Birds in Chinese Art

Posted January 24 2012
As I encounter at the painting on porcelain, brushwork and figurines that represent part of this inventory, it is like a Hitchcock movie with all the birds. Pheasants, peacocks, cranes, OH MY!  I plan to curate a collection of the various offerings that depict birds so I began researching the significance of birds (both real and imaginary) in Chinese art. This is not a short subject. Chinese art: a guide to motifs and visual imagery is a great resource. They explain that the Chinese have five categories for animals, which included animals with feathers. They are listed below by rank with highest first as believed in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) because the vast majority of eastern goods' offerings were executed during this period. 

crane The phoenix is the "king of birds" in Chinese art and the crane is the number one bird. Cranes coupled with the cypress or pine tree and the sun are popular Chinese New Year theme. 

golden pheasant represents beauty and good fortune and literary refinement. This bird is admired for its yellow tail and red coloring.

peacock communicates rank and wealth even more so if it is spreading its tail.

wild goose in a pair expresses peace, prosperity and marital constancy because they mate for life and will die if separated. Geese are associated with the military because of their flight formations and the similarity to military drills.

silver pheasant depicts the 5th rank and most common of officials.

egret and heron are used almost interchangeably. Egrets represent the ruling elite.

wild duck are usually depicted with lotus to symbolize harmonious sexual relations.

mandarin duck in a pair expresses peace, properity and marital constancy because they mate for life and will die if separated. ducks are usually depicted with lotus to symbolize harmonious sexual relations.

quail are admired for its fighting spirit and courage and generally associated with fire.

paradise flycatcher symbolizes "long-lived or enduring generations."

Of course, there are many other birds depicted but you'll have to read the book!