Episode 100: Chinese phoenix

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Today is our Episode 100! Thank you for all the listeners who like and support us all the way! What are we going to talk about today?

There is a phrase in Chinese called BaiNiaoChaoFeng 百鸟 朝凤, which means hundreds of birds worshiping the Chinese phoenix. It is from the book TaiPingYuLan 太平预览 from the Song dynasty 宋朝. In the book, it mentions a scene saw by people a Chinese phoenix followed by hundreds of birds while singing, which is a good omen.

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Today we will talk about the mythical creature FengHuang 凤凰, Chinese phoenix. The Chinese translation of the Greek mythical creature phoenix is FengHuang and the English translation of the Chinese mythical creature FengHuang is Chinese phoenix. So they are similar, however, quite different.

First, phoenix is associated with the sun that obtains new life by arising from the ashes and dies in a show of flames. FengHuang however, the name Feng 凤 is from the character Feng 风 meaning wind and doesn’t reborn. One represents the worshiping of the sun fire and one represents the worshiping of wind.

Second, the Greek word phoenix derives the name of its purple-red hue that phoenix is the color of red and yellow. There are variations about the coloration of phoenix. FengHuang however is five-colored.

Third, phoenix is as similar in size to an eagle or even larger than ostrich. FengHuang however, according to the historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋朝, is around 6 chi 尺,which is about 180 cm pretty long but also light since it is based on the a peacock or a golden pheasant.

The image and meaning of FengHuang evolved through history. The earliest description is from the book Classics of the Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC, it says there is a five-colored bird called HuangNiao 皇鸟, or LuanNiao 鸾鸟 or FengNiao 凤鸟. The bird is in a shape similar to a chicken. It eats and drinks, sings and dances. When it is seen, the world would be peaceful.

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In the book ShuoWenJieZi 说文解字from the Eastern Han dynasty 东汉时期 around the 2nd century, it says, Feng is a holy bird. It represents the wind. It has the neck of a snake, the tail of a fish , the forehead of a stork, the “whiskers” (a handful of red feathers around the neck looking like whiskers) of a Mandarin duck, the pattern of a dragon, the back of a tortoise, the beak of a rooster, and the jaw of a swallow.

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In the early times, FengHuang represented power sent from the heavens to the emperors and people used the word FengHuang to represent noble people or more accurately noble men in the ancient times. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. FengHuang likes to land on the Chinese parasol tree. That’s one reason Chinese people the parasol trees.

Since the Tang dynasty, the word has been more causally used. In the early times, Feng represents the male bird and Huang represents the female bird and has the meaning of love and couples. Since the Han dynasty 汉朝 , dragon started to represent royalty and the emperor. FengHuang was gradually feminized and used to represent empresses. The dragon-and-phoenix design is the symbol of harmony relationship between husband and wife.

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Mentioned:

太平预览 TaiPingYuLan

山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi

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