How the Chinese Phoenix Got Its Feathers

The Chinese phoenix.

The Chinese phoenix, also known as Fenghuang, is a mythological bird that symbolizes high virtue and grace. (Image: Alakoo via Dreamstime)

The Chinese phoenix, also known as Fenghuang, is regarded as the epitome of all birds, an omen that foretells harmony, and a symbol of high virtue, prosperity, compassion, and grace. Fenghuang is believed to have been born from the sun (or out of fire) and is considered the ruler of all birds, for it embodies the characteristics of many other feathered species.

A meaningful melody

The melody of the Fenghuang bird’s song is said to have been sung in the five Chinese harmonic notes and its song is the inspiration for the Chinese harmonic scale. 

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Receive selected content straight into your inbox.

The figure of the phoenix appears on objects dating from thousands of years ago at the very, very beginning of Chinese culture. Some sources claimed that this mythic bird has its roots in a prehistoric, possibly ostrich-like huge bird that lived a long time ago in China.

8th century A.D Tang Dynasty square bronze Chinese mirror with a phoenix motif.
8th century A.D. Tang Dynasty square bronze Chinese mirror with a phoenix motif. (Image: PericlesofAthens via Wikimedia Commons)

A powerful name

For generations, the Chinese have named food, girls, and musical instruments after the Chinese character for the phoenix, having an expectation that they will be as splendid as the phoenix.

A mystical creature

Fenghuang, (Chinese phoenix) is one of three early Chinese mythical animals, the others being the unicorn and the dragon. A phoenix and dragon are often portrayed together, as they represent a balance of forces — the Yin and the Yang — that harmonize the world. The phoenix is also known as the “August Rooster” since the bird sometimes takes the place of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac.

Confucius’ virtues and color

In the ancient Chinese classical literature, ShanhaijingThe Classic of Mountains and Seas (3rd century B.C.–1st century A.D.), the five colors of the bird’s feathers were said to represent the five Confucius virtues. Red, green, yellow, black, and white feathers symbolize charity, uprightness, knowledge, faithfulness, and politeness. 

The phoenix does not tell lies or abuse power; it is a kind creature and said to only consume morning dew so as not to cause harm to any animals or plants.

In troubling times, the phoenix mythology suggests it flies to the heavens so that its presence can only symbolize peace. 

The Chinese phoenix is regarded as the epitome of all birds. ‘The Classic of Mountains and Seas’ illustration. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

Legend of how the Chinese phoenix got its feathers

The Chinese phoenix did not always look like the colorful firebird that we all recognize. In fact, it started out as an unremarkable bird with very ordinary plumage. But it had one advantage — it worked very hard.

Unlike other birds that loved to eat and play all day, the phoenix was very busy from dawn till dusk. It would pick up the fruits and seeds discarded by other birds and store them in a cave.

When the forest encountered a severe drought, the birds could not find any food and were starving to death. The phoenix hurriedly opened its cave and shared the stored fruits and seeds with all the other birds.

Phoenix statue.  A park south of the city.  Nanning, Guangxi.
The Chinese phoenix did not always look like the colorful firebird that we all recognize. (Image: prat via Wikimedia Commons)

After the drought, every bird picked out the most beautiful feather from its body and made a brilliant coat for the phoenix, and unanimously elected the phoenix as the ruler of birds.

From then on, birds from all corners of the Earth would gather every year to celebrate the phoenix’s birthday. This day became known as “When the birds worship the Phoenix.”

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest

Recommended Stories

A dandelion-inspired sensor.

Tiny Solar-Powered Devices Fly in the Wind Like Dandelion Seeds

The common dandelion is one of the most recognizable and widely-known species that uses wind ...

Moffat's 'Poet's Pub.'

‘Landmarks: Poets, Portraits, and Landscapes of Modern Scotland’

The Landmarks: Poets, Portraits, and Landscapes of Modern Scotland exhibition was held at the Lillie ...


The Art of Self-Improvement Through Ancient Wisdom

Self-improvement or personal development is a goal you set to improve your status, knowledge, or ...

Albert Einstein.

Cosmic Voids and Galaxy Clusters Challenge Theory of Relativity

It will be possible to use new astronomical mappings of hundreds of thousands of cosmic ...

A bionic arm.

Scottish Bionic Limbs a Marvel of Technological Innovation

Scottish scientists and engineers have played key roles in discovering and inventing things that have ...

Dandelions with seeds blowing.

Stars and Dandelions: A Beautiful Poem by Misuzu Kaneko

Japan is a nation steeped in ancient culture and traditions. In spite of their meteoric ...

A shipping container swimming pool.

Home Hacks: How to Turn a Shipping Container Into a Swimming Pool

Ever wanted a swimming pool for your home? If so, consider buying a shipping container. ...

an oudoor swimming pool.

How to Protect Yourself From Pool-Related Germs

If you like traveling, then you will be among the many who also enjoy the ...

A science laboratry researcher.

Chinese Money Funding American Research: Is This the Future of Global Science?

Several security experts have been warning that China’s rise in the scientific field will be ...

Send this to a friend