Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chinese Version of the Story of the Phoenix

It is delightful to find some same or similar figures in Western and Oriental cultures. This mythological bird is one of them. In the Western world, it is called the "Phoenix" or "Fire Bird." Oriental culture represented by the Chinese call the bird "Fenghuang." Japanese uses the same Chinese characters and call it "Houou." This sacred bird appears in various mythologies. It is not just a European and East Asian creature. The bird appears in mythologies of the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians, and Indians. The common characteristic is that this bird has eternal life. It jumps into a volcano to refresh its life and body, and flies again.

The Chinese version of this bird also appears in Zhuangzi, an ancient story by a Chinese philosopher, as the gigantic bird with eternal life called "Huang." According to the Zhuangzi story, a gigantic bird lives in the northern ocean. Under water, the ocean is shaped like big fish eggs. When the stormy season comes, it flies from the deep ocean. It looks like an island coming out of the sea. Emerging from the water, it now looks like a bird. It spreads its wings and flies south where the water of the Milky Way pours into the land. Huang flies high with its wings creating massive wind. The wind from Huang's wings gives new birth to plants, grasses, flowers, fruits, and animals in these lands. The bird is the origin of life, giving new life on earth by flying.

Sparrows and pigeons watched Huang flies long distances, laughed and said migrating 10,000 miles or more does not make sense, since they can fly 10-20 miles and find enough food.

These birds never understand that the foods they are getting are grown because the Huang bird flies.

This story contains some intriguing meanings. Those who are satisfied with the small world in which they are living can never understand the big picture. For sparrows and pigeons, the world is restricted to 10 - 20 miles from where they live. They will never understand that there is a wider world outside their territory. Those who stick to their own small world can never understand the expanse of the whole world.

The second interpretation of this story is to be one's own size. The Huang can fly high in the sky and travel around the world because it was created that way. If sparrows or pigeons tried to fly the same distance the Huang flies, they would get lost and die. It is safer and smarter to stay within ones own size and ability.

In ancient China, when a farmer dreamt of being a king, his family, relatives, and friends laughed at him. He told those critics that sparrows and pigeons will never understand the spirit and ability of the Huang. He did not become the king of the entire Kingdom of China, but instead became a regional lord, while his friends were required to serve him and follow his orders. The final point this story makes is that one can never be a Huang if he does not dream big.

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