(The picture source: www.nipic.com)
Chinese mythical creatures have captured the imagination of anyone who has ever seen a Chinese movie or Chinese literature. Unfortunately, most people only know about dragons.
There are many magical creatures with supernatural powers in Chinese mythology. They can be either merciful or malignant, beautiful or repugnant, gargantuan or minuscule. The variety of these creatures are numerable and fascinating.
They are all very interesting parts of Chinese culture and have amazing folklore stories to accompany each creature. Let’s look at 5 noteworthy creatures that you may have never heard of.
1. 九头鸟 (Jiǔtóuniǎo) The nine-headed bird
(The picture source: www.duitang.com)
The nine-headed bird is also called “姑获鸟 (gū huò niǎo).” The bird brings “灾难 (zāinàn) disaster,” and it only comes out at night. When it puts on plumage, it becomes a bird, and when it takes it off, it becomes a beautiful woman.
The nine-headed bird does not give birth to any bird of its own; it takes only the nestlings of other birds. It is said that it used to have 10 heads. But one is missing and the headless neck constantly drips blood.
There are two versions of the story on how the bird lost one of its head. One version holds that it was bitten off by a fierce mythical dog, while a more widely spread version suggests the Emperor of the Zhou Dynasty (1152-1056 BC) ordered a hunter to shoot its head off.
But that didn’t stop the evil bird. It sneaks into villages at night, hurting children and spreading misfortune.
2. 九尾狐 (Jiǔwěihú) The nine-tail fox
(The picture source: www.tanmizhi.com)
According to legend, the fox’s tail is used to store auras. When the fox absorbs enough auras, the tail splits into two, eventually dividing into nine tails. When a fox has nine tails, it has an immortal body and the ability to spit fire.
During the Zhou dynasty, Da Ji, the incarnation of nine-tail fox, did many bad things and made the king lose his kingdom and his people’s support. The folklore of nine-tailed fox incarnates all kinds of characters, flatters, and deceives innocent people, therefore the fox gradually becomes a byword of cunning.
Why Do Chinese Like the Number 9 very much?
3. 麒麟 (Qílín) Qilin; Chinese unicorn
(The picture source: www.16pic.com)
“麒麟 (Qílín) Qilin,” a legendary animal in ancient China, was called a “benevolent beast” in ancient times. It was a symbol of good “运气 (yùnqi) fortune.”
According to Chinese folklore, once upon a time, there was a couple that had been trying to have a baby for a long time. One night, a Qilin ran to their house with his elegant demeanor, hurriedly spat a piece of silk from his mouth, with the words, “he had the character and ability of a monarch, but unfortunately, he was not born in the royal family” written upon the fabric.
This message foretold the future greatness of their unborn child. The next day, when Qilin disappeared, Confucius was born. Hence, Qilin is thought to be a symbol of luck, good omens, protection, and fertility, which is why they are often used as decorations when bringing a baby to a family.
4. 尚扬 (Shàng yáng) Shang Yang
(The picture source: www.kuaibao.qq.com)
It is a large, menacing bird which dances upon one leg to signify a prediction of rain. So it is also called the “rain bird”. “尚扬 (Shàng yáng) Shang Yang” are either drawn to locations where rain will soon arrive, or they are drawn to locations that are in desperate need of rain.
It is said that Chinese farmers in ancient time, often have invoked “尚扬 (Shàng yáng) Shang Yang” to irrigate their fields since this bird, in particular, absorbs water from the river through its long, thin beak and symbolizes water reserves.
5. 年 (Nián) Year
(The picture source: www.sohu.com)
This fantastic creature has a huge head, sharp claws, is shaped like a lion, and lives in the depths of the sea. It appears once a year to attack humans. It is said that during the times it appears, people have always hidden in the shelter; however, one day when a stranger faced the attack of the beast, he unexpectedly scared it away with a red cloak and “烟花 (yānhuā) fireworks.”
Since then, every year people have decorated villages with red and set off fireworks to keep monsters away. The custom is spread all over China, just because it was called “年 (nián) year,” and appears once a year. So during the time it appears, we call it “the New Year.”
Although these 5 magical and amazing creatures have unimaginable stories, they are important to Chinese culture and some stories have even lasted thousands of years. Learning about Chinese mythology is one way to make learning Chinese even more interesting and enjoyable.
How many of these creatures did you already know about? Let us know in the comments if you want to know about even more creatures from Chinese folklore. There are so many interesting ones! If you know of any please share with our readers.
Key Learning Words:
灾难 (Zāinàn) disaster
传说 (Chuánshuō) legend
烟花 (Yānhuā) fireworks
运气 (Yùnqi) fortune
Zhè chǎng dìzhèn gěi rénmen dàilái le shēnzhòng de zāinàn.
The earthquake brought great disaster to people.
Niúlángzhīnǚ shì yíge mínjiān chuánshuō.
The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid is folklore.
Wǎnhuì guò hòu, yānhuā biáoyǎn kāishǐ lā.
After the evening party, the fireworks began.
Tā dǎsuàn qù dǔchǎng pèng peng yùnqi.
He’s going to take a chance at the casino.
Please choose the best option to complete the sentences.
Jiǔwěihú yǒu jiǔ tiáo ( ).
1. 九尾狐有九条（ ）。
A. 尾巴 (Wěiba)
B. 头 (Tóu)
C. 脚 (Jiǎo)
Qílín shì ( ) de xiàngzhēng.
2. 麒麟是（ ）的象征。
A. 灾难 (Zāinàn)
B. 危险 (Wēixiǎn)
C. 吉祥 (Jíxiáng)
D. 安全 (Ānquán)
See Answers Analysis
— Written by Julia Liu —
Julia teaches Chinese with eChineseLearning. She has been successfully teaching for 6 years and loves reading and practices her passion for drawing in her free time.
General Chinese (Beginner Level)
General Chinese (Intermediate Level)
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