In Chinese legends, there is a story about a holy tree that brings fortune and money to the person who owns it. Called the “money tree” (not to be confused with the money plant), it is considered a symbol of nobility. During the time of the Han Dynasty, Chinese people used to keep cast-bronze money trees over tombs.
Origin of the money tree
There are several stories about the origin of the money tree. According to one story, an old man once gave a farmer a special seed, asking him to plant it and religiously water it every single day. However, normal water was not sufficient. It had to contain the sweat of the farmer. As the seed required large amounts of water to grow properly, the peasant had to sweat a lot daily. And once the seed sprouted, the plant had to be continually watered with drops of the farmer’s blood.
The peasant did as instructed and spent several days tending to the seed. When the plant eventually grew, he was astonished to see that it was a magical “money tree.” When shaken, the tree would drop coins to the ground. Since new coins replaced fallen coins, the farmer found himself to be the owner of a perpetual source of wealth. The story’s moral being that one only becomes truly rich by relying on blood and sweat, i.e., hard work.
Another story talks about a sculptor who once put some fake money on a tree as he wanted to trick the villagers to cut it down for him. However, his plans were foiled when people gathered in large numbers and started believing that the tree was sacred. The villagers bribed him not to cut the tree and even warned the sculptor that he would be cursed should the tree be harmed.
Some believe this story might actually be based on some real event and be the true origin behind the myth of the money tree. There is also a belief that the coins of the money tree emit light and guide the deceased. According to legends, the dead are thought to ride a winged ram and fly over a ceramic mountain to the tree of paradise that is made of bronze.
Historically, the first mention of money tree comes from the 3rd-century book Records of the Three Kingdoms. However, the concept of a money tree exists much further back. Archeologists have found several money trees while excavating tombs from the Han Dynasty period (206 BCE to 220 CE).
Several money trees have been unearthed from the Sichuan region where Daoist sects used to flourish. The most famous money tree would be the one excavated from Hejiashan Village. At a height of 198 cm, the money tree is decorated not just with coins, but figurines of elephants, dragons, phoenixes, deer, and so on. The foundation is pottery, while the tree is cast in bronze.
At present, money trees make an appearance in China during New Year celebrations. They are usually made by placing a cypress branch or bushy pine inside a porcelain pot and filling it with rice grains, pine nuts, and melon seeds. The branches are typically decorated with coin garlands made from paper. People also decorate the tree with paper cranes to symbolize a long life.