Sketchbook Page 45: J is for Jujak

June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jujak (the Vermilion Bird)

Jujak (the Vermilion Bird)

Bones from a Bestiary part 10: J is for Jujak (the Vermilion Bird)

This is the tenth in a series of chimerical creatures; the aim is to create an alphabet of fabulous beasts over the coming months.

With recent advances in genetic engineering it should be possible to manufacture such creatures in the laboratory; although the results will not always be practical (or, indeed, humane) …

The Vermilion bird is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations . According to Wu Xing, the Taoist five-elemental system, it represents the fire-element, the direction south, and the summer season. Thus it is sometimes called the Vermilion bird of the South (南方朱雀, Nán Fāng Zhū Què). It is known as Zhuque in Chinese, Jujak in Korean, Suzaku in Japanese, and Chu Tước in Vietnamese. It is often mistaken for the Fenghuang due to similarities in appearance, but they are two different creatures. The Fenghuang (similar to the phoenix in western mythologies) is the legendary ruler of birds associated with the Chinese Empress in the same way that the dragon is associated with the Emperor, while the Vermilion Bird is a mythological spirit creature of the Chinese constellations.

The Vermilion bird is an elegant and noble bird in both appearance and behavior, it is very selective in what it eats and where it perches, its feathers display many different hues of blood-red vermilion …

Vermilion is an opaque red pigment prepared from the mineral cinnabar (ore of mercury), as well as the name of the resulting colour. The pigment has been in use around the world for many thousands of years. From ancient times vermilion was regarded as the color of life (i.e. blood). The first recorded use of vermilion as a color name in English was in 1289. The first recorded use of cinnabar as a color name (the color name “cinnabar” is a synonym for vermilion) in English was in 1382. Most naturally produced vermilion comes from cinnabar mined in China, and vermilion is nowadays commonly called ‘China red’.  ‘China red’ colored imperial Chinese life from the palatial red lacquers to the printing-pastes for personal name chops, and a unique red calligraphic ink reserved for Emperors.

Chinese Taoists associated vermilion with eternity. Some Chinese emperors died of mercury poisoning when trying to become immortal by ingesting vermilion.


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