Fu Lu Shou: Three Stars in a Hotel Lobby

From right to left, we see Fu, Lu and Shou. Thinkstock

If you've ever found yourself an outsider in a Chinese restaurant or home, then you might well have wondered about three ornate statues of bearded men -- especially since one of them has an enormous, bloated forehead.

I pondered the same thing last fall as I strolled my newly-acquired son through the Guangzhou China Hotel. The statues loomed behind the front desk, greeted us on entry to the hotel restaurant and generally popped up everywhere we went.

Who are they? They are of course Fu, Lu and Shou. From an astrological stand point, they represent the planet Jupiter, the circumpolar variable star Z Ursae Majoris and the class-F giant star Canopus, respectively.

Fu represents good fortune, and we see that symbolized in his scholar's dress and the cradled child. In fact, sometimes he's positively crawling with children. Some depictions give him a scroll as well.

With his fine clothes and Ruyi scepter, Lu represents prosperity. He's the one you want to venerate for business savvy and professional success.

Old man Shou with the bloated skull represents longevity. According to Cultural China, Taoist mythology attributes his ancient appearance to ten years in his mother's womb. In fact, he was born an old man. The peach in his hand symbolizes immortality. So he's your personifying deity for long life.

According to Taoist Chant, Mantra, and Invocations, the three stars also associate with points in the body, as each is ultimately an internal energy rather than an external power. Here's a quick excerpt:

"The source of Fu or happiness is the spirit or the head which is associated with the energy of Heaven. The source of Lu or wealth is the mind or the chest. The ancient developed people associated the chest with the energy that extends itself outwards to other people. This energy is also known as compassion. The source of Shou or longevity is the lower abdomen."

Naturally, you'll want all three energies for a balanced existence.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.