The mythical bird called the phoenix (ch'u-niao
) evolved during the late Bronze Age and became a prominent art motif by the western Han dynasty (206 b.c.- a.d. 9). It was associated with the color red and represented the direction south. Eventually, the creature came to represent female royalty and, along with the dragon, symbolized the Chinese court.
How this charming bronze was used remains a mystery. A gilt bronze vessel made in the form of two cups joined by a phoenix like this one was discovered in 1968 in the 113 b.c. tomb of Princess Tou Wan at Man-cheng, Hopei province. It is possible that this luxury object may have acted with others like it as supports for a metal or lacquer vessel placed in a royal burial.