Mythical Creatures in Chinese Mythology and Folklore

Mythical Creatures in the Classic of Mountains and Seas

 

Some ancient, mythical animals were documented in the book named The Classic of Mountains and Seas, which was believed written by Yu the Great, founder of the first empire, the Xia Dynasty (about 2070 BC — 1600 BC) in the history of China. 

 

Yu the Great visited many places in China, led people to defeat the huge flood, and had conquered many evil monsters.

 

As an exceptional king and a true hero, he also recorded those fantastic clans that he had been to, and many mythical creatures living there. 

Ancient and Mythical Creatures in Chinese Culture

Mythical Creatures and Their Meanings in Chinese Culture 

 

Gradually, more mythical animals were discovered and documented, in folk legends and historical notes. 

 

Since Flame Emperor (Yan Di) and Yellow Emperor (Huang Di), to Confucius, to Dong Zhongshu who officially promoted the Interactions between Heaven and Mankind in 134 BC, it had been believed that appearances of lucky creatures are representatives of a great reign and a flourishing era, vice versa. 

 

Therefore, those auspicious animals are one of the most popular Chinese Patterns that have been widely used in clothes, jewelry, decoration, architecture, as well as frequently described in literary works. 

There are four most miraculous, benevolent, and auspicious animals in ancient Chinese culture, the Dragon (variable), the Phoenix (knowledgeable), the Qilin (honest), and the Turtle (divine).

Dragon

In Chinese culture, there are many types of dragons. Most of them are brave, powerful,  variable, insightful, invincible, smart, and care about human beings.

 

Up in the sky, they are in charge of wind, thunder, and rain; down on earth, they control rivers, seas, and lakes.

Ying Long — Dragon of Earth and Paramount Power 

 

Ying Long lies in the middle of the sky (Read the Other Four Mythical Animals Guarding on the Sky), and is the representative of the earth in the Five Elements.

 

It controls wind and rain and is superior to other mythical animals.

 

Therefore, the images of the yellow dragon with five claws were strictly and exclusively used by emperors in history. 

 

In ancient books, Ying Long had assisted Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) and Yu the Great and made distinguished contributions in defeating evil beasts and huge floods.

 

Unlike other dragons in China, Ying Long had two wings that later were evolved into colorful clouds.

Ying Long Dragon

Zhu Long — Dragon of Time and Season

According to The Classic of Mountains and Seas, Mount Zhong is located in an extremely frigid place in the north.

 

On top of this mountain, a powerful dragon named Zhu Long, or the Dragon of Zhu, is living there. 

Zhu Long has an over 500 kilometers long snake-shaped red body with a human’s head.

 

He is in charge of the transformation of time and weather, and never eats nor sleeps.

 

He brings the daytime by opening his eyes and takes darkness to the earth when his eyes are closed. His exhalation means the winter is coming, while inhalation brings the summer to the world. 

Mythical animal dragon Zhu Long

Chi Long — Dragon of Protection and Auspiciousness

 

Chi Long was originally an animal from the sea, then after years of magical cultivation, they became a type of dragon which looks like a gecko with no horns. 

 

The marine origin made Chi Long a good fighter against the fire.

 

Unlike other strong and powerful dragons, Chi Long is closer to people’s daily lives, which made it is the symbol of luck, happiness, romantic relationships, and a good career.

 

Therefore, its image was widely used in people’s clothes, accessories, and decorations. 

Chi Long.jpg
 

Jiao Long — Dragon of Transformation and Challenge

 

In Chinese mythical culture, animals like fishes and snakes are possible to transform into dragons, if they have a dragon’s blood, or did remarkably good things like having saved people's lives or run into some special opportunities. 

 

However, this transition takes a long time (hundreds or thousands of years), and they need to face the risk of being interrupted or destroyed by other species or humans. 

At the end of the transition, there will be a final thunder test: if they survived after having been hit by the thunderstruck, they would fly to the sky and become a powerful immortal dragon. 

Otherwise, they would be burnt to ashes immediately. 

Jiao Long is the name of the animal in the transition before the final thunder test, so they have scales, and look half snake and half dragon. They cannot fly, but they could swim incredibly fast and cause huge floods.

Mythical Creature Jiao Long Dragon

Qiu Long — Dragon before Adolescence

There are many different versions with regard to Qiu Long’s looks, but the consensus is that Qiu Long is the baby or the teenage dragon. 

Mythical Creature Qiu Long Dragon

Qiu Long, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Pan Long — Dragon Coils on Earth

Pan Long has black skin and is over 13 meters long, and is usually coils on the ground or swims in the rivers or seas.

 

Pan Long is venomous but could bring rain to drought places. 

 

In ancient Chinese buildings, Pan Long has been widely coiled in pillars and beams, meaning to protect people living inside from any type of injury. 

Click to Read More About Chinese Dragon or Loong

Mythical Animal Pan Long Dragon

Chinese Phoenix or Fenghuang

 

Phoenix is a big, colorful bird with miraculous power, whose feather constituted five Chinese Characters: virtue, righteousness, courtesy, benevolence, and faith. 

 

Phoenix lives in Phoenix Trees, eats fresh bamboo, and drinks from fresh springs. It never lives in a group, nor goes to dirty, chaotic places. 

 

During Yellow Emperor and King Shun’s reigns, it had been noted that a Phoenix had appeared to the secular world, to show the excellent reign that these kings brought people.

 

Fenghuang, in some legend, predicted the rise of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC).

Click to Read More about Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang

Chinese Phoenix or Fenghuang

Qilin

Qilin appeared in Chinese history relatively late. Around 2500 years ago, Qilin was documented together with Confucius

 

When Confucius was born, a mysterious animal showed up and left a book made of jade, writing that this baby is the reincarnation of the son of the God of Water, who is morally qualified as a king but won’t be one. 

 

This animal has the elk’s body, lion’s head, deer’s horn, tiger’s eyes, and ox’s tail. 

When Confucius was old and run into a Qilin during hunting, he said that his time is up; he stopped writing and departed soon.

Qilin, Qi refers to male ones and Lin refers to female ones, is always considered as one of the luckiest and happiest mythical creatures in Chinese culture.  

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Mythical lucky animal Qi Lin

Turtle in Chinese Culture

 

When Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) was in a big war against another powerful clan, a turtle carrying a board, on which had Xi Wang Mu’s magical spells, came out of a river.

 

The magical info on this board then helped the king win the war in the end. 

 

The turtles can live for a very long time, therefore, they have been considered as the representatives of longevity, firm, grateful and loyal. 

The various formats on turtle shells, on the other hand, had been widely used in the divination activities in ancient China, when people could read and decode the cracks after burning their shells. 

Magic Turtle in Chinese Culture

List of Other Ancient Mythical Creatures in Chinese Culture, from The Classic of Mountains and Seas and Folklores

 

Teng She and Bai Xi

 

A long time ago, Goddess Nv Wa had created tens of thousands of human beings and made the world alive.

 

Soon, however, she felt lonely and then made two mythical creatures based on her own appearance:

 

Teng She was a male snake who could fly, while Bai Xi was a female snake with a human's top.

 

These two were very brave and loyal and had assisted Nv Wa defeated many other evil monsters to protect human beings. 

 

In one version of Nv Wa's legend, she sacrificed herself to fill up the broken sky; Teng She and Bai Xi followed her and sacrificed as well.

 

Together, they protected human beings and brought world peace again.

In another version that Nv Wa successfully fixed the broken sky and vanished from the secular world, Teng She and Bai Xi went with her, as always.

 

Later, Teng She became an important mythical creature in the Taoism Religion's divination.

Mythical animal Teng She the flying snake

Teng She, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Mythical creature Bai Xi

Bai Xi

Jiao Ren

Jiao Ren, a group of half-human and half-fish mythical creatures, are living in the South China Sea.

 

They are very good at weaving and could produce beautiful waterproof textiles.

 

Their tears are precious pearls and their grease could burn for tens of thousands of years.

 

According to some legends, inside the mysterious grave of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, which was protected by the Terra Cotta Warriors, many lights were made of Jiao Ren’s everlasting burning grease. 

Mythical Creature Jiao Ren

Jiao Ren, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Nine-Tailed Fox or Jiu Wei Hu 

Jiu Wei Hu is a type of fox that has beautiful white fur and nine tails. They howl like newborn babies and eat people, and live in a magical place named Qingqiu. 

 

According to some sayings in Chinese mythology, eating Jiu Wei Hu’s flesh can protect the predator from any kind of poisons. 

Over 4000 years ago, a Jiu Wei Hu once assisted Yu the Great, the founder of the Xia Dynasty, to meet his beloved queen. Since then, Jiu Wei Hu has become the representative of love, happiness, and prosperity in ancient Chinese culture. 

 

Around 1000 years ago, people started to believe that Jiu Wei Hu could transform into a beautiful woman to seduce men for different purposes. 

Click to Read More About Nine-Tailed Fox

Mythical Creature Nine-Tailed Fox or Jiu Wei Hu

Nine-Tailed Fox, Drawn by Shi Lin.

Pi Xiu

According to Chinese mythology, Pi Xiu has a dragon’s head and tail, and a lion’s body.

 

They fly in the sky, guarding heaven day and night.

 

Therefore, they are the representative of a powerful, invincible army. 

 

Also, Pi Xiu eats everything, but never excretes, which made it respected as a wealthy patron saint in Chinese culture. 

 

Till now, people who pray for fortune and protection will wear, or set a Pi Xiu shaped decoration nearby. 

Mythical animal Pi Xiu

Gong Fu

Gong Fu is the son of a dragon and another animal, so it looks like half-dragon and half-shrimp and could hold a large amount of water in his stomach.

Gong Fu lived in heaven in the beginning, but was banished into a river and was repressed under a huge turtle shell after he had made a mistake.

 

A thousand years later, he was released from the shell, but could never come back to heaven anymore. During this period, he had protected humans from huge floods and evil monsters several times. 

Gradually, more and more people carved his image on bridges and big drainage systems to honor him, hoping that he could continue protecting human beings. 

Mythical creature Gong Fu

Xiang Liu

Xiang Liu, a very cruel monster fed on human flesh, had a snake’s body and nine heads. It would spray bitter, spicy, and fatal water, which turned many places into venomous and disgusting swamps.

 

Many people had been killed, and a large amount of land had been destroyed by its massive poisonous water. 

 

Therefore, the founder of the Xia Dynasty, Yu the Great, killed Xiang Liu with the help of Ying Long and other dragons.

 

But Xiang Liu’s body and blood were still poisonous, even after it had died.

 

Therefore, Yu the Great buried its body into a large pond in the north of the mysterious Mount Kunlun and built a magical building next to it, which was designed to suppress and frighten other evil monsters. 

Mythical animal Xiang Liu

Xiang Liu, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan

Kun Peng

Kun Peng was first documented and described by great Taoism philosopher Zhuang Zi, or Chuang Tzu, in his masterpiece. 

Kun was originally a huge whale living in the sea, but centuries later, it transformed into an incredibly enormous bird named Peng.

 

The bird then flew over many places and kept flying toward the mysterious holy land.

 

It is a purely poetic mythical creature who had never hurt or come close to humans; it only shows up occasionally near the sea throughout history. 

 

Kun Peng is, therefore, considered as a symbol of great ambition, because of its beautiful transformation and wonderful journey. 

Ambitious Mythical Creature Kun Peng

Chong Ming

Chong Ming has two eyeballs in each eye; it looks like a colorful rooster and howls like a phoenix.

In addition, it is very helpful to human beings, who could scare aggressive animals and evil monsters away, using its magical howling as a weapon.

 

Gradually, people carve or paint Chong Ming’s images on roofs or doors to pray for protection.

 

Nowadays, some families in China still use Chong Ming’s image as door god or decoration, praying for good luck and happiness. 

Mythical Creature Chong Ming Bird

Kui

Kui is a mythical animal that was born in heaven. Kui has only one leg and howls like thunder. It can glow like sunlight and always showed up along with big storms.     

It is said that there were three Kuis in total. The first Kui was caught by Yellow Emperor, who made a battle drum using Kui’s skin.

 

The king’s enemies were seriously shocked and frightened by the drum’s sound, most of their soldiers lost their minds and then failed soon.

 

The second Kui was caught by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor in the history of China who built the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors. 

 

The third and last Kui now is still unknown. 

Mythical Animal Kui

Sheng Huang

Sheng Huang looks like a fox with white fur and has some horns on her back.

 

She is mysterious, and not aggressive. 

If a person can ride Sheng Huang for a while, he or she could live for over 2000 years.

Mythical Creature Sheng Huang

Sheng Huang, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Huo Dou

Huo Dou looks like a black dog, but is much more powerful and mysterious. 

Huo Dou is the assistant of the God of Fire, since it eats and excretes fire. 

Wherever this mythical animal appears, there will be a big fire and many people would die. 

It is said that if a pregnant dog is hit by a piece of a meteor on a special day, her child will be a Huo Dou.

Mythical Creature Huo Dou

Qiong Qi

Qiong Qi is a very cruel mythical creature, who looks like a tiger with two huge wings, and the size of a huge cow. 

It feeds on humans, and always starts eating from people’s heads. 

He enjoys flying to places where people are fighting and bites off people’s noses who are reasonable and integrity. 

What's more, he would give animals to rude and evil people in order to encourage their bad behaviors.

Mythical Creature Qiong Qi

Qiong Qi, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Zheng

Zheng lives in a huge mountain that only has pine trees and hard stones.

 

It looks like a leopard with five tails and one strong horn.

Zheng howls like thunder, and feed on large animals like tiger or leopard.

Mythical Creature Zheng

Yu Shi Qie

Yu Shi Qie lives in a state, whose people hold snakes on two hands, and wear snakes as earrings: a cyan snake on the left ear and a red one on the right ear. 

Mythical Creature Yu Shi Qie

Yushiqie by Shanze Li Yifan

Shu Hu

Shu Hu lives in the mountain where the sun sets to.

 

It has a human’s head, snake’s tail, horse’s body, and bird’s wings. 

Shu Hu never hurts people, it only likes to hold people up or let people ride on them.  

Shu Hu is very nice and likes intimate contact with humans, maybe because he feels lonely sometimes.

Mythical Creature Shu Hu

Fu Zhu

Fu Zhu looks like a big white deer, but with four horns.

 

It lives in a mountain filled with beautiful gold and jade, and a vast magical pond.

Seeing Fu Zhu means a big flood will come, which makes it a mythical creature of big disasters.

Mythical Creature Fu Zhu

Fu Zhu, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Jiu Feng

Jiu Feng is a type of Phoenix with nine heads and colorful tales.

 

It is representative of luck, happiness, and prosperity in Chinese culture.

In some successful kings’ enthronement ceremonies, just like an act of providence, Jiu Feng showed up to celebrate.

Mythical Animal Jiu Feng

Fan Yu

Fan Yu is a beautiful horse with long beautiful white fur and two huge wings, which makes it possible to run about 10000 miles each day and fly in the sky.

Once Fan Yu led other horses took King Mu of Zhou (about 1026 BC — 922 BC) to Mount Kunlun to visit deity Xi Wangmu there.

 

Afterward, Fan Yu became the horse of the sky and ride of kings only.

Mythical Animal Fan Yu

Zou Wu

Zou Wu is a very kind mythical creature with colorful patterns and a tail that is longer than his tiger-sized body.

Zou Wu can run thousands of miles a day and never eat live animals.

Mythical Creature Zou Wu

Zou Wu, by Shanze Li Yifan.

Ao Yin

Ao Yin looks like a big cow, with four huge horns and very long hair. 

They were born on the darkest side of the world, ferocious, and only take human flesh as their food.

Mythical Creature Ao Yin

Ao Yin by Shanze Li Yifan

Di Jiang

Di Jiang lives in a mountain filled with gold, jades, and beautiful rivers. 

This kind of mysterious bird which has six feet, four huge wings with no ear, eye, or mouth, however, is a professional in music and dance.

Mythical Creature Di Jiang

Dijiang by Shi Lin

Bi Fang

Bi Fang is the omen of the big fire, who eats nothing but fire. 

It looks like a crane with one leg and a human's face, which has blue leather decorated with red dots.

 

Wherever Bi Fang appears, there would be a destructively huge fire.

Mythical Creature Bi Fang

Bi Fang, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Guan Shu

Guan Shu looks like a strong horse with a longhorn.

 

It lives in a mountain with a large number of aquamarine jades. 

Guan Shu is the enemy of fire: wherever it goes, the fire would be extinguished.

Mythical Creature Guan Shu

Guanshu by Shanze Li Yifan

Bi Yi

Bi Yi Bird has been the representative of great love in Chinese culture. 

Bi Yi has only one eye, one wing, and one foot; one Bi Yi cannot fly until it finds the other perfect matchable one to fly side by side.

As long as they find each other, they would never apart.

Mythical Creature Bi Yi Bird

Shuang Shuang

Shuang Shuang is a type of mythical creature that is combined with three cyan bodies.

Mythical Creature Shuang Shuang

Shuang Shuang, by Shanze Li Yifan.

Huo Shu

Huo Shu looks like a big mouse with over one-meter long red fur.

 

Huo Shu lives in the burning forest, and it only shows up in spring and summer. 

Huo Shu would die if it runs into the water, but it could live perfectly in the fire.

 

So its fur is very valuable for its silk-like and fire-proof quality.

Mythical Creature Huo Shu

Huo Shu, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Fei

Fei was the God of Disaster. 

Fei looks like an ox with a white head, one eye, and a snake’s tail. He usually lives in a mysterious mountain. 

Fei would bring severe drought and plague wherever it goes.

Mythical Creature Fei

Fei, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Heng Gong Yu

Heng Gong Yu is about 180cm long and looks like a big carp. 

They have very strong skin and could keep alive even after being stabbed and boiled.

 

But if they are boiled with two dark plums, they will be dead immediately. 

Heng Gong Yu is a fish in the daytime but could take off the outer shell and transform into a human at night.

Mythical Creature Heng Gong Yu

Heng Gong Yu, by Shanze Li Yifan.

Si

Si is an auspicious animal, whose appearances would presage the place's prosperity and flourish in the near future. 

It has an ox’s huge body with one big horn and is the mount of an important Taoism deity.

Mythical Creature Si

Fei Yi

Fei Yi lives in a very barren mountain that has no plants or any other animals. 

Fei Yi has one head and two snakelike bodies. 

Wherever Fei Yi shows up, people there would suffer from severe drought.

Mythical Creature Fei Yi

Fei YI by Shanze Li Yifan

Zhu Nou

Zhu Nou looks like a fox with fins on his back and lives in a mountain where only grows crystal stones and big snakes.  

Wherever Zhu Nou shows up, fear would be spreading quickly, and horrible things would happen soon.

Mythical Creature Zhu Nou

Zhu  Nou, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Lu Shu

Lu Shu looks like a horse with a white head, tiger stripe, and red tail.

 

Its howling sounds like the human’s singing of folk songs. 

It is believed that wearing Lu Shu’s fur could bring the best of luck to people’s offspring.

Mythical Creature Lu Shu

Hua She

Hua She has a human’s top, a snake’s bottom, and two wings.

She howls like a baby, but barely makes sounds in common situations. 

However, as long as she shows up and screams, the nearby places would have a huge flood.

Mythical Creature Hua She

Ran Yi

Ran Yi is a type of fish with six feet and a snake’s head.

 

It lives in a river that outflows from a mountain where all the animals living in are white-colored. 

Eating Ran Yi could protect people against nightmares and disasters caused by evils.

Mythical Creature Ran Yi

Ying Zhao

Ying Zhao has a horse's body and a human's top, with bird's wings and tiger's patterns. 

Ying Zhao can run on earth and fly in the sky and has been traveling freely.

 

In other legends, he is the guard of a grand garden in heaven and is the friend of all flowers. 

Mythical Creature Ying Zhao

Ying Zhao, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Yan Wei

Yan Wei looks like a huge snake with a long tail and two heads. 

If a person can survive after seeing Yan Wei, he or she could become a king or emperor later. 

Therefore, many ambitious people still expect to see Yan Wei, even though it is cruel and scary.

Mythical Creature Yan Wei

Jun Ren

Jun Ren is a type of very small mythical creature with a human figure and understands humanity.

 

In some legends, they come from a special lilliputian.

Mythical Creature Jun Ren

Jun  Ren, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Tao Tie

Tao Tie has a goat’s body, a human’s head, a tiger’s teeth, and a human’s hands. 

They were widely carved in bronze vessels over 4000 years ago in the history of China. 

Tao Tie is very greedy for food, sometimes they would even eat their own bodies.

 

Therefore, Tao Tie has been the representative of avaricious and gluttonous in Chinese culture.

Mythical Creature Tao Tie

Zhu Jian

Zhu Jian has a human’s head with only one eye, a leopard’s body, an ox’s horns, and a long tail.

 

His long tail is in his mouth when he is walking and coils on the ground when he is resting. 

Zhu Jian has incredible loud sounds and is very strong. It's very talented in shooting as well.

Mythical Creature Zhu Jian

Zhu Jian, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

Dang Kang

Dang Kang looks like a pig with two big ears and sharp teeth.

 

It is an auspicious mythical creature that only shows up in years with good harvests when calling his own name "Dang Kang" and dancing happily.

Mythical Creature Dang Kang

Dang Kang by Shanze Li Yifan