Legendary Chinese mythical creatures have captured the imagination of anyone who has ever seen a movie or read Chinese literature.
Chinese mythology has many magical creatures with supernatural powers. They can be good or evil, beautiful or repulsive, giant or tiny.
The variety of these creatures is immense and fascinating. They are all very interesting parts of Chinese culture and have amazing folk stories to accompany each creature.
Dive with us into the heart of Chinese mythology and discover 7 chinese mythical creatures and their legends.
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures very common in Chinese folklore. In China, dragons are usually depicted as long serpentine creatures with four legs.
Chinese dragons traditionally represent powerful and auspicious powers, and symbolize water and rainfall. The dragon is also a symbol of good fortune and a sign of intense power.
Which is why the Chinese emperor usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power.
In Chinese culture, there are many types of dragons. Most of them are brave, powerful, insightful, invincible, intelligent and caring for human beings.
They are responsible for the wind, thunder, rain, rivers, seas and lakes on earth. So they have control over all the water on earth!
The Dragon Kings (Longwang)
The four Dragon Kings are the divine rulers of the oceans, controlling the weather and bringing rain. As befits kings, each of them has a royal court and commands an army of ocean creatures.
The Dragon Kings appear many times in classical literature. Their magical powers go far beyond controlling the weather, as they can appear as dragons, men, or even huge jets of water!
Even today, shrines throughout China honor the dragon kings and travelers seek their favor on new journeys.
It is best to stay on the good side of the Dragon Kings, however, as many stories speak of their willingness to cause droughts, storms and floods.
Azure dragon (Qinglong)
The Azure Dragon of the East is one of the most famous dragons in China. As one of the four constellations, it can be seen in the night sky along with the southern vermilion bird, the western white tiger and the northern black turtle.
The azure dragon has a reputation for protection in Chinese literature. It is associated with spring and the wood element.
The day when the Azure Dragon “raises its head” (when the constellation becomes visible) has become popular as an auspicious day to get a haircut.
Yellow dragon (Huanglong)
The yellow dragon is the dragon that symbolizes the emperor and the center of the four directions.
Sometimes said to be the reincarnation of the Yellow Emperor, the Yellow Dragon is said to have sprung from a river to present the elements of writing to Emperor Fu Xi, the first mythical emperor of China.
The Yellow Dragon’s affection for emperors (having been an emperor in a previous life) turned it into a symbol for the imperial family, and the famous hornless dragon appears as a motif in the architecture of the Forbidden City.
The royal association with yellow became so strong that, for a time, only the emperor and his family were allowed to wear the color.
When people think of auspicious dragons, including the Chinese zodiac dragon, it is the dragon that comes to mind.
2. Phoenix (Fenghuang)
Fenghuang bird, or the Phoenix, is one of the four famous Chinese mythical creatures. It symbolizes the sun, heat, summer and harvest.
Fenghuang is said to be born of fire and is considered the emperor of all birds. A pair of male and female Fenghuang together is the symbol of eternal love.
In Chinese mythology, it is an immortal bird whose rare appearance would be an omen of harmony when a new emperor takes the throne.
Fenghuang is often considered to signify both male and female elements, a yin-yang harmony; its name is a combination of the words feng representing the masculine and huang the feminine.
The phoenix is a large colorful bird with miraculous power, whose feather constitutes five Chinese characters: virtue, righteousness, courtesy, benevolence and faith.
It never lives in groups, nor does it go to dirty and chaotic places. During the reigns of the Yellow Emperor (Huáng Dì) and King Shun.
It was noticed that a Phoenix appeared in the secular world, to show the excellent governance and peaceful world that these kings brought to people.
The kings of the Shang Dynasty also believed that they were the descendants of Phoenix. Gradually, the Phoenix was exclusively used by the women of the royal family, especially the queen.
Today, it is the representative of beautiful, brave and intelligent women in Chinese culture.
According to Chinese mythology, Pixiu is represented as a kind of winged lion with a dragon’s head and tail, and a lion’s body. He flies in the sky, guarding the sky day and night.
It is also considered a kind of “fierce beast” and is used as a term for a powerful and invincible army. The legendary Yellow Emperor recruited the fiercest animals into his army in the war against the Yan Emperor.
In classical texts, the Pixiu is therefore often used as a metaphor for a powerful army.
But folklore also speaks of the Pixiu defecating on the floor of the heavenly court. To punish the creature, the Jade Emperor sealed the anus of the Pixiu so that it could only eat but never defecate.
The Pixiu is supposed to go around devouring evil spirits and demons and converting their essence into gold and treasure, which it must keep in its belly forever. This explains the reputation of the Pixiu as a bringer of wealth.
As one of the most beneficent creatures in Chinese mythology, statues of the Pixiu once stood at the gates of ancient cities and palaces as guardians.
Nowadays, the Pixiu is more often seen as small jade pendants hung from mirrors or worn as jewelry for good luck.
Even today, those who want fortune and protection wear or place a Pixiu decoration nearby.
Qilin, a legendary animal of ancient China, was called a “benevolent beast” in ancient times. It was the symbol of good fortune. This animal has the body of an elk, the head of a lion, the horn of a deer, the eyes of a tiger and the tail of an ox.
According to Chinese folklore, there was once a couple who had been trying for a long time to have a baby. One night, a Qilin rushed to their home, spat out a piece of silk from his mouth, with the words:
“He had the character and abilities of a monarch, but unfortunately, he was not born into the royal family,” written on the cloth.
This message foretold the future greatness of their unborn child. The next day, when Qilin disappeared, Confucius, a great Chinese philosopher, was born.
Qilin is therefore believed to be a symbol of good luck, good omens, protection and fertility, which is why it is often used as a good luck charm when bringing a baby into a family.
Qilin, Qi meaning men and Lin meaning women, are still considered one of the luckiest and happiest mythical creatures in China. QiLin is beautiful, gentle, powerful and never attacks people.
People believe that Qilin can defeat bad luck, and bring beautiful babies to couples who have prayed for one. So it is widely used in decoration and clothing, to pray for intelligence, longevity, happiness, good fortune or beautiful babies.
According to the ancient Chinese legend, in ancient times, there was a ferocious monster named “Nian” with sharp teeth and horns, with a huge head, sharp claws, has the shape of a lion.
Isolating itself for a long time in the black sea, the beast would come to the land at the end of the lunar year and hunt men and cattle. Thus, each time before the New Year, all the villagers fled to distant mountains to avoid the attack of Nian.
Things took a different turn when all the people started to flee to the mountains, the village welcomed a strange old man. With silver hair and bright, piercing eyes, he was a ragged beggar, walking with a stick.
Drowned in a great panic, the villagers closed their doors and windows and packed up their food. Everything was in chaos, and no one cared about the newcomer.
A grandmother from the east of the village came to the old man and gave him some food. She repeated the terror of the Nian monster and persuaded him to run away with other people.
However, the old man remained calm and slowly smoothed his mustache, asking to stay one night in the old woman’s house, and he would expel the beast of prey as a reward.
The grandmother was not totally convinced of his promise, and she continued her persuasion. However, the old man did not change his mind and, having no other choice, the woman left and fled alone into the mountain.
At midnight, the monster finally entered the village, but he felt the subtle change in atmosphere: while the whole village was in total darkness, the house to the east was lit up.
As he slowly approached the house, he found all the doors and windows taped with red papers and many candles lit inside the house. The beast was shaking and screaming, looking at all the strange things.
Caught up in rage and panic, it rushed to the front door. At that very moment, a loud cracking sound erupted in the yard, intimidating Nian from daring to approach.
The front door opened in a flash, and the old man came out in a red robe, roaring with laughter. The monster Nian was badly frightened, fainting in the dark night.
The next day, the villagers returned to their tribe, surprised to see that the village was intact. At that moment, the old grandmother understood that Nian’s departure was due to the old man’s promise.
She hurried to the other villagers and told them about the beggar’s promise.
Eager to verify the truth, everyone flocked to the old grandmother’s house and found the red papers on the doors and windows, the candles in the house and the unburned bamboo in the yard.
Soon, the villagers were enlightened with the truth: the burning bamboo, the crackling, the red color and the bright light were magic keys to scare the monster.
Thus, on each New Year’s Eve, people would stick red spring verses, burn bamboo, light candles, and later set off fireworks to drive away bad spirits.
The whole village and town were illuminated and people stood to welcome the new year.
Taotie is a mysterious monster in Chinese culture. The monster was very greedy and ate everything in sight and even his own body.
Its image is therefore a big head and a big mouth without a body. The Taotie ate too much and died. He then became the symbol of greedy people.
7. The Nine-Tailed Fox (Jiu Wei Hu)
Jiu Wei Hu
Chinese myths about the spirits of the nine-tailed fox have spread to Vietnam, Korea and Japan, and stories of fox spirits abound in all these cultures.
In China, the fox spirit (Jiu Wei Hu) is a clever shapeshifter, Jiu Wei Hu is a species of fox with beautiful white fur and nine tails that howl like a newborn baby and eats people.
Early legends tell of intelligent foxes that hide deep in the mountains where they study and practice Taoist magic in order to achieve immortality.
As they gain more wisdom, they develop more tails, and over the course of a thousand years, the most gifted fox spirits develop nine tails and become immortal.
They can take the form of any human, male, female, old or young, although their very bushy tails often give them away. The concept that shapeshifters get frustrated by their tails is a common story in Chinese myths.
The Monkey King, for example, perhaps the most skilled shifter of all, still has trouble figuring out what to do with his tail during his transformations.
As our article comes to an end, we hope you have learned more about the monsters of Chinese mythology.
We have dealt with 7 creatures in this article but Chinese mythology is very rich and there are many others with equally epic and interesting legends that will be told soon on our blog.