The Phoenix: A Source of Divine Inspiration in Chinese Culture

Evan Mantyk, Contributing Writer

Between the pencil and the paper. Between the real and the imagined. Between the human and the divine… In that misty and enchanting realm of the unknown, Shen Yun artists draw inspiration for the dances, stories, costumes, music, and backdrops that make up the pieces in its acclaimed production.

Shen Yun 10th Anniversary Prints -
Phoenixes of the Sapphire Paradise

It is here in this realm where we encounter a recurring theme in Shen Yun productions: the Phoenixes of the Sapphire World, or sometimes called the Phoenix Fairies. The vibrant color that adorns them and their world is closest to what is called royal blue in English. These dancing phoenixes usually appear on stage amidst dreamy, billowing clouds created by dry ice.

The phoenixes that they depict have long been legendary creatures in traditional Chinese culture, like the dragon. In fact, phoenixes are often depicted as the female, or yin, counterpart of the male, or yang, dragon, creating a female-male or yin-yang balance when the dragon and phoenix are paired together. (Though on their own, phoenixes, like dragons, can be male or female.)

Chinese phoenixes— fèng huáng (鳳凰)—do not rise out of ashes like the Western phoenix, rather they are creatures of divine origin intertwined with countless Chinese legends dating all the way back to the creation of Earth, and reference to them is found on the earliest known Chinese language writings on oracle bones. Phoenixes appear in artwork, idioms, and even moral philosophy. Five parts of the phoenix’s body have been linked to Confucian values: the head representing virtue, the wings righteousness, the back propriety, the abdomen trustworthiness, and the chest benevolence.

Throughout Chinese history’s 5,000 years or so, the sighting of a phoenix has been considered a good omen foretelling future blessings, such as the rise to power of a virtuous emperor or the arrival of a great sage who will help expand people’s wisdom and raise their morality. In Chinese idioms, lóng fèng chéng xiáng (龍鳳呈祥) implies some turn of events has been so wonderful that it must have been accompanied by the appearance of a dragon or phoenix; and rén zhōng lóng fèng (人中龍鳳) is used to describe someone so amazing he or she stands out like a dragon or phoenix among ordinary people.

Thus, in the rich treasury of traditional Chinese culture, the phoenix is genuinely a bird yet also genuinely a person or force for good, which is linked to the immortal and the divine. The phoenix truly exists, intangible yet tangible, unseen yet seen.

Phoenix of the Sapphire World Scarf

Inspired by numerous Shen Yun dance pieces, the Shen Yun Shop’s Phoenix of the Sapphire World Scarf celebrates these mystical creatures of both legend and reality. A phoenix incarnated as a Phoenix Fairy in her wondrous blue-tinged world adorns the center. Her scene is surrounded by cloud-like ruyi patterns and multi-colored phoenix feathers. The outer border features in gold phoenixes flying together and their ornate tails.

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