The mythical bird most often seen in Chinese art is identified in English as a Phoenix known in China as the King of Birds. Its origin, evolution and history, however are somewhat complex. Today the phoenix is understood to be a composite of several birds, by tradition, 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, and hence represents supreme beauty and grace. The term phoenix is sometimes used to describe what appear to be at least two different birds in Chinese art, the original Red Bird of the South and the fenhuang. The Red Bird of the South is one of the oldest creatures known in Chinese art and is associated with the direction south and the other three "compass" animals: the tiger, dragon and tortoise. It also represents fire, and the season summer. From Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Images by Patricia Welch.
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Chinese Shamanismhas the longest recorded history in the world. The use of the phrase "recorded history," of course, acknowledges that the prehistoric shamanism existing prior to written language, upwards from the dawn of humanity, is the longest running spirituality in human evolutionary history. The word wu "shaman; spirit medium; healer" first appeared on oracle bones from the late Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600-1046 BCE). Chinese classics from the Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BCE) provide details about male and female shamans serving as exorcists, healers, rainmakers, oneiromancers, soothsayers, and officials. Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141-87 BCE) established Confucianism as the "state religion", and the male-dominated Confucian ruling class hence marginalized shamanism, especially female shamans. In spite of this, shamanic practices continue in present day Chinese culture.
This is a photo of Chuonnasuan, the last shaman of the Oroqen, taken by Richard Noll in July 1994 in Manchuria near the Amur River border between the People's Republic of China and Russia (Siberia). Chuonnasuan, Meng Jin Fu, died at the age of 73. The Oroqen make sacrifices to ancestral spirits, and adhere to the folk psychological belief in animism. Traditionally the Oroqen have a special veneration for animals, especially the bear and the tiger, which they consider their blood brothers. The Oroqens are mainly hunters and it is customary to use animal fur and skins for clothing. Many of them have given up hunting and adhered to laws that aimed to protect wildlife in the PRC.
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