Chinese Talisman Demystified!

Have you ever wondered what those things on a Chinese talisman mean?

Well, look no further! Today, I’m gonna explain the different components in a Chinese talisman, so that you know how to read it.

I found out about this by chance when I read up a book on classical Chinese medicine. This practice has been around for more than two thousand years!

So what is a Chinese talisman and how does it work?

A Chinese talisman is a yellow piece of paper that is usually created by a Daoist priest, or sometimes, a spirit medium. People either carry it with them for protection or good luck, paste it on their doors (to protect their homes), or in the case of Chinese vampire movies, you paste it on jumping vampires to make them stop.

What most people don’t know is that the Chinese talisman is actually an imperial decree. The Daoist priest is, above all, a government official. (Yes, Chinese Heaven/Hell is no different from earth – it is governed by bureaucrats and there’s lots of paper involved, as always).

What surprised me the most is the fact that the Chinese talisman is actually no different from our modern day official government letters. There’s an issuing authority logo/name, the official decree/order, and the signing officer.

Just to prove to you that I’m not kidding, I’m going to show you a side-by-side comparison of a Chinese talisman and a recent government letter that I recently received (from the Ministry of Defence to serve another round of reservist).

Here it is (you can click on the image to view a larger version):

Click on the image to view a larger version. (Image of talisman taken from

Not so mysterious anymore, yeah?

Just as how a government letter is meant for the citizens to read and obey, the Chinese talisman is essentially, an imperial decree for all ghostly citizens in Heaven, and on Earth. If the talisman contains the decree that says, “Do not harm,” then ghosts, being the good citizens that they are, are bounded by the decree and cannot do any harm.

In the talisman above, the decree says, “Protect the student and help him/her to be successful in studies.” In which case, the ghosts/spirits are to comply and protect the student, and help the student to be successful in his/her studies.

Oh, just a word about the signing officer. Usually, the Daoist priest will sign off in the name of some deity. He wouldn’t use his own name. Pretty much the same as how junior officers draft letters on behalf of their big bosses.

And, if the priest owns a calligraphy brush that used to belong to a real human magistrate, then the decree has extra power. Kinda makes the decree a little more official in that sense, I guess.

Pretty cool, yeah?