Friday, July 8, 2016

Symbolic Significance of the Red-crested White Crane

The red-crested white crane (the bird pictured is not a red-crested one, however) symbolizes longevity, spirituality and nobility. It was the bird of the immortals, and it is said that people who lived lives of noble solitude became cranes when they died. It is no wonder that the crane became a popular symbol among the nobility and was employed in the garments and textiles of the kings. I believe that in the Joseon dynasty, which was a period of strong class distinctions, the nobility even forbade peasants from using the crane motif, quite understandable as the nobility were keen to keep themselves elevated above the rest.
A solitary crane in one of the lesser streams of Seoul
Although a fairly common bird, people considered white cranes as holy and spiritual. An old document, the Sanghak Kyonggi, described cranes as holy creatures having long lives which suggest immortality: "Feathers are snow white but cannot be tainted even by mud. Males and females meet in 160 years, and as soon as they gaze into each other's eyes, they create a baby. For 1,600 years they just drink but do not eat. The crane is a king of birds and a wizard-like unworldly man rides upon it."

Many Asians believed that those who have lived lives of lofty solitude became cranes when they died. A common phrase stated, "As a red-crested white crane lives thousands of years, a pine tree lives 10,000 years", and so cranes were often painted with pine trees to symbolize longevity. In fact, cranes are one of the sipjangsaeng, the ten eternal objects: cranes, clouds, mountains, pine trees, water, deer, turtles, a mushroom (a particular species), etc. Along with clouds, cranes can be found in many places: architecture, clothing, stationary, handicrafts, and a variety of finely crafted objects. 

some textile and architectural examples of cranes
used to promote the idea of a spiritual long life and nobleness

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