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Inmyeonjo (Hangul : 인면조, Hanja : 人面鳥, literally Human face bird) is an imaginary creature that appears in Korean myths as a bird with human face. Most of them are women, and some are male.[1]

Inmyeonjo is known as a sacred bird that connects the sky with the land, often appearing in the ancient tomb mural of Three Kingdoms of Korea. In the case of Goguryeo, it can be found in several tomb murals such as the Anak County tombs, the ancient Dukheungri tombs, the Samsilchong, and the Mooyongchong. Named as Cheonchu(天秋) and Mansei(萬歲) in the ancient Dukheungri tombs in Nampo, South Pyongan Province in 1976, they are a symbol of longevity, known to live for a thousand years. In the case of Silla, the gilt-bronze shoes excavated in Gyeongju is shown. In the case of Baekje, four inmyeonjos are found in the Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje. In particular, there are many opinions that inmyeonjo in the Silver Cup with Bronze Stand(銅托銀盞) is the same as it in Goguryeo for a symbol of longevity. On the other hand, there are some opinions that it is Kalaviṅka because of shape of the wings. Kalaviṅka is an imaginary creature that tells the Buddha's words that appear in ancient Indian myths and Buddhist texts.

Meanwhile, in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, inmyeonjo attracted the attention of the whole world.

Korean culture[edit]

In Korea, after the 5th century, artifacts and mural paintings that show the shape of a human-faced bird in Goguryeo and Baekje tombs are found. The inmyeonjo is depicted in the bottom of the Silver Cup with Bronze Stand(銅托銀盞) excavated from the Tomb of King Muryeong in Gongju of South Chungcheong Province.[2] The creature's head and arms are human, but the body is a bird, and the head is wearing a corolla with feathers of birds. In the tomb of Dukheungri in South Pyongan Province, and in the Mooyongchong in Manchuria, mural paintings are found. In particular, the inmyeonjo painted on the ceiling of the Mooyongchong had been wearing long hats that Xian loved to show the fusion of Buddhism and Taoism culture.[3]

Buddhist culture[edit]

It is interpreted that it contains the meaning to pray for Sukhavati(極樂往生) of Pure land(淨土) under the influence of Kalaviṅka (迦陵迦迦) of Buddhism found in the tombs of Goguryo and Baekje. Kalaviṅka is a bird that appears in the Sanskrit word "kalavinka" in Chinese characters. It is a bird that comes from living in Sukhavati of Amitābha. It is said that the upper part of the body is a person, and the lower part is a bird. Also, it is said that it has very beautiful and strange voice before it comes out from the shell. So it has many other names, and it is considered a symbol of the Buddha's teachings. In Buddhist art in East Asia, not only in Korea but also in China and Japan, there are a wide range of artifacts depicting Kalaviṅka, which are also depicted as dancing or playing music on the murals of Dunhuang.[4]

On the other hand, Buddhism's Kalaviṅka is influenced by Indian mythology. Gandharva is a man whose a upper body is male, and a lower body of a bird or horse, and has a golden wing, while serving Indra in Hindu mythology and playing musics of Devaloka(天界). In the Southeast Asian Buddhism such as Thailand and other countries, inmyeonjo is a god with Gandharva who are in charge of music.

Inmyeonjo also appears in traditional Chinese mythology and Taoism culture. It is recorded in the "Classic of Mountains and Seas".[5] They are also said to have a bird's body on the face of a man and live as a name for a long time.

Western culture[edit]

Inmyeonjo also appears in Greek mythology. Homeros and Hesiodos records include the name Siren. At first, only the head was human, and the body was drawn as a bird, but gradually the entire upper body was depicted as a beautiful woman with musical instruments. Sirens were thought to seduce the sailors in a very sweet sound and sink their ships. In Virgil's "Aeneid", the name "Harpy" appears. According to legend, a harpy is a bird with a woman's face, flying faster than the wind and eating children and human souls.[6]

In the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang[edit]

The giant mythological creature, called “Inmyeonjo” in Korean, appeared onstage following the countdown in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Many viewers focused on a giant puppet of a human-faced bird. It soon moved to the center of the stage, surrounded by the Four Symbols- blue dragon, white tiger, red bird, black tortoise - and dancing women dressed in costumes of the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. The animal's long neck and dragon-like body, combined with its human face, grabbed the attention of many spectators. “Through this, I wanted to depict a world where humans live in peaceful harmony with ancient nature and animals,” the opening ceremony's executive creative director, Song Seung-whan, said.[7][8]

The Inmyeonjo is a legendary animal that appears in East Asian mythology and Buddhist scripture as a fantastical creature with a human head and a bird's torso.[9] Inmyeonjo is a fantastical animal known to travel across the land and the sky and live a thousand years, symbolizing longevity. It dates back to the Goguryeo period of Korean history, even appearing in cave drawings. The Inmyeonjo is supposed to appear when there's peace on earth, connecting the heavens and the earth for a thousand years.

The appearance of the facial expressions of Inmyeonjo has led to a wide variety of responses from around the world. There were negative opinions that it was horrible and bizarre, while there were positive opinions that it was marvelous at first seeing mythical creatures, respecting their culture.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "평창 개막식 '신스틸러' 인면조…어디서 유래했나보니". 서울신문 (in Korean). 2018-02-10. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  2. ^ "인면조, 신도 요괴도 아닌" (in Korean). 2018-02-11. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  3. ^ "'인면조' 쇼크…"잊혔던 동아시아인의 오랜 꿈"" (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  4. ^ "평창 올림픽 개막식 인면조의 정체는 '가릉빈가'?" (in Korean). 1999-11-30. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  5. ^ "산혜경대황북경중 불함산 - 문화콘텐츠닷컴". (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  6. ^ 크리스천투데이 (2018-02-11). "평창올림픽 개회식, 그리고 역사 속 '인면조'와 신화적 내세관". 크리스천투데이 ChristianToday (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  7. ^ News, A. B. C. (2018-02-11). "Human-faced bird in Olympics opening ceremony: Was it creepy or hilarious?". ABC News. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  8. ^ "Inmyeonjo to appear again at Olympic Plaza". koreatimes. 2018-02-15. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  9. ^ "The internet is obsessed with the Olympics' human-faced bird". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  10. ^ "OLYMPICS/ Scary S. Korean phoenix merited PG-13 rating, parents tweet:The Asahi Shimbun". The Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  11. ^ Mascarenhas, Hyacinth (2018-02-26). "Inmyeonjo: Internet goes bonkers over giant human-faced bird's return to Olympics closing ceremony". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2018-06-24.