Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang — Legend, History, Utilization, and Culture

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang, the King of Birds, is an auspicious mythical creature that believed to only appears in peaceful and prosperous states. 

 

Therefore, Fenghuang has been the symbol of prosperity, auspiciousness, virtue, righteousness, courtesy, benevolence, love, and faith, whose image had been widely used by royal females in history. 

What is the origin of Fenghuang? 

Appearances and Types of Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang.

What is the relationship between Fenghuang and Chinese Dragon?  

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang and Vermilion Bird Zhu Que, which is more powerful? 

Fenghuang in ancient mythology, legends, and history.

What does Fenghuang symbolize? 

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Accepting Homage of other Birds, Picture by Zuiyuemenglong.

What is the origin of Fenghuang? 

 

In the ancient masterpiece, The Classic of Mountains and Seas, Fenghuang is a type of mythical colorful bird, whose feather looks like five Chinese Characters: virtue (head), righteousness (wings), courtesy (back), benevolence (chest), and faith (belly). 

 

They are beautiful creatures with free souls, melodic singing, and charming dance, and only show up in peaceful and flourishing kingdoms. 

 
Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Pattern on Blue and White Porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Pattern on Blue and White Porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Archeologically, Fenghuang appeared during the neolithic period, which has been believed to be the representative of bird totems and the worship of the sun.

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Shape Decoration of the Shijiahe Culture

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Shape Decoration of the Shijiahe Culture (Around 2800 BC — 2000 BC) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Appearances and Types of Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang.

Fenghuang inhabits in Chinese Parasol (also named Phoenix Tree),  eats from nature, drinks from fresh springs. It has the jaw of a swallow, beak of a rooster, head of a wild goose, neck of a snake, hindquarter of a Qilin, back of a tortoise, tail of a fish.

 

Its head looks like the sky, eyes like the sun, back resembles the moon, wings shape as wind, feet resemble the earth, and tail like planets.

 

Fenghuang usually has five colors, and is classified into five types based on their main colors:

 
 

What is the relationship between Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang and Chinese Dragon?  

 

Chinese Dragon Loong and Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang, on many occasions, show up in pairs, when the dragon represents the male and Yang, the phoenix is the female and Yin. 

However, in the beginning, they are two different species with no connection.

In ancient times, Feng is male, Huang is female, and together, this creature is named Fenghuang, which has been the representative of peace, honor, power, virtue, harmony, faith, and auspiciousness. 

A Pair of Chinese Phoenixes Fenghuang

A Pair of Chinese Phoenixes Fenghuang, Picture by FY Ruyi.

Since Qin (221 BC — 207 BC) and Han (202 BC — 220 AD) dynasties, the Chinese dragon gradually became the symbol of paramount imperial power and the emperor, when Fenghuang was used by female royals. 

 

As time goes by, Fenghuang became one of the most popular auspicious creatures in China and has been widely used in art, poems, names, costumes, Chinese Traditional Wedding, and so on. 

Chinese Phoenix Shape Gem Inlaid Filigree Hairpin (Zan) of the Ming Dynasty

Chinese Phoenix Shape Gem Inlaid Filigree Hairpin (Zan) of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang and Vermilion Bird Zhu Que, which is more powerful? 

 

If Fenghuang is believed the King of Birds, does it mean it is the most powerful and honorable bird in Chinese Mythology

Probably not, the Vermilion Bird is.

 

Vermillion Bird, or in Chinese Zhu Que, is the mythical creature that can lead deceased people's souls to heaven, represents Fire in the Five Element Theory

 

In Chinese Astrology, Vermilion Bird Zhu Que is one of the Four Symbols, which represents summer and includes Seven Mansions on Southern Sky.

 

Click to Read Three Enclosures, Four Symbols, and Twenty Eight Lunar Mansions of Ancient Chinese Astrology. 

 
Vermilion Bird Eaves Tile of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD)

Vermilion Bird Eaves Tile of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fenghuang in ancient mythology, legends, and history.

 

  • After Yellow Emperor (about 2717 BC — 2599 BC) established a peaceful and prosperous empire, after Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) defeated the huge flood,  Fenghuang showed up in their grand celebration ceremonies, soaring and dancing in the sky. 

  • A mythical bird named Xuanniao was worshiped as the ancestor of a clan, whose descendants built the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC). 

Therefore, this mythical bird, in some versions later evolved as Fenghuang or Phoenix, was the totem of the Shang Empire.

 
Phoenix Shape Jade of Queen Fu Hao of the of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC)

Phoenix Shape Jade of Queen Fu Hao of the of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC) — National Museum of China

  • Fenghuang, in some legend, showed up in a state that was reigned by Lord Ji Chang, as a prediction of the rise of his kingdom. A few years later, his son Ji Fa established the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC).

The only female emperor in China Wu Zetian (624 — 705) is a descendant of the Zhou's royal family and named her empire Zhou. 

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Pattern on Bronze Cattle of the Zhou Dynasty

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Pattern on Bronze Cattle of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC) — The Art Institute of Chicago (Photo by Dongmaiying)

What does Fenghuang symbolize?

 

With the evolvement of Fenghuang in legends and culture, it has been symbols of:

  • Benevolence and Virtue

 
Chinese Phoenix and Dragon on Silk Painting of the Warring States Period

Chinese Phoenix and Dragon on Silk Painting of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), They Were Believed Guiding the Deceased One's Soul to Heaven — Hunan Museum

  • Peace and Nobility 

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang in Lacquer Cup of the Western Han Dynasty

Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang in Lacquer Cup of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD) — Chengdu Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Strong and Beauty

Golden Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Decoration of the Tang Dynasty

Golden Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang Decoration of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — Xi'an Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Auspiciousness and Brilliant People

Feng and Luan Patterns on Blue and White Porcelain Water Container of the Yuan Dynasty

Feng and Luan Patterns on Blue and White Porcelain Water Container of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Lintao Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Power and Prosperity 

Phoenix Crown of Empress Xiaoduan, The Queen of Wanli Emperor (1563 — 1620)

Phoenix Crown of Empress Xiaoduan, The Queen of Wanli Emperor (1563 — 1620) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Beautiful and Noble Women

Golden Filigree Chinese Phoenix Hairdress of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)

Golden Filigree Chinese Phoenix Hairdress of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Great Love 

Chinese Dragon and Phoenix Patterns Porcelain Plate of the Ming Dynasty

Chinese Dragon and Phoenix Patterns Porcelain Plate of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Harmony and Happiness

Golden Filigree Chinese Phoenix Hairpin of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Golden Filigree Chinese Phoenix Hairpin of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)