Sixi Wawa (四喜娃娃) Four-Happiness Doll

This week, I decided to go really niche and showcase the Sixi Wawa. The origin of the Sixi Wawa dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and was believed to be created by scholar Xie Jin as a request by the Yongle Emperor. This antique figurine was typically made of stones (for example jade) or porcelain and is shaped as four baby boys conjoined together. The four babies form an optical illusion. From the front view, they look like they’re crawling and from the side view, they look like they’re sitting down. These figurines can be displayed at home or a string can be thread through the hole and worn as a good luck charm.

Top view of the Sixi Wawa
Top view of the Sixi Wawa. Image by Samantha Yeung.

Definition: Sixi Wawa (四喜娃娃):

  • Si (四), four
  • Xi (喜), pronounced like “she”, happiness
  • Wawa (娃娃), baby, doll

Surprisingly, it appears that the figure is more commonly known as Sixi Wawa rather than an Anglicized name in English-speaking communities. I’m guessing it’s a Chinese name that can be easily spoken by English-speakers. Alternative translations I’ve seen besides Four-Happiness Doll is Four-Happiness Baby, and a long string of words like “Four Baby Boys Sitting Upright”.

Note: If you’re looking for audio pronunciations of Chinese characters, you can copy and paste the characters into! It’s a great Chinese-English dictionary/translator that I’ve been using for years. I highly recommend it.

Baby's face on the Sixi Wawa
A close-up of the face. Image by Samantha Yeung.

The figurine that I have is sculpted in porcelain into a hollow square shape. The four boys are wearing different coloured children’s dudou (commonly translated as a bellyband, a piece of cloth that covers the chest and belly, tied around the body).

Why does it represent “Four Happiness”?

Beijing Tourism has a great summary about the Sixi Wawa! It is commonly theorized that the name is inspired by four things that scholar Xie Jin values. These are “one’s wedding night, to succeed in an imperial exam, to have a welcome rain after a long drought, and to come across an old friend in a distant land.” This quote was pulled from the Beijing Tourism website which I thought was beautifully written.

Although the figurine was created in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), the Sixi Wawa was popular during the Qing Dynasty (1636 to 1911) as well. These figurines were dubbed by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty as the “God of Happiness” and was valued during weddings.

(A word of warning, Beijing Tourism cites another website as the source of this information. Do not go there because it contains malware!)

In recent times:

Sixi Wawa are still produced! But they’re usually molded out of metal rather than porcelain, jade, or petrified wood. The figure is not very well known in the Western world, but if you search 四喜娃娃 into a search engine, many listings of metal Sixi Wawa will appear for sale on Chinese websites. To be honest, I’d rather be gifted a metal Sixi Wawa than something delicate so I could take it with me for good luck! Maybe it would’ve helped me with exams during my undergrad. I would’ve had to put the charm in that giant anti-cheating ziploc bag under my desk but the placebo confidence boost might’ve helped me succeed!