Fenghuang Bird: The Legend Of The Chinese Phoenix

Fenghuang Bird

Ever heard of the Fenghuang bird?

Fenghuang are ancient mythological birds from Eastern Asia…

So here’s what you need to know!


Overview of the Fenghuang Bird

Fenghuang birds are mythological creatures said to rule over all other birds. Historically, the Bird had a male and female type with the male named, “Feng” and the female, “Huang”.

In recent years, the mythological Bird is considered a single feminine entity. The feminine Fenghuang bird often features in tandem with the male Chinese Dragon.

The Fenghuang bird is also known as the Chinese Rooster as it regularly features in place of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac.

The Bird is also sometimes known as the Chinese Phoenix (or even just Phoenix) although it hardly compares with a western Phoenix.

In terms of appearance, the Fenghuang bird has changed over the years.

Traditionally, the Bird’s presentation was a mix of a Rooster’s beak, Swallow’s face, Fowl’s forehead, Snake’s neck, Goose’s breast, Tortoise’s back, hind legs of a Stag and a Fish’s tail.

These days, the Bird is often described as an amalgamation of other birds such as A Golden Pheasant’s head, a Mandarin Duck’s body, a Peacock’s tail, Crane’s legs, a Parrot’s beak and a Swallow’s wings. 

The Bird’s composite body parts are said to represent different aspects of space. The Bird’s head, for example, represents the sky while its tail represents the planets.

The eyes represent the sun, and the Bird’s back symbolises the moon; its wings represent the wind, and its feet represent the earth. 

In Chinese mythology, the male and female aspects of the Fenghuang relate to the philosophical perspective of Yin and Yang.  


Origin and Evolution

Artistic depictions of the Fenghuang Bird date back as far as 8000 years ago. Images of the Bird first appeared on jade pottery, bronze and jade figurines from the Hongshan culture.

These early representations are often associated with symbols of good luck. 

The male/female duo of birds first appeared during the Han dynasty around 2200 years ago.

These two birds are represented as phoenixes facing each other; this has been attributed to a symbolic reference to the south.

The merging of the two birds into one first happened around the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). 

Ancient Chinese classic literature Shanhijin (4th-century BC) mentions the birds’ 5 colours as symbols for Confucius’ 5 virtues.

The colours red, green, yellow, black and white are said to represent the virtues: Charity, uprightness, knowledge, faithfulness, politeness. 

The Fenghuang Bird, as female representation, came to be synonymous with the Empress. The masculine Dragon came to represent the emperor. 

The phoenix was said to represent all that was pure, as long as a phoenix resided with an empress, the Empress could not be thought of as impure or corrupt. 


Behaviour

Collective mythologies surrounding the Bird suggest that the Fenghuang is an immortal bird. Unlike the phoenix of the west which ages, dies and is reborn, the Fenghuang Bird simply lives forever. 

The Bird is said to nest in areas inaccessible to humans. Its home is within the K’unlan mountains, high up in the Wu t’ung trees.

Some legends suggest that a musician playing underneath a Wu t’ung tree will have his music blessed by the melody of the Fenghuang Bird. 

Legend has a lot to say about the melody of the Fenghuang Bird’s song. It is said that the Bird sings its theme in the five Chinese harmonic notes and that its song is the inspiration for the Chinese harmonic scale. 

The Fenghuang Bird eats a diet consisting only of bamboo seeds. Their behaviour is described as being peaceful and never causing direct harm to humans.

When a Fenghuang Bird takes flight, all other birds and creatures are rumoured to fall silent. 

During troubled times, the Fenghuang Bird mythology suggests it flies to the heavens so that its presence can only symbolise peace. 

When the Bird reappears, this is viewed as an extremely positive omen reflective of a time of significant change for the good.  


Mythological Significance

Initially, the Bird was associated with prosperity; however, this has changed over the years.

Huangdi – The Yellow Emperor

Huangdi, the mythological emperor and founder of Daoism, is often associated with the Bird.

Legend dictates, the Fenghuang appeared just before the yellow emperor’s death. 

During the Zhou dynasty (1046BC-256BC), the Fenghuang Bird became synonymous with political prowess and prosperity.

In later years, the Bird made an appearance at the gravesite of the founder of the Ming dynasty, emperor Hongwu. 

The appearance of the Fenghuang Bird in mythology often symbolises a significant change such as the birth of a virtuous leader. 


Modern usage

English speakers often refer to depictions of the Bird in ceramics such as chinoiserie as the HoHo Bird. This name comes from the Japanese pronunciation and translates directly to Fenghuang Bird. 

Female Chinese names often contain elements of the Bird’s name such as Feng (male names incorporate the Dragon). 

The mythological Bird’s name also features in many regional place names throughout China. The most popular of these places is Fenghuang County in Western Hunan. 

The Fenghuang Bird also features within the emblem of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The emblem’s use of the Bird is said to represent majesty, loyalty, beauty, and nobility. 


FAQs

Where did the Fenghuang Bird Mythology originate? 

There is no clear origin story of the Fenghuang myth.


When did the Fenghuang Bird first start appearing in mythology? 

The Bird’s appearances in Chinese mythology date back to around the Third Millenium BC.


How long has the bird featured in Chinese art? 

The Fenghuang has featured in Chinese art for thousands of years

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvPExH8vjto

What is the bird often associated with? 

The Fenghuang Bird is often linked with Chinese royalty. 


Does the bird carry anything? 

The Bird is sometimes depicted carrying scrolls and ancient books. 

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