鳳 凰 台 上 鳳 凰 游 ，
鳳 去 台 空 江 自 流 。
'On the Phoenix Terrace once a phoenix roamed,
After the phoenix left, only the river still flowed'
-From Climb Jinglin Phoenix Terrace by Li Bo/Li Bai (701-762 AD)
Fenghuang (鳳凰) is a ancient bird of great importance originating in most Asian mythologies, but most strongly in China. Usually, the 'Chinese phoenix' is viewed as female and comes as the opposite, but unifying symbol to the Chinese dragon, or lóng (龙). As such, the Phoenix and the Dragon are traditional symbols of marriage. Unlike the western phoenix, Fenghuang is a combination of the wing of a swallow, the neck of a snake, the back of a turtle, the breast of a goose, the legs of a stag, the beak of a rooster, and the tail of the peacock. Fenghuang is often depicted holding a snake in her talons, likely the replacement for dragon as snake is what dragon becomes half way through the Year of the Dragon.
'In the times of the Tang and Yu,
when the qilin and the feng huang appeared (among men).
What do they foretell (seek)?
Oh qilin! Oh Qilin! My heart weakened (saddened).'
Qilin (麒麟) is a chimeric mythological creature that is said to announce the birth or passing os emperors, wise men, or other important rulers. Mistakenly called the 'Chinese Unicorn', the Qilin brings rui (瑞), or prosperity upon it's arrival and is said to be a gentle creature, so much so that it walks on water and would not break a blade of grass. Sometimes the Qilin is considered a hermaphrodite, embodying both male and female energies, but some depictions ascribe to a one-horned Qilin being male, and a two-horned being female.
'When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.'
-Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den by Yuen Ren Chao (1892-1982)
The poem is essentially the Chinese version of the legitimate English sentence 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo' (Read about it on Wikipedia!), but is instead using shí. Written in Classical Chinese, the changes and appearances of homophony over 2,500 years make the poem, when spoken in Mandarin Chinese, a complete, incomprehensible mess, though understandable to those educated in the Classical system. It was written to make fun of the idea that all written Chinese is somehow 'romantic' to Westerners who don't understand a word of it.
Shishi (石獅), incorrectly known as 'Fu/Foo Dogs' in English, are depictions of lions through Chinese sculpture and art that are usually viewed as guardians of tombs, temples, and palaces. Though there isn't strong evidence of a lion species in China, more modern archeological finds show that there may indeed have been a now extinct Asiatic lion that roamed the Chinese landscape. The use of the shishi began in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and has evolved it's aesthetic appearance over the dynasties, but is usually depicted in pairs - one female, one male - the male holding a ball and the female a cub under paw. Guardians lions also appear in religious context in Buddhism and as auspicious symbols in other art.
'On war-torn land streams flow and mountains stand;
In towns unquiet grass and weeds run riot.
Grieved o’er the years flowers are moved to tears;
Homes cut apart birds cry with broken heart.
The beacon fire has gone higher and higher;
Words from household are worth their weight in gold.
I cannot bear to scratch my grizzling hair;
It grows too thin to hold a light hair-pin.'
-Spring View by Dan Fu (757)
Pixiu (貔貅) is the protector of Feng Shui and the synonymous with ancient China's army, this creature is sometimes said to posses both sexes similar to Feng Huang. Though strong, ferocious, and agile, Pixiu is always depicted with a bloated stomach and a large mouth that gobbles up gold/fortune to fill it. It's said that his anus was sealed by the Jade Emperor for a violation of the Law of Heaven and thus he can only eat fortune and not expel it. For this reason, Pixiu is something of a 'lucky horseshoe' in Feng Shui and is often placed somewhere in a place of business to invite wealth to come to it.