Dream Meanings (Chinese Theory) — How to Interpret Dreams

Dream Meanings (Chinese Theory) — How to Interpret Dreams

By Fercility JiangUpdated Sep. 15, 2021

Everybody dreams, but different cultures have different theories about what dreams are and how they should be interpreted. Chinese dream theory is based on ancient texts, beliefs, and traditions and offers very different dream meanings to Western psychologists and theorists.

How should we interpret dreams? Does ethnicity and culture affect what we dream? Discover the Chinese way of divining dream meanings below, and decide for yourself.

What Are Dreams?

When a person sleeps, the brain is at rest as well as the body, but not completely. Some of the cerebral cortex is still active, and this nervous energy is the physical manifestation of dreams. 

In ancient tribal societies, dreams were often considered to be instructions from the gods or harassment from evil spirits.

The ancient Chinese discussed why people dreamed from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine. TCM theorizes that a lack or excess of yin or yang (two types of vital energies or qi) in the body or suffering from certain diseases causes dreams. Also, like other dream theorists the world over, traditional Chinese beliefs go that if people think too much during the day or have an excess of emotion, they will also dream.

Most modern dream theory says that dreams are the mind’s way of processing the events of the person’s day/life. In addition, the dreamer’s physical condition can also affect dreams, such as how comfortable the sleeper is, digestive processes, body chemistry, or physical illness. Some people have some degree of awareness in their dreams and even some logical thinking. Some dreams are remembered if the dreamer wakes during a dream cycle. Most are not.

Scientists have done experiments to study dreaming. By stopping people from dreaming (persistently waking a sleeper when dream-state brainwaves begin), it was found that dream deprivation can cause a number of physiological abnormalities in the human body, such as abnormal changes in blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and weakening of the nervous system. At the same time, it can also cause a number of adverse psychological effects such as anxiety, nervousness, irritability, hallucinations, memory impairment, etc. 

So, we need dreams: they are one of the important processes in the normal functioning of the human body. Studies have shown that dreamless sleep is a sign of fatigue, brain damage, or disease. Recent scientific research results show that dreams are necessary for healthy brain development and maintenance of normal thinking. 

But are dreams of any value to us apart from keeping the brain healthy? Do they provide us with profound, prescient, or supernatural insights? Can we interpret dreams according to a set of principles?

What Do Dreams Mean?

Western Psychoanalysts Dream Theory

The famous Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) formally proposed the concept of psychoanalysis in 1895 and published an epoch-making work "Dream Analysis" in 1899. Freud believed that dreams reflect desires deep within the human heart. And in the subconscious, these desires manifest through a certain disguise and transformation to form dreams. Freud created a new school of psychology based on the analysis of dreams and the unconscious, called “the psychoanalytic school”.

Another contributor to the psychoanalytic school is the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung believed that"dreams are products, spontaneous and undistorted, of the unconscious mind..." and that dreams show us “unmodified natural truths". 

In addition, the American psychologist Erich Fromm (1900–1980) believed that dreams are a kind of symbolic language with characteristics similar to mythology.

There are other Western scholars who believe that dreams provide a place to satisfy emotional longings, which relieve the dreamer's stress, i.e. what you cannot do in real life, you will try to do in your dreams. Hence the quip: “In your dreams!”

Chinese Dream Interpretation Theory

‘Zhou Duke Interprets Dreams’ (周公解梦Zhou Gong Jie Meng) is the classic Chinese text that is the basis of most traditional Chinese ideas of dream interpretation.

Duke of Zhou Interprets Dreams is attributed to Ji Dan, titled Duke Wen of Zhouduring his reign (1042–1035 BC) in the early Zhou Dynasty (1046–221 BC), along with other Confucian classics such as The Book of Changes (I Ching or Yi Jing) and The Book of Poetry (Shi Jing), which were also later attributed to Confucius himself, though all of them were probably written and changed by others over time, before being standardized as “classics” around the time of Emperor Wu of Han (reign 157–87 BC).

Confucius revered the Duke of Zhou, and wrote that he dreamt of the duke, leading to the Duke of Zhou being worshiped as 'the god of dreams'.

The Duke of Zhou was, and still is, venerated as a virtuous ruler to the point that he was given the title 'First Sage', and his attributed works influence Chinese thought to this day. One area where this is particularly the case is in the area of dreams.

Chinese Interpretations of Common Dreams

We are often surprised by strange and confusing dreams. What do they mean? This is what Chinese people think based on the aforementioned ancient tome Duke of Zhou Interprets Dreams.

Animal Dream Meanings:

Dreaming of lice: Lice are irritating and represent a loss in dreams. If you see lice in your dream, you are in a disadvantageous situation and must be careful that others don’t fool you. See more on Dreaming About Lice.

Dreaming of rats: The rat always appears in an opposing role, so in a dream, the rat implies harm. If you drive away the rat in the dream, it means that you can overcome difficulties and overcome problems or enemies. See more on Dreaming About Rats.

Dreaming of snakes: In myths and folklore of many countries including China, snakes appear as sages and gods, so when the appearance of snakes in dreams is mythical, it often represents wisdom. Furthermore, snakes are sensitive animals with human-like intuitive responses. Therefore, people often have revelation if they have snakes in their dreams. See more on Dreaming About Snakes.

Dreaming of spiders: Dreaming of spiders means that by being energetic and careful in your work your income will grow satisfactorily. Dreaming of spiders weaving webs implies that you have to work hard to be successful. See more on Dreaming About Spiders.

Dreaming of cats: Cats often symbolize women. In the dream, it represents sweetness and a bit of cunning. If you dream of raising a cat, it indicates that you will earn money. See more on Dreaming About Cats.

Dreaming of dogs: Dogs are characterized by being loyal to their owners and fierce with their enemies. On the one hand, it often symbolizes morality and self-discipline. The dog in the dream is the guardian of the dreamer's own internal code of conduct, norms, and morality. On the other hand, it symbolizes friendship, indicating loyalty in love and friendship.

Dreaming of cockroaches: It means that there is someone around you who you hate, and you are trying to get rid of him/her, but there is nothing you can do. You should turn to your friends to help you find a solution, otherwise it will get more serious.

Dreaming of lions: The lion symbolizes cruelty and strength in a dream. A lion in a dream is usually associated with dignity, strength, glory, and courage, and these are the qualities that you must have in order to achieve success. Dreaming of fighting with a lion indicates that you will face challenges and opportunities in your career and you will have great growth.

People Dream Meanings:

Dreaming of babies: Dreaming of a baby, on the one hand, can indicate your own purity and simplicity, i.e. that you’re on the non-social side, or it can imply your own fragility and desire to be loved. On the other hand, it could indicate your personal progress, i.e.you will move on in your life, you will get new opportunities and good luck, your previous hard work will be rewarded, and a new stage of life will begin. See more on Dreaming About Babies.

Dreaming about pregnancy: If you dream about pregnancy, it mostly implies that you must go through a long time of waiting to complete a plan. You have discovered a new potential or project. Dreaming about pregnancy is not because you are actually pregnant in real life, but it can imply that there is a “pregnant” situation around you. See more on Dreaming About Pregnancy.

Dreaming of the dead: Do not be afraid if you dream of death. It is not necessarily a bad thing. Dreaming of a dead person could mean that you want to forget some unpleasant past events and are ready to come out of frustration and welcome a new life. Death symbolizes the moving on, overcoming, etc.

Poor Health Dream Meanings

Dreaming that your teeth fall out: Dreaming about the loss of a tooth could be purely a symbol of the tooth itself. One of the main sources of dreams is physiological stimulation, so the meaning of some dreams is a direct response to physiological conditions. Teeth are the strongest things in our body, so they are also a symbol of solidity. Psychological aspects such as beliefs, values, ​​and worldviews are related to firmness. Therefore, dreaming of tooth loss could mean that our original belief system is being affected.

Dreaming of blood: Blood in dreams often means wealth, and it is also a symbol of vitality. If a violent action is involved in your dream, causing bloodshed, it means that you have the power to destroy yourself. If the bleeding stops in the dream, it means that you are aware of your own power.

Nature Dream Meanings

Dreaming of water: Water in a dream is a symbol of affection, femininity, or creativity. Dreaming of smooth and clear water indicates a happy and auspicious life. (Freud also believed that water was related to the uterus and Jung believed that water heralded the source of creativity.) 

Dreaming of the sea: Dreaming of the sea means that soon there will be exciting good news in your career. Or, with the prospering of your business or family, the responsibilities and obligations you assume will become increasingly heavy. A businessman who dreams of the sea indicates that business is booming and that business is spreading all over the world.

Dreaming of fire: Dreaming of fire has many explanations. If positive in the dream, it symbolizes passion, desire, and wealth; if negative, it means frustration, anger, worry, or destruction.

Dreaming of rain: Rain will block people's journey, so in dreams, rain means obstacles and obstruction. If you dream of heavy rain, it could spell trouble in meeting a deadline.

Dreaming of an earthquake: Dreaming of an earthquake in your dream means that you are aware of inner anxiety. Before you can overcome these discomforts, you must analyze them carefully. There are many deep internal changes and developments in your life, and they can appear as strong shocks in dreams.

Taking the Meaning of Dreams Rationally

Don’t lean too heavily on one dream interpretation to assess your character or your future. But do rationally take heed of any warnings contained within your dreams: your subconscious could be calling out to you in your sleep.

Dreams have volatile characteristics. They are affected by many factors, for example changes in your environment, changes in sleep patterns, negative emotions, psychological pressure, etc. Figuring out what your dream content relates to can sometimes be a challenge.

Moreover, Chinese dream theory is only one thought system for interpreting dreams. Western psychoanalysts often have a different analysis.

You Might Like

We are here to help you...
start planning your tailor-made China tour with 1-1 help from our travel advisors. Create Your Trip
China Highlights tailor-makes China tours to help travelers discover China their way. We're a passionate team of one hundred avid travelers who love to share our knowledge of China with those looking for a more authentic travel experience, more ...
Featured on
info template feature on