Phoenix in Chinese Mythology
The phoenix or Feng huang (also known as firebird) in Chinese is one of the 4 Chinese mythical animals, the other three are unicorn (qilin), dragon (long) and tortoise (guixian). Among the four, only the tortoise is exists in real world. The Fenghuang is also known as the “August Rooster” since the bird sometimes takes the place of the Rooster in Chinese zodiac. The figure of phoenix appears in objects dating from thousands of years ago (approximately 4,000 years ago), this proves that it has its origins in the very very beginning of Chinese culture. The phoenix bird also exists in Greek mythology.
Chinese phoenix resembles a peacock but the stories tell that it is in fact a much more sizable animal than its modern-day cousin. Some sources claimed that this mythic bird has its roots in a prehistorical, possibly ostrich-like huge bird that lived long time ago in China. In stories, the Feng huang is either described as being white, black, green, yellow or red. It is written that the bird drinks from sacred springs, nests in Chinese plane trees and feeds on bamboo seeds. It is also sometimes depicted as having 3 legs.
According to scripture Erya (chapter 17 Shiniao), phoenix is made up of the beak of a rooster, the forehead of a fowl, the face of a swallow, the neck of a snake, the back of a tortoise, the breast of a goose, the tail of a fish and the hindquarters of a stag. However, today the Fenghuang is often described as a composite of many birds.
Phoenix Bird Symbolism
The phoenix is regarded as the epitome of all birds or simply as the king of birds because it embodies the characteristics of many other feathered species. For generations, the Chinese have named food, girls and musical instruments with the Chinese character “Feng” (means phoenix) in expectation that they are as splendid as the phoenix.
The body of phoenix is said to symbolize 6 celestial bodies. The eyes are the sun, the head is the sky, the back is the moon, the feet are the earth, the wings are the wind and the tail is the planets.
In Chinese art and paintings the phoenix is often paired with the dragon and that symbol is used as a wish for a harmonious marriage for new couple. Phoenix in China represents female virtues such as beauty and charm. And because of this, the wedding dresses worn by the brides in China are often decorated with a picture of the phoenix. Once the dragon became a totem of the emperor, then the phoenix was also accorded a similar significance to empresses.
When giving birth, especially twin, is always considered a blessing. If you have the great fortune of getting a girl and a boy baby at the same time, it means that your entire family has been blessed. The set of boy-girl twin is referred to as dragon-phoenix twin or “long feng bao” in China.
Actually ‘feng huang’ (the original name of the bird) incorporates the notions of feng, a male bird and huang, a female bird, therefore according to that logic, the phoenix is actually a symbol of the combination between masculinity and feminity, or Yin-Yang. The phoenix bird is used to represent the south in Chinese geomagnetism. It represents the Fire element and is associated with the season of summer and drought.
One of the four symbols of Chinese myth, the Vermilion Bird of the South, is often confused with the Fenghuang, though they are distinct entities.
Fenghuang is also the name of a county in western Hunan province of China. Its name is written with the same Chinese characters as this mythological phoenix bird.