For other uses, see Fenghuang (disambiguation).

Template:Chinese Fenghuang (Chinese: 鳳凰; pinyin: fènghuáng) are mythological birds of East Asia that reign over all other birds. The males are called feng and the females huang. In modern times, however, such a distinction of gender is often no longer made and they are blurred into a single feminine entity so that the bird can be paired with the Chinese dragon, which is deemed male.

The fenghuang is also called the "August Rooster" (Chinese: 鶤雞; pinyin: kūnjī) since it sometimes takes the place of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac. In the West, it is commonly referred to as the Chinese phoenix or simply Phoenix. Fenghuang Ancient City is an ancient community in Hunan Province.


A common depiction of fenghuang was of it attacking snakes with its talons and its wings spread. According to the Erya's chapter 17 Shiniao, fenghuang is made up of the beak of a rooster, the face of a swallow, the forehead of a fowl, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, the hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish.[1] Today, however, it is often described as a composite of many birds including the head of a golden pheasant, the body of a mandarin duck, the tail of a peacock, the legs of a crane, the mouth of a parrot, and the wings of a swallow.

Its body symbolizes the six celestial bodies. The head is the sky, the eyes are the sun, the back is the moon, the wings are the wind, the feet are the earth, and the tail is the planets. Its feathers contain the five fundamental colors: black, white, red, blue and yellow. It is also sometimes depicted as having three legs. It is believed that phoenix only appear in areas or places that are blessed with utmost peace and prosperity or happiness.

Chinese traditions cites it as living atop the Kunlun Mountains in northern China.


Images of an ancient bird have appeared in China for over 8000 years, as earliest as the Hongshan neolithic period, on jade and pottery motifs, then appearing decorating bronze as well as jade figurines. Some believe they may have been a good-luck totem among eastern tribes of ancient China.

During the Han Dynasty (2,200 years ago) two phoenixes, one a male (feng, 鳳) and the other a female (huang, 凰) were often shown together facing one other. Later, during the Yuan Dynasty the two terms were merged to become the generally translated "phoenix", but the "King of Birds" came to symbolize the empress when paired with a dragon as a dragon represented the emperor. From the period of the Jiajing Emperor (1522–66) on, a pair of phoenixes was differentiated by the tail feathers of the two birds, typically together forming a closed circle pattern—the male identified by five serrated tail feathers (five being an odd, or yang number) and the female by what appears to be one, but is in fact, two (two being an even, or yin number) curling or tendrilled tail feathers. It was also in the Ming Dynasty that phoenixes first began to appear with combs, hence comb-less phoenixes are pre-Ming, and phoenixes depicted with combs, Ming or post-Ming.[2]

Also during this period, the fenghuang was used as a symbol representing the direction south. This was portrayed through a male and female facing each other. Their feathers were of the five fundamental colors: black, white, red, green, and yellow. These colors are said to represent the Confucius' five virtues:

  1. Ren is the virtue of benevolence, charity, and humanity;
  2. Yi: Honesty and uprightness; may be broken down into zhong, doing one's best, conscientiousness, loyalty and shù: the virtue of reciprocity, altruism, consideration for others
  3. Zhi: Knowledge
  4. Xin: Faithfulness and integrity;
  5. Li: Correct behavior, propriety, good manners, politeness, ceremony, worship.[3]

The phoenix represented power sent from the heavens to the Empress. If a phoenix was used to decorate a house it symbolized that loyalty and honesty were in the people that lived there. Or alternatively, phoenix only stays when the ruler is without darkness and corruption (政治清明).


The fenghuang has very positive connotations. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. The fenghuang also symbolizes the union of yin and yang. Shan Hai Jing's 1st chapter “Nanshang Jing” records each part of fenghuang's body symbolizes a word, the head represents virtue (), the wing represents duty (), the back represents propriety (), the abdomen says belief () and the chest represents mercy ().[4]

In ancient and modern Chinese culture, they can often be found in the decorations for weddings or royalty, along with dragons. This is because the Chinese considered the dragon and phoenix symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, another common yin and yang metaphor.

In some traditions it appears in good times but hides during times of trouble, while in other traditions it appeared only to mark the beginning of a new era.[5] In China and Japan it was a symbol of the imperial house, and it represented "fire, the sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity".[5]

Modern usage

  • When describing chinoiserie or authentic Asian ceramics and other artworks, English-speaking art historians and antique collectors sometimes refer to it as hoho bird,[6] a name derived from hō-ō, with a second extraneous h added. Hō-ō is simply the Japanese pronunciation of fenghuang. The seemingly vast difference between hō-ō and fenghuang is due to Chinese vowels with ng usually being converted to ō in Go-on reading.
  • Phoenix talons (鳳爪) is a Chinese dish of chicken talons cooked in a black bean sauce. It can also refer to chicken claws in any Chinese dish cooked with them.
  • Fèng or Fènghuáng is a common element in given names of Chinese women (likewise, "Dragon" is used for men's names).
  • "Dragon-and-phoenix infants" (龍鳳胎) is an expression meaning a set of male and female fraternal twins.
  • Fenghuang is a county in western Hunan, southern China, formerly a sub-prefecture. Its name is written with the same Chinese characters as the mythological bird.
  • In Korea, it has been used for the royal emblem (especially for queens) and the current presidential emblem. North Jeolla's football club uses it as its symbol.
  • The Vermilion Bird of the South, one of the Four Symbols of Chinese myth, sometimes confused with the fenghuang, is a distinct entity.

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