Tigers: What They Mean In Chinese Culture

Tigers originate from China and have had a close relationship with the Chinese people since ancient times; therefore, the ancient Chinese people greatly admired Tigers, especially in areas such as South China and Northeast China where there were dense Tiger populations.


In the Chinese culture Tigers bear a greater symbolism - power and daring and a subject of awe and fear, more than just prized for its beauty and majesty. In China, the Tiger is considered the king of all beasts as it symbolises power and a great deal of nerve. The Tiger has always featured heavily in Chinese culture and tradition. It is also known as the king of the mountain.



The Chinese adore Tigers for many reasons. For instance, it was written in the Book of Rites as early as over two thousand years ago that "Tigers are good for people because they eat boars, which are harmful to crops in the field". That book also says cats are good for people because they eat rats. From this we can see how powerful a Tiger is: it can catch boars as easily as a cat can catch rats. Powerful, helpful and beautiful, Tigers are almost perfect.

The Tiger is the third sign of the Chinese Zodiac, and is thought of as Ruler of the beasts on Earth. It is believed that a person born in the year of the Tiger is courageous, optimistic, tolerant and generous. They can expect a long life, and were born to command, not to obey.

The Chinese people express their adoration, sentimental attachment, and wishes by using the image of the Tiger, even placing their spiritual sustenance on the Tiger. The Tiger has become a very important theme in the 5,000-year history of Chinese culture and art.



In Chinese folklore, Tigers are believed to be such powerful creatures that they are endowed with the ability to ward off the three main household disasters; fire, thieves and evil spirits. A painting of a Tiger is often hung on a wall inside a building facing the entrance to ensure that demons would be too afraid to enter. Even in modern day China, children wear Tiger-headed caps and shoes embroidered with Tiger heads to ward off evil spirits and sleep on Tiger-shaped pillows to make them robust. During the year of the Tiger, children have the character Wang painted on their foreheads in wine and mercury to promote vigour and health.


In ancient Chinese myth, there are five Tigers that hold the balance of cosmic forces and maintain harmony.



  • White Tiger – ruler of the Fall season and governor of the Metal elementals.
  • Black Tiger – ruler of the Winter season and governor of the Water elementals.
  • Blue Tiger – ruler of the Spring season and governor of the Earth elementals.
  • Red Tiger – ruler of the Summer season and governor of the Fire elementals.
  • Yellow Tiger – the supreme ruler of all these Tigers and symbolic of the Sun.


Tigers figure largely in Chinese classical literature and performance art. They are also the main protagonists of many folk tales and proverbs. The Tiger image in China is synonymous with success and achievement. The symbolism of the Tiger in Chinese culture is as diverse as the noble creature itself.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea will be roaring its way back to London this summer! Playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End from 11 July until 4 September 2022, this is one of the best London attractions for kids aged 3+ this summer, so why not book your tickets and enjoy a day out to remember? The show runs for 55-minutes long and is based on the popular children’s picture book by Judith Kerr.