Ch’an Chu: The Lucky Money Toad

Amy Horwitz, Dan Learned, Ivan Ortiz, Lisa Dooley, Alexandria Ostowari

Ch'an Chu is like the relative who is in every family picture but whose name no one knows. He is the good luck charm many Chinese-Americans use without knowing his name or for that matter, where he came from. The three-legged frog that has taken the modern form of a statuette sits quietly behind the counter at many Asian owned stores in Southern California. When asked about their tadpole treasure keepers, many just shrug and answer, "Money, good luck." In our money driven society many people fail to see how money is used in peculiar ways. Ch'an Chu, who claps an ancient coin in its mouth and sits on a pile of gold, is a case in point. Several myths surround the origins of the money toad and the following reveals the true identity of Ch'an Chu.

For the sake of technicality, it is of some importance to address the usage of the symbol identifier. In some cases, it is known as the Money Frog, and in others, the Money Toad. Upon further scientific examination, “all toads actually are frogs” (Dorota). Thus, for the purpose of our assignment, it will be assumed that the two terms are synonymous.


Ch’an Chu, the money frog, can be found sitting either on a haphazard pile of coins, egg shaped ingots, or a bagua, the mirror of Feng-Shui. A vital part to the ancient Chinese mysticism is “Feng-Shui, ‘the art of adapting the residence of the living and the dead so as to cooperate and harmonize with the local currents of the cosmic breath (the yin and yang)” (Werner, 54). Broadly, it is the art of placement so that Chi, or energy, obtains its optimal flow, so as to achieve that balance of harmony. Ch’an Chu is perched atop the mass ready to pounce at anyone brave enough to consider stealing. His flared nostrils and red stone eyes present a menacing, almost evil look. Scaly arms lead to a neck-less head and a smooth fat belly. Out the corners of his mouth and draped over his shoulders lay tasseled strings tethered with more square notched coins. The string in his mouth keeps it open just enough to clasp a coin whose center is filled with the same red stone of his eyes. The coin in his mouth differs from the others by being engraved with a dragon and a long slender bird instead of written symbols. Etched onto the crown of his head is the circular symbol of the yin and yang. Looking down his back, one sees seven clear stones connected by a clear line, which turn them into the constellation of the little dipper. At the end of his back is his third foot, which looks distinctly left, having a knee joint that juts out to that side.

The ancient round I-Ching coins have square notches cut out of the centers, ranging in size from dimes to larger than quarters. A Chinese character fits along each side of the missing square. Feng-Shui experts claim that the “ancient Chinese coins have been used for centuries as amulets to ward of evil and disease” (Anjian Australia). The coins support the frog while at the same time becoming his possession. His front claws with four talons each grasp ingots that were originally gold. The golden ingots “take a simple boat-shape that symbolizes abundance and represents an easy life” (Feng Shui International). Other ingots of varying size are scattered throughout the pile. He also sits upon a Bagwa, made of eight sacred emblems called trigrams. It is used to encourage the flow of Chi (life force), which is regarded as the primary building brick of the universe. “The Bagwa is said to have been born on the back of a creature that rose from the deep at the dawn of time. The secrets of the universe are believed to be contained within. The Bagwig can be used in Feng-Shui to balance and move Chi. Feng-Shui Masters consider the Bagwa to be of great importance in correcting Feng-Shui Predicaments by deflecting almost anything that creates negative Chi'”(Feng Shui International). The presence of the Bagwa thus changes the meaning of this particular Money Toad into one that protects wealth instead of attracting it.
Throughout our anthropological experience, we encountered many bumps in the road. For example, it was not clear at first exactly which Asian culture used the Money Toad. Originally it was believed to be Cambodian. With the aid of some knowledgeable sources, it was clarified that the symbol was Chinese. This prompted further effort on behalf of our researcher, who spent hours attempting to locate something substantial on Chan Chu, the toad god. However, the databases provided by the library were of no use. This led her to ask some Asian acquaintances, but, much like everyone else that had been asked, they knew nothing about it other than that it was something that brought luck. We then turned to one of our interviewers, who found quite a bit of information.

In Chinatown shops, predominately owned by Vietnamese, there are more frogs for sale than in use. Our first stop showed the slimmest of pickings having only one frog that was slightly banged up. The owner informed us that she did not own one herself because it was a Chinese tradition and she was Vietnamese. She suggested that we try the local bookstore and pointed us in that direction. Our second stop proved to be the jackpot in terms of frogs for sale. Like many other shops, it had rows of frogs ranging in size from a small key chain to a small child. The frogs for sale come in a spectrum of colors including jade green, lavender, red, gold and multi-colored. Additionally, the stones on the back forming the little dipper came in many different hues. The variation of colors implies that the current manufactures make the frogs to fit the color themes of modern Chinese who wish to follow certain traditions. Most other stores stocked the same supply of frogs. One of the last stores we went to had a collection of arrangements that included several frogs on wooden pedestals. The frogs were arranged in pairs or groups facing a large gold ingot at the center of the stand.

Out of the multitudes of stores that we visited, only three displayed frogs in use. The first frog we came across in use was perched high above the merchandise almost touching the ceiling. It faced the hidden cash register and looked out over the store. It was situated in such a way to imply protection rather than accumulation. When asked about it, the owner seemed reluctant to comment, merely repeating “good luck.” The second frog in use was situated at the bottom of a multi-level alter situated at the back corner of the store. It faced out towards the store and was accompanied by statues of Buddha. Strewn amongst the statuettes were ancient coins and other “fake” currencies. Incense burned on several levels of the alter and it was clearly dedicated to Chinese culture. Strands of the ancient coins were laid on the main level of the alter as well as taped to the door separating the store from the supply room. The third and final store prominently displayed their frog although we did not see it until they pointed it out to us. It sat on a glass display case and looked as if it were for sale as well. It faced the door expressing the owner’s wish to bring money from the outside in. The frog is seen as having the ability to cross barriers, which is part of the reason it is used to entice wealth into the space it occupies.


During our research efforts, we found one myth that gave tremendous insight about the statue. However, to first describe the meaning of the symbol, it is necessary to explain the framework of beliefs surrounding the Chinese culture. Astrology has strong relevance, and “according to Chinese ideas, the sun, moon and planets influence sublunary events, especially in the life and death of human beings.” (Werner, 176). It is vital to understand this way of thinking, for it is the very thing that allows the Chinese to instill belief in their symbols. Myth logically, the moon [is symbolized] by the same three-legged toad our statue is comprised of. The following is from one of many myths of the stars that partially explain how this came to be. Sister of the water spirit, Ch’ang Ô, married the archer, Shên I, who had just obtained a pill of immortality. In order to use it though, he had to undergo a “preparatory course in immortality” (Werner 184).

“Ch’ang Ô, during her husband’s absence, saw [an encompassing] white light … from the roof. She reached up to the spot whence the light came, found the pill of immortality, and ate it. She suddenly felt that she was freed from the operation of the laws of gravity and as if she had wings… when Shên I returned. He went to look for his pill, and, not finding it, asked Ch’ang Ô what had happened. The young wife, seized with fear, opened the window and flew out. Shên I took his bow and pursued her. The moon was full, the night clear, and he saw his wife flying rapidly in front of him, only about the size of a toad. Shên I was struck down by wind, and Ch’ang Ô continued her flight until she reached a luminous sphere, shining like glass of enormous size, and very cold. She began to cough and vomited the covering of the pill of immortality, which was changed into a rabbit as white as the purest jade. This was the ancestor of the spirituality of the yin, or female, principle. Ch’ang Ô took up her abode in this place.” (Werner, 185)

In this process, Ch’ang Ô becomes immortal. The God of the Immortals talks to her husband Shên I, and rewards him for his hard work by giving him the “Palace of the Sun. Thus, the yin and the yang will be united in marriage” (Werner, 186). Shên I is transformed and sent to the sun, but, like the sun can do, he travels around the universe. One day he flies to the moon and finds his wife alone. He consoles her and tells her of what happened, then proceeds to build a palace for his wife. “From that time forth, on the fifteenth day of every moon, he went to visit her in her palace. That is the conjunction of the yang and yin, male and female principles, which causes the great brilliancy of the moon at that epoch. After they went to heaven, the old Emperor honored Shên I and Ch’ang Ô. In the representations of this god and goddess the former is shown holding the sun, the latter the moon. The Chinese add the sequel that Ch’ang Ô became changed into a toad, whose outline is traceable on the moon’s surface” (Werner, 188).

According to the Dictionary of Chinese Mythology, another myth begins in the middle of Liu-Hai Hsien’s life in tenth century C.E China. He held a post as minister to the local Prince who had recently gained power after seizing the Emperorship. Shortly after accepting his post an unknown man, Cheng Yang-tzu, which means the illuminated, paid him a visit. The visitor placed eggs on top of one another and separated them with gold coins. He claimed that his task was actually less difficult than filling the position of minister for the Prince. Liu-Hai, knowing that the Prince he served stole the empire from the previous Emperor quit his position and started on a journey to find perfection. Shortly into his journey he found a man, Lu Shun-yang, who showed him the recipe used to turn bits of gold into immortality pills. After continuing for a short time as poor wanderer he attained the state of immorality.

The story picks up again in Nan-hao a suburb of Su-Chou in the middle of the 17th century. A young man who went by the name A-pao inquired and received work from a well- known businessman in the area. When payday came, he refused his wages although he had worked well. The town’s people quickly picked up on his unusual abilities. It appeared that he could live normally after going days without food. Additionally, he was able to turn the earthenware chamber pots inside out with ease in order to clean them. Although these abilities bewildered the town’s people, his secret was not found out until the night of the Feast of the Lanterns. On that night he took the child of his master to Fu-chou, a place farther away than any human could possibly travel and return in the same night. After returning from the best feast in China, the child presented his parents with ripe lychees to prevent them from reprimanding A-pao for absconding with him. The ripe fruit and the child’s story proved that A-pao was not human and indeed was the immortal Liu-hai.

Months later and still in Nan-hao, Liu-hai had been sent to the well for water when he caught a three-footed toad. He had been searching for the escaped amphibian for quite a few years and quickly tied it to a sting and flung it over his shoulder. After thanking the man that had provided him with work and subsequently the chance at catching his toad, Liu-hai disappeared into the sky.

Although there is confusion about Liu-hai Ts’ao’s family name being either Liu or Lui-hai and the exact Emperor he worked for the present myth stands the same. Today he goes by Liu-hai and is portrayed coaxing the toad out of the well. He is known as the immortal and carries the three-footed toad slung behind him and a string of coins and eggs across his shoulder. “…Because he carries a string of coins [he] is invoked for the success of commercial operations.”(Werner, 257).

The Money Toad is also associated with one last Chinese tradition known as the Danwu Festival. Occurring every May 5th on the lunar calendar, the day is known as “the Dragon Boat Festival, because dragon boat races are the most popular activity during the festival, especially in Southern China. Ancient Chinese believed the day of Dragon Boat was unlucky because mid-summer was just around the corner. The hot weather used to bring various diseases, which could spread rampantly” (Chinavoc). Since the main purpose of the festival was to chase away disease and drive out evil, they used five symbols to do so. Referred to as the poisons, the scorpion, spider, snake, bee and toad were placed in locations so as to repel the negative energy and ward off evil.

As we have seen, the Money Toad has many meanings for the Chinese. Symbolically, it represents the immortal moon goddess, the embodiment of the yin concept. The moon goddess is what gives Ch’au Chan its form, shown by three-legged frog, and the lunar symbols such as the dipper-resembling gems on its back. In addition, the legend of another immortal Liu-hai, is connected to the toad through the strings of I-Ching coins on its sides. Remarkably, while this object is seen as no more than a good luck charm today, it is heavily drenched in ancient myths and supernatural representations that those who use the statue remain unaware of. It is then interesting to note that those ancient myths and luck beliefs are being used with the hopes of gaining a monetary profit in our capital-driven society. The frog is the focus of the Ch’an Chu statue, if only because it is so large in proportion to everything else. The object that the frog sits upon is what determines what is to be brought by the usage of that statue. However, what is attractive about the frog is the coin poised upwards from its mouth. After all, this is a monetary object that is not being used in transactions to gain actual wealth. The coin is, in effect, calling out to other coins. The I-Ching coin creates an authentic Chinese association, perpetuating the unknown mythology, while the age-old desire to attract wealth is instilled by the mystical properties the statue represents. What makes the money frog so unique is that it is an object of an ancient world using symbols to attract wealth, in a modern time of capitalism where the most common thought would be to go out and obtain that wealth for one’s self. The money frog attracts the eye of many who don’t require myths to believe that the simple act of placing the object in their store, workplace, or home, will create the bringing of wealth. It is a mix of 'ancient' Chinese luck combined with Americanized capital fortune and expectations; thus, we have the Money Frog, Ch'an chu, with a coin in its mouth - a combination of the ancient symbol with the modern world.

Works Cited
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Werner, E.T.C.. Myths and Legends of China. New York: Arno Press Inc., 1976.

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