Some people call the human figures, animals and mythical creatures that hang out on the tea table receiving a bath of water and tea during a Gongfu Cha session “tea toys.” I prefer to call them “tea mascots” myself because that term seems to be pretty easy for anyone to figure out if they’ve ever seen one in use. Plus I like the idea of them being “mascots” which sounds to me like a more active, animated role in the process of preparing and drinking tea. So far I haven’t been able to find out what the Chinese term for them is, or even if they have a group name in addition to a name that identifies each of them as the character or form of creature they are, which is a wide range.
Chan Chu (蟾蜍, chánchú) is the most common form that tea mascots can be found in. This is the omnipresent three-legged toad with the money on his back, symbol of prosperity and an annoying reminder of a lot of really silly blather about feng shui.
Tea mascots are almost always connected to good fortune that involves wealth. They often have coins or other forms of money built into their design and are said to encourage good fortune.
Personally, I have no illusions about the use of these creatures bringing me any enhanced wealth, in fact they’re pretty good at insuring that I have less of it periodically, but I find some of them very compelling and attractive, especially as they’re getting doused with tea. My new favorite of these tea mascot is this bat (biānfú, 蝙蝠) that I bought recently. He is made from a dark, slightly rough clay, like most of the others. He also has a coin in his mouth that turns and very attractive tiny black beads for eyes.
I don’t normally name inanimate objects (other than four-decade-old cars), but I think this charming fellow needs a name. Any suggestions?
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- Han Tea Ceremony at Seattle Chinese Garden