Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Phoenix

The Phoenix is an important beast in Chinese/Japanese mythology. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the page built by, regarding the Chinese Phoenix, or Feng Huang. There, you'll find more links, etc.

The links on the original page makes reference to the Byodo-in, a temple in Japan famous for it's "Phoenix Hall." I posted an article about the Byodo-in, in July 2006. It'll still be in the archives.


Fenghuang (Chinese: 鳳凰; pinyin: fènghuáng; Japanese: 鳳凰 houou; Korean: 봉황 bonghwang; Vietnamese: Phượng Hoàng) are a species of mythological Asian birds that reign over all other birds. The males are called feng and the females huang. In modern times, however, such a distinction of gender is often no longer made and the feng and huang are blurred into a single feminine entity so that the bird can be paired with the Chinese dragon, which has male connotations. The fenghuang is also called the August Rooster (鶤雞 hùnjī). In the West, it is commonly referred to as the Chinese phoenix.


A common depiction was of it attacking snakes with its talons and its wings spread. The fenghuang is said to be made up of the beak of a cock, the face of a swallow, the forehead of a fowl, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, the hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish. Its body symbolizes the six celestial bodies. The head is the sky, the eyes are the sun, the back is the moon, the wings are the wind, the feet are the earth, and the tail is the planets. Its feathers contain the five fundamental colors: black, white, red, green, and yellow.

Fenghuang, the Asian phoenix, has no connection with the phoenix of the western world. The images of the phoenix have appeared in China for over 7,000 years, often in jade and originally on good-luck totems. It is a totem of eastern tribes in ancient China. Current theories suggest that it may be a representation of a large pre-historic bird, similar to an ostrich, which were common in pre-historic China.

During the Han period (2,200 years ago) the phoenix was used as a symbol depicting the direction south, shown as a male (feng, 鳳) and female (凰) phoenix facing each other. It was also used to symbolize the Empress in a pairing with a dragon where the dragon represents the Emperor. It might come from the merging of eastern and western tribes of ancient China. The phoenix represented power sent from the heavens to the Empress. If a phoenix was used to decorate a house it symbolized that loyalty and honesty was in the people that lived there. Or alternatively, phoenix only stays when the ruling is without dark and corruption (政治清明).


The fenghuang has very positive connotations. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. The fenghuang also symbolizes the union of yin and yang. It appears in peaceful and prosperous times but hides when trouble is near.

In ancient China, they can often be found in the decorations for weddings or royalty, along with dragons. This is because the Chinese considered the dragon and phoenix symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, another common yin and yang metaphor.

No comments: