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Chinese Mythology - fenghuang 鳳凰, phoenixes

Periods of Chinese History
The fenghuang 鳳凰, also written 鳳皇, mostly translated as "phoenix", is a fabulous beast in ancient China. The phoenix is an auspicious bird that appears alone or in flocks in times when peace and prosperity are the result of a benevolent government. There are different kinds of phoenixes, all of which have five different colours. These are the huang 凰 or huangniao 皇鳥 (or 凰鳥), luan 鸞 or luanniao 鸞鳥 and feng 鳳 or fengniao 鳳鳥. A phoenix looks like a pheasant (ji 雞 "hen"). The pattern of its head is interpreted as the character de 德 "virtue", that of the wings as yi 義 "righteousness", that of the back as li 禮 "proper behaviour", that of the shoulders as ren 仁 "kindheartedness", and the pattern on the belly as xin 信 "trustworthiness". The Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents" says that when the pipe music of the syle shao 韶 is played, the phoenixes appear to pay reverence. The Tang period 唐 (618-907)scholar Kong Yingda 孔穎達 explained that the male is called feng, while the female bird is called huang. Feng is also a short term for phoenix.
Another name for phoenix or generally a kind of auspicious bird is yan 鶠, which is explained as a homonym to yan 偃 "to raise", because the phoenix (representing the female or the empress) uses to ride with the wind, while the dragon (represending the male or the emperor) rides with the clouds. 鶠 is also a variant of yan 燕 "swallow", the xuanniao 玄鳥 "black bird". The swallow or phoenix is the totem bird of the Shang dynasty 商 (17th-11th cent. BC) because it impregnated the ancestress of the dynasty.
With the colour vermillion (zhu 朱), the phoenix symbolizes the direction south, heat and summer. In this representation he is called zhuque 朱雀 "vermillion sparrow".
Other auspicious animals are turtle (gui 龜) and unicorn (qilin 麒麟) and dragon (long 龍).

Source: Yuan Ke 袁珂 (ed. 1985), Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian 中國神話傳說詞典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), pp. 91-92, 167.

August 20, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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