǒng què) implies good fortune.

You can see, as with the last interpretation specifically, why some of these make sense given that Chinese people have always treated the dragon and the phoenix as tokens of wealth and eternity. But not all dreams are good omens(征兆,zhēng zhào), according to the book. Below are some examples:

Dreaming of picking up money(捡钱,jiǎn qián) means your late ancestors are short of cash and want you to burn more ghost money(烧纸钱,shāo zhǐ qián) for them.

Though dream interpretations are largely a matter of superstition, some do believe that the objects or scenes that feature in dreams have a close relationship with the dreamer’s health or mental state.

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