Chinese Culture: What Are the Differences Between the Fèng Huáng and the Pheonix?

In traditional Chinese culture, the Fèng huáng


, or Chinese phoenix, often symbolizes good luck and auspiciousness. You may have heard some of these Chinese four-character idioms before, such as Lóng fèng chéng xiáng


and Fèng huáng yú fēi


, they are used to describe happiness, love, as well as the good relationship between a husband and a wife.
At the same time, in the Western countries, there is also a creature called phoenix, and they are mentioned in many recent translation works, such as the Order of the Phoenix in the Harry Potter novels. You might wonder, are the Fèng huáng in China and the phoenix in the West related? And what are the difference between them?

Fèng huáng
Fèng Huáng, or Chinese phoenix

The Fèng huáng is the king of all birds, and it has the same status as the Chinese dragon. First recorded in the ancient Chinese book Classic of Mountains and Rivers during the Qin Dynasty in China, the Fèng huáng is a big, colorful bird, the image of which can be referred to the present peacock or golden pheasant. In fact, the phoenix is a hybrid of the male and female bird; males are called Fèng(), and females are called Huáng(). They are good at dancing, like to perch on the sycamore tree, and can bring peace to the world. However, unlike the immortal bird of phoenix in the West, they cannot come back to life after death.
By the time of the Han Dynasty, dragons and phoenixes had begun to be compared to each other. People used the dragon to symbolize the emperor, and the phoenix was used to represent his consorts. The dragon and the Fèng huáng had formed a pair relationship since then. The pair then has also been used to symbolize happiness and love.


The phoenix originated in ancient Egypt, but its appearance in Greek mythology as the pet of Apollo, the God of the Sun, made him famous and popular. The phoenix is like a giant eagle with flames burning all over its body. Noble and clean, it is the embodiment of light and heat, symbolizing reincarnation and rebirth. The word “phoenix” is derived from the Greek word “Phoinikas”, which can also be referred to as Phoenicia, meaning the kingdom of purple and red. The term Phoenicia is also used to describe the original color of the immortal phoenix bird.
The phoenix has a life span of five hundred years and does not die directly at the end of its life, but is reborn from the ashes with its body ablaze. This is why Phoenix is also often used as a human name, and the symbolism of its resurrection from the dead is often associated with bringing good luck and removing filth.


The relationship between the phoenix and the Fèng huáng can be expressed as Bā gān zi dǎ bù zháo (八竿子打不着)- describing the two are unrelated at all, other than the fact that they are both birds. So why are the phoenix and the Fèng huáng considered as the same thing?
This is related to a modern Chinese author,

Guo Moruo

. In his vernacular poem ”

Nirvana of the Phoenix

“, he wrote that “The phoenix will burn itself to ashes every five hundred years, and then reborn from the ashes. The cycle repeats continuously, and the phoenix thus becomes eternal”. This is where the Chinese idiom 凤凰涅槃 (Fèng huáng niè pán) comes from, and it is often used to describe the state of being reborn.
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