Episode 100: Chinese phoenix

Click here to listen

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.


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.


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.


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.




太平预览 TaiPingYuLan

山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi

Episode 99: Mazu the sea goddess

Click here to listen

In Chinese mythology, unlike in Greek mythology, Poseidon is the god of the sea and other waters, there are different gods in charge of different waters since China has a huge territory. Today we will talk about Mazu 妈祖, the most well-known sea goddess.


The story of Mazu started from the province FuJian 福建 on the southeastern coast of China. In the book TongSuBian 通俗编 from the Qing dynasty 清朝, it says the goddess Mazu was the sixth daughter of the military general LinYuan 林愿 in FuJian from the Five Dynasties period 五代时 期around the 10th century. She could sail in the sea and travel led around the islands. People called her the dragon girl. During the Song dynasty 宋朝,the emperor worshiped her as Madame LinHui 灵惠夫人. So she is a deified goddess based on a historical person.


In the folklore, it says, her name was LinMo 林默. Lin was her last name. Mo means silence because she didn’t cry during birth. It is believed that she saved her families when they were caught offshore during a typhoon. She died at the age of 27. Some people say she died in meditation though some believed she climbed a mountain and ascended into Heaven as a goddess.


In the book YuanShi 元史 from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says Madame LinHui is the goddess of the South Sea. She protects people on the sea including fishermen and sailors. The emperor from the Yuan dynasty 元朝 gave her the title TianFei 天妃, which means Empress of the Heaven. The emperor from the Qing dynasty 清朝 gave her the title TianHou 天后, which means Queen of the Heaven.

The Mazu literally means mother ancestor, which is the title of the local FuJian people calling female ancestors. Mazu is remembered as a young lady wearing a red dress as she roamed over the seas. In statuary, she is clothed in the attire of an empress and wearing a flat-topped imperial cap with rows of beads hanging from the front and back like an empress.


Mazu is believed in Taoism as well and she has two guardian generals QianLianYan 千里眼, which means Thousand-Mile Eye and ShunFengEr 顺风耳, meaning Wind-Following Ear. In statuary, they appear as demons next to Mazu.


Most people know about Silk Road that connected the East and West. There is actually a Maritime silk road as well since the Yuan dynasty 元朝. During Ming dynasty 明朝 and Qing dynasty 清朝, sailors often carried statues of Mazu to ensure safe crossings. The government of the Ming dynasty 明朝 sponsored seven naval expeditions. The most important one is when ZhengHe 郑和, a legendary mariner and explorer who made the voyage “the largest scale manhunt on water in the history of China” from the year 1405 to the year 1433. On ZhengHe’s boats they worshiped Mazu every day and they believed they were protected by Mazu.


The belief Mazuism has spread to other part of Asia especially those coastal regions where fishery and businesses through the sea are frequent and crucial, including some parts of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and so on. There are around 1500 temples of Mazu in 26 countries around the world today. Most of them are considered as Taoist but some are considered as Buddhist. The name Macau of the region in China was thought to be deprived from the name of the A-Ma Temple 妈阁庙 when the Portuguese colonists landed at the coast just outside of the temple and asked the name of the place.


Some people believe this theory that people’s personality is related to the geography and climate of the place they live. I feel the people from coastal province FuJian where Mazu is from are more adventurous than most part especially the inland places of China . The earliest immigrants to all over the world from China are from FuJian. They traveled overseas doing businesses and finding opportunities and even settled down. Maybe they are so brave because they believe they are protected by Mazu.




通俗编 TongSuBian

元史 YuanShi

Episode 98: Chinese Four Great Beauties 3 – DiaoChan

Click here to listen

In Chinese history, there are four women considered as the Four Great Beauties. They are XiShi 西施, Wang ZhaoJun 王昭君, DiaoChan 貂蝉 and Yang YuHuan 杨玉环. They are known for their beauty and they are remembered also due to their influences over the emperors.

There is a idiom to describe how beautiful each of them was. It is called 沉鱼落雁闭月羞花 meaning the beauty can make the fish sink, birds fall, the moon eclipse and flowers be ashamed.

Today we will talk about the beauty DiaoChan 貂蝉 whose beauty was so entrancing that the moon would shy away when compared to her. She is the only one in the Four Great Beauties that there is no evidence that she existed in the history. It says her original last name was Ren 任. DiaoChan is her nickname. It is a weird name cause diao 貂 means sable, chan 蝉 means cicada. Some historians think sable cicada is from the sable tails and jade decorations in the shape of cicadas which adorned the high-ranking officials in the Eastern Han dynasty. DiaoChan sometimes represents high social status in literature at that time.


She is well known from the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义, one of the Four Great Chinese Classical Novels from the 14th century. It is a novel based on the real history in the Han dynasty 汉朝 and the Three Kingdoms period between the year 169 ~ 280.

In the book, DiaoChan was adopted by a regional official called WangYun 王允 as a maid after she escaped from the palace during the war in the Eastern Han dynasty. WangYun saw her praying to the moon one day that she wished the tyrannical warlor DongZhuo 董卓 should get punishment for what he did.


WangYun had the same thought and started to treat her as a daughter. He and DiaoChan had a big plan.


He presented DiaoChan to DongZhuo as a concubine. One day when Dong Zhuo was out, Lv Bu 吕布, a military general and warlord who was a subordinate of Dong Zhuo at that time, sneaked into the bedroom in the hope of seeing DiaoChan. Dong Zhuo treated Lv Bu as his son since he was the most important general in his army. DiaoChan pretended to be depressed and attempt suicide. She acclaimed that she was ashamed to see Lv Bu because she had been violated by Dong Zhuo. Lv Bu was heartbroken since the beautiful girl he had a crush on got hurt and he promised he would not let her suffer more. Just when those two love birds were hugging each other, Dong Zhuo returned and caught the affair. Lv Bu fled.


Dong Zhuo’s adviser suggested him to let Lv Bu have DiaoChan to win back Lv Bu’s trust. So Dong Zhuo came to DiaoChan and accused her of betraying. DiaoChao replied to Dong Zhuo that she was forced by Lv Bu to hug him and she loved Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo believed her and so far Dong Zhuo and Lv Bu started to get suspicious of and fight against each other.


Lv Bu didn’t know what to do and went to Wang Yun for help, who actually started this conspiracy. Wang Yun used this opportunity to instigate Lv Bu to join the plot to kill Dong Zhuo. They set up a trap and Lv Bu successfully killed Dong Zhuo, whom he used to fight for.

DiaoChan’s fate differs in stories. Some story say that she was killed by Dong Zhuo’s followers. Some story say that she followed Lv Bu.

There are a series of plays from the Yuan dynasty 元朝 based on folklore about DiaoChan. We can talk about them in our future episodes.



三国演义 Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Episode 97: YingNing The laughing girl – part 4

Click here to listen

Today we will finish our story about Ying Ning , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异.

Last time, we talked about YingNing went back home with Wang ZiFu and their figured out YingNing was a fox spirit’s daughter from Mr. Wu.

Wang ZiFu’ s mother let her share a room with her daughter, she started her life in Wang’s family and took her part of duties of family. Her knitted better than any women. She laughed a lot but nobody had any problems with it and everyone liked her.


Wang ZiFu’s mother fixed a date for Ying Ning and Wang ZiFu’s wedding although she still felt suspicious about her being the daughter of a fox spirit. She tried to check YingNing’s shadow under the sun and found nothing weird.

On the wedding day, Ying Ning dressed up in all the finery of a bride. She laughed so hard that she was unable to kneel down and she was excused by people. Wang ZiFu sometimes thought his wife was too silly that would not keep the secrets between them, but she never indulged in gossip.

Whenever Wang ZiFu’s mother was in trouble or bad mood, YingNing could always make her feel better with her laugh. The servants came to ask her for help when they made some mistakes and tried not to get punishment. YingNing had a great interest in flowers. She collected all kinds of species from people she knew and even secretly pawned her jewels to buy them. After a few months the whole place was planted with flowers.


Behind the house there was a tree right next to the neighbor. YingNing always climbed up on the tree and played with her flowers and sometimes stick the flowers in her hair, for which Wang ZiFu’s mother rebuked her severely. One day, the neighbor’s son saw her and was enchanted by her beauty. YingNing didn’t try to hide but started to laught. The young man thought she was flirting with him and was much smitten with her. YingNing pointed at the wall between them and left. The young man thought YingNing meant they would have a secret date at the wall at night. So he presented at night and saw YingNing sure was there waiting for him. He was so horny and jumped onto her. The next moment he felt a deep pain in his lower body, he looked carefully, it was not YingNing but just a log of wood and he was stung by a scorpion. He died in the middle of the night.

His father sued Wang ZiFu of having a witch wife. The judge happened to be an admirer of Wang ZiFu’s talend and knew he was a noble man. Therefore, they got away any punishment. Wang ZiFu’s mother gave YingNing the last word, “I knew you would cause some troubles with your silly and naive personality. We are lucky this time. I can’t imagine if met another judge, how could your husband ever have the reputation and respect? ” This time, YingNing didn’t laugh and swore she would laugh no more. Wang ZiFu’s mother added, “everyone laughs but at the reasonable times.” However, from that moment, YingNing laughed no more even when people tried to make her though her expression was by no means sad.

One night, in front of her husband, YingNing cried. Wang ZiFu was confused. YingNing said, “I didn’t want to scare you before since we didn’t know each other for too long. Now you and your mother have been so kind to me and care about me, I will keep nothing from you. I am the daughter of a fox. When my mother went away, she asked the spirit of an old woman to take care of me with whom I grew up for over 10 years. I have no siblings and all I have now is you. Now my foster mother is lying on the hill alone and she has been depressed about it. If you could be so kind to bury her with her past husband Mr. Qin together her spirit may be at rest. ”

Wang ZiFu consented. On a selected date, the couple brought a coffin to the hill. YingNing pointed to a spot amidst the shrubs and there they dig out the old woman’s dead body. YingNing held the body and wet bitterly. Then they put the body in the coffin and buried it next to Mr. Qin’s tomb.

That night, Wang ZiFu had a dream that the old woman came to thank him. He told YingNing when he wake up. She said she saw her and was warned by her not to frighten him. He asked why she didn’t ask her to stay. YingNing replied, “she is a ghost and can’t be a good thing for her to stay too long around many alive people.” He asked about YingNing’s maid XiaoRong and she said XiaoRong was a fox spirit too. She was married now.

Since then, every year on QingMing Festival, the couple would go to visit Mr. Chin and YingNing’s foster mother’s tombs. YingNing gave birth to a son after a year who wasn’t afraid of strangers and laughed all the time just like his mother used to be.


In the end, the author commented the story, YingNing looks like an innocent and silly her that she laughs all the time. But think about the trick she did at the wall, who can compared with her? She was grateful for her foster mother, she stopped laughing but crying. My girl YingNing was trying to use her laugh to hide her real feelings. I heard there is a kind of plants called XiaoYiHu 笑矣乎, the name basically means laughing, when you smell it you would start laughing and can’t stop. If you plant this in the house, then even the silk tree. or orange day-lily can’t compare with it. Silk tree is called HeHuanHua 合欢 花 in Chinese, which literally means happy together. Orange day-lily is called WangYouCao in Chinese, which literally means forgetting the sadness. Not to say to flower JieYuHua 解语 花, full of pretentiousness. JieYuHua literally means understanding the words and it is a kind of mythical flower, which is supposed to understandable.

So the author used the names of different flowers to metaphor YingNing as the plant XiaoYiHu that her innocent and natural laugh was better than anything especially the people who know so well about social norms and following the strict rules.

In the book Strange Stories from A Chinese Studio, you can tell the author himself is a conflicted person that on one hand he pursued the main values of the society and one the other hand he values the natural spirits like YingNing.



聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Episode 96: YingNing The Laughing Girl – part 3

Click here to listen

Today we will continue our story about YingNing , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异.

Last time we talked about Wang ZiFu found the girl he fell in love with and was invited into the house to stay for a while

The next day Wang ZiFu went to the garden behind the house with a well-kept lawn and plenty of trees and flowers. There was an arbor consisting of three posts. Walking through the flowers, he heard some noise from the trees and looking up saw YingNing on it who at once burst out laughing and nearly fell off. “Don’t! Don’t! Be careful!” cried Wang ZiFu. YingNing tried to get down from the tree giggling all the time until when she was near the ground, she missed her hold and tumbled down with a run. This finally stopped her laugh. Wang ZiFu helped her to stand up and gently squeezed her hand. YingNing began to laugh again leaning against a tree.

Wang ZiFu waited until she finished laughing and then took the flower out of his sleeve. “It is dead. Why are you still keeping it?” asked YingNing. “You dropped it on the Lantern Festival so I keep it. ” “What is the point of keeping it?” asked YingNing. “To show my love that I will never forget. Since the first time we met, I have a love sickness and thought I would die. It is my luck to meet you again, I pray you have pity on me.” “It is a piece of cake.I am your cousin. If you need flowers, I will tell the servants get a whole basket full of flowers when you leave.” YingNing replied. “Did you not understand what I said?” Wang ZiFu asked. “I don’t care about flowers but the person who picked the flower.” “Of course” answered she, “everybody cares about their relatives.” Wang ZiFu said, “I wasn’t talking about the ordinary relations but the love between husband and wife.” “What’s the difference?” asked YingNing. “Husband and wife sleep together at night.” YingNing lowered her head and thought for a while said, “I am used to sleep with strangers.” Wang ZiFu saw a maid walking towards to them and slipped away.

Later, they all met in the old woman’s room. The old woman asked, “where did you go?” YingNing replied, “we were talking in the garden. ” The old woman said, “the dinner has been ready for a while. I can’t think what you had to say all this while.” YingNing said, “my cousin said he wanted to sleep with me.” Wang ZiFu was so ashamed and made her a sign to her to be quite so she smiled and said no more. It is lucky that the old woman was a little deaf and didn’t catch the words. Wang ZiFu whispered to YingNing , “our conversation is private and is not supposed to tell others.” YingNing said, “I never hold any secrets from my mother, besides, what harm can there be talking about sleeping together?” Wang ZiFu sighed and thought YingNing was such a naive and innocent girl. He didn’t know what to do the let her understand.

After dinner, the servants from Wang ZiFu’s family came to find him. Because his mother couldn’t find him after he left in the village and they remember this location Mr.Wu mentioned. Wang ZiFu told the old woman and begged her to let him bring YingNing to go back with him. “I have had the idea in my head for a long time. But I am too old to travel. If you will take care of my girl and introduce to her to her aunt, it would be wonderful. ”




So she called YingNing who came up laughing as usual. Whereupon the old woman commented, “what makes you always laugh? You would be a perfect girl if you stop being that silly. You cousin wants to talk you to visit the families. Go ahead and get ready.” The old woman provided refreshment for the servants from Wang ZiFu’s family and told YingNing that her aunt was quite well enough off to maintain her, she had better stay there for a while and study the basic principles and books. So she could marry to a good husband in the future with the help of her aunt.

So off they left, when they reached the brow of the hill, they looked back and could still see the old woman leaning against the door gazing towards the north. When they arrived home, his mother was surprised to see such a good-looking girl and asked him who she was. Wang ZiFu told her YingNing was his cousin, the daughter of his aunt’s. “It was all made up by Mr. Wu. He was lying to you about the location and your cousin. ” cried his mother, “I had a sister married to the Qin’s family but she died many years ago. She can’t be still alive ” she asked about the details about what the old woman looked like and was obliged to acknowledged the identity.




When she was wondering how she could be still living, Mr. Wu came to visit. YingNing retired within. Mr. Wu was lost in astonishment as well after hearing the whole story. He thought for a while and asked, “is the young lady’s name YingNing?” Wang ZiFu confirmed him and asked how he knew. “Mr. Qin was bewitched by a fox spirit after his wife’s death and subsequently died. The fox had a daughter named YingNing. Even after Mr. Qin’s death, the fox spirit frequently came back to visit. The families invited the Taoist priest to exorcise it. The fox then left with her daughter YingNing. Now here she is.” While they were talking, peals of laughter were heard from within. Wang ZiFu’s mother remarked what a silly and innocent girl she was. Mr. Wu asked to be introduced and YingNing came out with a bow. Then she ran back into the room and burst out laughing again. Everyone was amused by her laugh.

Mr. Wu suggested he would go to visit YingNing’s family and find out more about the story and plus he could arrange the marriage. Like some stories we talked about before, this time he came to the same location, there weren’t any houses just some flowers scattered on the hills. He remembered Mr. Qin had buried not too far, but he couldn’t find the grave either.

Wang ZiFu’s mother told YingNing what Mr. Wu found at her home, YingNing showed no signs of fear or alarm. Neither did she cry about she was alone now even when Wang ZiFu’s mother condole with her on no long having a home. She still laughed in a silly way.

If you want to find out what happens next, check out our next episode.



聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio