Jade phoenix ornament

From China
Liao dynasty, 10th-11th century AD

The Immortal Red Bird

In Western legend, the phoenix, or Red Bird, rises from the ashes of its own funeral pyre to live again. In China, the bird has connotations of immortal worlds and paradise. The phoenix is often associated with the dragon. The dragon came to symbolize the emperor, and the phoenix represented the empress.

The form of this immortal creature has undergone many variations in Chinese art history. From the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) phoenixes, like dragons, were made more decorative and less fearsome than in earlier periods. They were carved as personal ornaments to be worn, as jewellery or attached to a garment or belt and used as decorative elements on many art objects.

The Qidan people, whose dynasty is known as the Liao (907-1125), succeeded the Tang on the north-eastern edge of the Chinese Empire, controlling territory in Liaoning province and present-day Hebei and Inner Mongolia. The Liao ruled at the same time as the Northern Song dynasty (960-1125), but their arts were more influenced by Tang traditions than by contemporary Song styles.

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More information


J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)

J. Rawson, Chinese ornament: The lotus an (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)


Length: 7.200 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1947.7-12.489


Bequeathed by Henry J. Oppenheim


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