Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad
Hai (刘海) is one of the most popular members of the
Chinese pantheon of charm figures and represents
prosperity and wealth. There are a couple of
versions of the story which have come down through
Liu Hai was a Minister of State during
the 10th century in China. He was also a Taoist practitioner.
One version of the story says that he became good
a three-legged toad who had the fabulous ability to whisk its
owner to any destination.¹ This particular toad had a
love not only for water but also for gold. If the toad
happened to escape down a well, Liu Hai could make him come
out by means of a line baited with gold coins.
The second version of the story is that the toad actually
lived in a deep pool and exuded a poisonous vapor which harmed
the people. Liu Hai is said to have hooked this ugly and
venous creature with gold coins and then destroyed it.
The story of Liu Hai is frequently told as "Liu Hai playing
with the Golden Toad". There is a hidden meaning
here. The Chinese word for "toad" is chanchu (蟾蜍).
Sometimes, Chinese will only say the first character chan (蟾). In some
Chinese dialects, the character chan has a pronunciation very similar to qian (钱)
which means "coin". Therefore, a storyteller
reciting "Liu Hai playing with the Golden Toad" could be
heard by listeners as "Liu Hai playing with the gold coins".
(For other examples of hidden meanings concerning ancient
Chinese charms please see the
hidden meaning of Chinese charm symbols.)
In this specimen, the obverse of the charm
depicts Liu Hai on the right waving a string of coins above
his head. The Three-Legged Toad is shown at the
bottom. Other lucky symbols include a pair of peaches to the left of
the hole and a bat to
the left of the Three-Legged Toad.
In Chinese mythology, the Three-Legged Toad is said to only
exist in the moon
which it swallows during the lunar eclipse. Since this
Three-Legged Toad is located so remote, it symbolizes the
In the first version of the story, the depiction of Liu
Hai and the Three-Legged Toad on charms is regarded as most
auspicious and conducive to good fortune. The second
version of the story, however, hints at the moral that money
is the fatal attraction which can lure a person to his ruin.
In either case, Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad has become a
popular and powerful symbol of prosperity depicted on Chinese
The inscription surrounding the circular hole
reads jin yu man tang,
chang ming fu gui (金玉满堂长命富贵) which translates as "may
gold and jade fill your halls" and "longevity, wealth and
The reverse side of this charm, shown here, displays Eight Treasures.
Starting at the one o'clock position and moving clockwise are
the swastika (meaning 10,000), rhinoceros horn,
writing brush with
silver ingot, coral,
lozenge, yinyang mirror, ruyi sceptre, and pearl.
The diameter of this charm is 44 mm and the weight is 19.8
For further details on the symbolism of the Eight Treasures,
please see my discussion on eight
This is another charm depicting Liu Hai and the Three-Legged
Liu Hai is again shown on the right waving a string of coins
at the Three-Legged Toad which is located on the bottom of the
There are no other symbols on the obverse side of this
The diameter of this charm is about 45 mm and the weight is
The reverse side of this charm appears to show a portrait of
However, it is possible that this is actually a portrait of
the "Laughing Buddha" known as budai (布袋) in Chinese and Hotei in Japanese.
Budai was a Zen Buddhist monk who lived in China
during the Liang
Dynasty (502-557 AD) and is always shown smiling and
laughing with a large pot belly symbolizing happiness, good
luck and abundance.
This is the reverse side of an old and large Chinese charm.
The scene shows a young Liu Hai playing with the Three-Legged
The concentric half-circles at the very bottom represent waves
in the water. You will also note the bamboo branches at the
The obverse side of the charm displays Daoist magic writing
(the characters at the extreme right and left) and a Chinese
character inscription seeking assistance from the God of Thunder.
For more information, please see Daoist
This charm is 61 mm in diameter and 3.8 mm in thickness.
Note: ¹The bufotoxins found in some toads
are capable of producing hallucinations but please do not
allow this fact to interfere with your enjoyment of the story.
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