Does anyone know what the chinese characters say on these pictures? I bought them in China while visiting a few years ago and everyone always asks me what they mean. I love them but would love to know what they actually say - - assume it says what is in the painting but can anyone help me on this? Four pictures with Each picture depicting a stage of farming food. ...sorry i do not have them in the right order but very clear which picture is for which farming season.

Harvest Planting seeds

Prepare Soil Celebrate the harvest

  • I for one think they are too elaborate to be pictograms.
    – L Parker
    May 26, 2021 at 4:40
  • Which characters? These look more like actual pictures.
    – Olle Linge
    May 26, 2021 at 9:23
  • They look like cave painting inspired modern art
    – Tang Ho
    May 26, 2021 at 16:26
  • It was the characters at the top of each picture i was wondering about.I thought they were rather strange for language characters as well but I thought maybe it was an old form of one of the chinese languages or something. Thanks everyone for your help and thoughts May 31, 2021 at 17:34
  • 2
    Is it perhaps Dongba from the Naxi language? Maybe you bought it in Lijiang?
    – Mou某
    Jun 1, 2021 at 7:40

2 Answers 2


Thanks to @Mou某's excellent observation, I looked up a copybook of Naxi pictographs (He 2003) and was able to identify the following:

  1. The pictographs (Dongba script) are the writing system of the Naxi language.

  2. The pictographs on the left are the four seasons. They are compound ideographs.

    Compound ideograph Components = skysky + Pronunciation
    Spring spring windwind* mɯ33 ɲi21
    Summer summer rainrain mɯ33 ʐu21
    Autumn autumn flowerflower and landland mɯ3[3] tʂʰv̩55
    Winter winter snowsnow mɯ33 tʂʰɹ̩31

    So spring means 'the season of wind', summer 'the season of rain', autumn 'the season of flowers blossoming', and winter 'the season of snow' (Fang 1981:106-107).

  3. The pictographs on the right are human activities. They should correspond with the seasons.†

    Collocated with Pictogram Pronunciation Meaning
    Spring sow pʰv̩55 to sow
    Summer‡ channel water ʂɻ̩21 to channel water
    Autumn pull out pər21 to pull out (crops)
    Winter‡ sing dzər33 to sing


* According to Fang (1981:106).

† In particular, those with a pointy hat woman mean they are women.

‡ I am not sure if these are the correct pictograms.


  1. 和力民(2003)納西象形文字字帖。昆明:雲南民族出版社。
  2. 方國瑜(1981)納西象形文字譜。昆明:雲南人民出版社。
  • 1
    Although, I would perhaps disagree with the statement they are too elaborate to be pictograms of Chinese. Shang/Zhou bronzes have glyphs which are quite amusing - this one, I believe, is a clan icon.
    – dROOOze
    Jun 1, 2021 at 12:47
  • @dROOOze thanks. I never knew this! It’s just that the Dongba script strikes me as being more “Egyptian hieroglyphic” (not “elaborate”) than the usual oracle scripts in Chinese.
    – L Parker
    Jun 1, 2021 at 23:28
  • WOW you all are amazing!! i searched like you would not believe trying to figure all of this out and what you have figured out together is amazing! all i can do is say WOW, AMAZING AND THANK YOU!. Jun 2, 2021 at 1:09

They are 象形文字 (Hieroglyphs) inspired modern art

Too much information in these drawings to be a simple character. They are more a story than words

  1. Either a river flows from a mountain or rain fell from a cloud, and a person is digging the soil with a hoe enter image description here

  2. Either a river flows from a mountain or a field near the mountain, and a person is planting seeds enter image description here

  3. looks like a person with a headdress or sun hat (Priest or farmer) is offering rice plant to an altar or a temple enter image description here

  4. either a picture of people keeping birds (chicken maybe) or people storing grains in a storage house enter image description here

These drawings depict the development of a farming community

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