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The concept of the phoenix as an auspicious creature (瑞獸) in China first emerged during the Warring States period, becoming firmly established during the Han Dynasty. The concept of the “benevolent bird” (仁鳥), a synonym for the phoenix, was derived from the image of a sage king in reigning in an era of peace and prosperity; gradually, various other attributes were added. The image of the phoenix as a symbol of the worldly emperor, rather than as a transcendental, sacred bird gradually gained in prominence, resulting in the formation of a concept of it as “the king of birds.” It further acquired images of a wise and loyal subject of the emperor, and even as an omen of abundance and fertility. Eventually, the phoenix in East Asia entered common use as both a political motif and a cultural code, symbolizing the ideal ruling ideology and omens of Confucian society. Phoenixes from China’s Han Dynasty display transitional characteristics whereby mythical birds of various origins are confused or equated with the phoenix, leading to an aggregation of various icons. In terms of iconography, elegant images of the form of the phoenix dating from as early as the Tang Dynasty have been found, but it was not yet painted as an independent subject of works at this time. In the Song Dynasty, historical records stating that appearances of auspicious omens were recorded in the form of pictures inform us that phoenix paintings were produced, while documentary evidence also indicates that this trend continued during the Yuan Dynasty. The image of the phoenix as a symbol of auspiciousness was actively used to beautify and decorate the reigns of royal dynasties. It was thanks to court painters in the early Ming Dynasty that such phoenix paintings become prevalent. Works such as One Hundred Birds Worshipping the Phoenix (百鳥朝鳳圖), The Five Human Relationships (五倫圖) and Phoenix Calling to the Morning Sun (鳳鳴朝陽圖) were political in nature, emphasizing Confucian ideology. Initially painted under the leadership of the imperial family, they gradually spread to the general public and were painted continuously until modern times. The phoenix in One Hundred Birds Worshipping the Phoenix, which is being worshipped by various other birds, symbolizes the emperor himself. The Five Human Relationships is an allegorical expression of the five moral principles to which humans must adhere; here, the phoenix is used to symbolize loyalty between the monarch and his subjects. Phoenix Calling to the Morning Sun comes from the “Da Ya” (大雅; “Major Court Hymns”) part of the Shijing (詩經; Classic of Poetry) and is typically depicted iconographically by one or a pair of phoenixes facing the sun with a paulownia tree or stand of bamboo behind it/them. This originally signified that a supremely gifted person had come into the world at just the right time, or functioned as an omen of peace throughout the universe, but gradually came to signify a loyal vassal (賢臣) who knew how to remonstrate with honesty and courage. The iconography and symbolism of Ming Dynasty phoenix paintings, thus established, exerted a direct influence upon Joseon-era Korea. Records indicate that Joseon era Phoenix paintings were categorized, from the middle of the period, as bird and animal paintings for use in royal palaces. Later in the period, particularly in the 19th century, phoenix pictures were included among painting themes in the Nokchwijae (祿取才) examination for Gyujanggak jabidaeryeong hwawon (奎章閣 差備待令畵員; painters-in-waiting at Gyujanggak royal library), leading to the production of a number of such paintings. Records also indicate that Phoenix Calling to the Morning Sun paintings were often produced during the Joseon period, to symbolize loyal vassals. When it comes to extant works, versions of The Five Human Relationships dating from the 17th century onwards were influenced by those of the Ming Dynasty in terms of iconography and style. The image of the phoenix as an auspicious bird, as depicted in Auspicious Animals (瑞獸樂園圖) and Immortals’ Feast on Yoji Pond (瑤池宴圖), decorative 19th century court paintings, exerted formal influence on phoenixes in works of the “phoenixes with nine chicks” (九雛鳳) genre. The influence of court painting can also be found in folk-style paintings. In 19th century Joseon, the phoenixes with nine chicks genre, in which paintings depict a pair of phoenixes with nine chicks, was extremely popular both in the royal court and among commoners; this tells us that the phoenix was much more important during this period as an auspicious omen representing the values of marital harmony, fecundity and abundance than as a mysterious image of an auspicious bird or a theme emphasizing Confucian ideology. The production of lively folk paintings of phoenixes, increasingly decorative and auspicious, continued into the 20th century. Early in the century, when Korea’s fate as a nation took a tragic turn, the painted Sun, Moon and the Five Peaks (日月五峯圖) screen, which symbolized the royal authority of the Joseon Dynasty, was removed from Injeongjeon (仁政殿), the main hall of Changdeokgung(昌德宮) Palace and replaced by a Pair of Phoenixes (雙鳳圖) painting. The Joseon Dynasty image of the phoenix representing the loyal vassal may have been a form of code symbolizing an ideal Confucian society in which harmony existed between an outstanding monarch and loyal subjects, but, at a time when the former ruler had been downgraded from emperor of the Great Han Empire (a title he adopted when proclaiming the founding of the empire in 1897) to king of the “Yi royal family,” the loyal subject connotation of the phoenix image calls to mind the status of Korea as a colony annexed by imperial Japan. This study therefore raises the possibility that the choice of this theme was a deliberate one on the part of imperial Japan. The symbolic meaning of phoenix paintings forms a multi-layered semantic structure; this polyvalence meant that the phoenix image was sometimes put skillfully to use as a tool for achieving other political ends.