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Mythical Places in Chinese Mythology, Folklore, and Legends

In the hushed whispers of ancient Chinese Mythology, mystical places emerge as ethereal realms where beauty and wonder converge.

 

These mythological landscapes, often veiled in the mists of time, transcend the boundaries of reality to usher us into a world teeming with Divine Deities and Mythical Creatures.

 

These mystical places are not just settings; they are characters, each possessing its own enigmatic allure.

 

From the Sacred Kunlun Mountains on the western horizon to the three mystical islands gracing the eastern seas, from the holy mountains that span the myths and folklore to the great heroes and legends etched upon the central plain, these legendary places are the threads that weave the rich tapestry of China's mythical world.

mythical placecs in chinese mythology
Mythological World in Chinese Mythology and Folklore
deity and divine creatures in heaven in Chinese Mythology

Great Deities and Divine Creatures in Heaven

 

According to Ancient Chinese Astrology, there are Three Enclosures in the central sky where the Heavenly Emperor and other deities reside:

  • Purple Forbidden Enclosure: This is known as the Palace of the Great Emperor of Heaven, where he and his family reside.

 

  • Supreme Palace Enclosure: Also known as the Government of Heaven, this is where the Great Emperor of Heaven administers the universe, and deity officials work and discuss political affairs.

 

  • Heavenly Market Enclosure: This serves as the marketplace of heaven, where the Great Emperor of Heaven accepts homage and tours, and where others conduct various commercial activities.

Mythical Realm in Chinese Mythology, Folklore, and Legends

"Mystical Mountains and Buildings" by Zhao Boju of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 — 1279)

Surrounding the Three Enclosures, four divine creatures stand guard in the east, west, north, and south.

 

Each of these creatures leads seven ancient constellations, and they are collectively known as the Four Symbols, symbolizing the four seasons.

Qing Long or Azure Dragon of the East

The Qing Long, also known as the Azure Dragon of the East, is regarded as one of the most potent mythical creatures in Chinese mythology.

Positioned in the eastern part of the sky, it represents left, spring, and wood.

The Azure Dragon symbolizes power, strength, and integrity, and as such, it is revered by humans as the guardian of their land.

Qing Long or Azure Dragon of the East

Qing Long or Azure Dragon of the East by Artist Shan Ze

Bai Hu or White Tiger of the West

 

The Bai Hu, also known as the White Tiger of the West, resides in the western part of the sky and embodies the qualities of the right, autumn, and metal.

The White Tiger symbolizes attributes like loyalty, power, bravery, and justice, earning it the revered title of the God of War in ancient China.

 

As a result, the white tiger held significant importance in the military, often adorning army flags and seals

Bai Hu  or White Tiger of the West

Bai Hu  or White Tiger of the West by Artist She Xi

Zhu Que or Vermilion Bird of the South

Zhu Que, or the Vermilion Bird, stands guard in the southern skies and represents the front, summer, and fire. 

This majestic creature, resembling a massive red bird, is believed to be a mythical entity with the power to guide people's souls to heaven after they pass away.

Zhu Que or Vermilion Bird of the South

Zhu Que or Vermilion Bird of the South by Artist Shan Ze

Xuan Wu or Black Tortoise of the North

Xuan Wu, known as the Black Tortoise of the North, resides in the northern realms of the sky and represents the back, winter, and water. 

This mythical creature, bearing the appearance of a turtle intertwined with a snake, found extensive use in divination as a messenger.

 

It was believed to carry questions to the celestial realms or the ancestors in the afterlife and return with the answers sought by mortals.

Xuan Wu or Black Tortoise of the North

Xuan Wu or Black Tortoise of the North by Artist Huahua

Ying Long or Yellow Dragon in the Central

In the heart of the celestial expanse resides Ying Long, representing the Earth in accordance with the Five Element Theory and often deemed superior to other mythical creatures in certain legends.

 

This Yellow Dragon was entrusted with the domains of wind and rain, playing a pivotal role in aiding the Yellow Emperor (approximately 2717 BC — 2599 BC) in arduous battles and offering assistance to Yu the Great (approximately 2123 BC — 2025 BC) in the conquest of devastating floods.

 

Distinguished from its dragon counterparts, Ying Long sports a pair of wings, which would later evolve into vividly colorful clouds in exquisite works of art.

 

Throughout history, images of the Ying Long dragon were meticulously and exclusively reserved for Chinese Emperors.

Ying Long the Yellow Dragon in Mythology in China
kunlun mountains in Chinese Mythology

The Sacred Kunlun Mountains in the West

 

In Chinese culture, there exist two remarkable embodiments of the Kunlun Mountains.

 

The first is the Legendary Kunlun Mountains, steeped in myth and folklore. The second is the Geological Kunlun Mountains, a geographical wonder located in the northwest of China.

 

The Legendary Kunlun Mountains

The Legendary Mount Kunlun is revered as the most supreme and sacred mountain in Chinese Mythology and Taoism Religion.

 

It is regarded as the progenitor of all mountains and stands at the very heart of the world.

 

Nestled in the northwest of China, the Legendary Mount Kunlun stands colossal and steep, its grandeur emphasized by a colossal pillar that ascends toward the heavens. 

Mysterious Mount Kunlun

This majestic realm is encircled by four gates, crisscrossed by nine paths, and traversed by the meandering Ruo Shui River.

 

Kunlun boasts five mystical cities and twelve resplendent edifices, each scattering across its terrain.

Beyond these gates and the flowing river lies the Mountain of Fire, a place where the unwelcome is reduced to ashes by relentless flames.

Upon Mount Kunlun, a veritable treasure trove of innumerable precious flowers and plants thrives, alongside mythical creatures and a bounty of treasures.

 

The natural beauty that graces this sacred realm is nothing short of breathtaking. 

Kunlun Mountains and Palaces in Painting "Peach Festival of the Queen Mother of the West"

Kunlun Mountains and Palaces in Painting "Peach Festival of the Queen Mother of the West", by An Artist of Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644). 

Kunlun is venerated as the cradle of Chinese culture, once the residence of influential monarchs who conducted sacred rituals. 

 

It was within these mythological places that King Fu Xi crafted essential elements of Chinese heritage: the Taiji, Bagua, Traditional Chinese Calendar, and age-old customs and etiquettes.

Furthermore, it was at Kunlun that the divine Nu Wa created humanity and mended the fractured sky.

Nv Wa fulfilling broken sky using five colored stones

Nu Wa Fulfilling Broken Sky using Five Colored Stones, by Artist Zi Fei Yu.

Xiwangmu — Deity of Kunlun Mountains

Xiwangmu, revered as the Queen Mother of the West, is a formidable goddess residing beside Yaochi, a mystical lake enveloped by an abundance of exquisite flowers and unique flora upon Mount Kunlun.

 

She holds dominion over all female deities and possesses command over the elixirs of life that bestow immortality upon the world.

 

Throughout history, Xiwangmu has dispatched mythical creatures, deities, and on occasion, ventured to the mortal realm herself, offering her divine aid in overcoming calamities and adversities.

 

Notably, some of China's most exceptional emperors, renowned for their remarkable achievements, had the privilege of encountering or receiving blessings from Xiwangmu.

Xi Wangmu from Mount Kunlun and Ji Man the King Mu of Zhou

Xiwangmu Meeting King Mu of Zhou (? — about 922 BC), by Artist Lu Ming Shan.

San Qing — Messenger of Xiwangmu

San Qing, a mythical bird of lore, serves as a messenger for the revered Goddess Xiwangmu, accompanying her on her celestial journeys.

 

Historical records recount an encounter between Emperor Wu of Han (156 BC — 87 BC) and a San Qing bird.

 

This encounter foretold the impending visit of the great deity from Mount Kunlun, prompting the emperor to make preparations for her arrival.

True to the omen, Xiwangmu arrived, presenting the emperor with seven enchanted peaches and promising prosperity for the Han Empire and success in its military endeavors.

In the wake of her visit, Emperor Wu constructed a magnificent edifice on Mount Tai, a sanctuary for Xiwangmu to reside when she graced the mortal realm with her presence.

San Qing the messenger bird for Chinese Godness Xi Wangmu in Mythology in China

Lu Wu or Kaiming Shou — Guardian of the Kunlun Mountains

Lu Wu or Kaiming Shou is the vigilant and benevolent custodian of the Kunlun Mountains, entrusted with the welfare of its flora, fauna, and climate.

Lu Wu possesses a distinctive form, characterized by a human head atop a tiger's body, adorned with nine majestic tails. In some interpretations, Lu Wu is depicted with nine human heads

 

Throughout legend, Lu Wu played a vital role in aiding Yu the Great, the illustrious founder of the Xia Dynasty (approximately 2070 BC — 1600 BC).

 

Together, they vanquished malevolent monsters and valiantly confronted the devastating floods that threatened the land.

Lu Wu or Kaiming Shou the Guardian of the Kunlun Mountains

Lu Wu or Kaiming Shou by Yaoli Chahua

Bai Ze — The Wise Mythical Being of Kunlun

Bai Ze is a profoundly knowledgeable creature gifted with the ability to converse in the human tongue.

 

Its striking appearance features pristine white fur, akin to a goat, adorned with a single horn and two elegant wings.

 

Typically, Bai Ze calls Mount Kunlun its home, venturing into the mortal realm only during times of societal tranquility and prosperity.

 

As a symbol of fortune, safety, and contentment in Chinese culture, it embodies auspiciousness.

 

Bai Ze's extensive knowledge encompasses 11,520 varieties of supernatural entities and the means to subdue malevolent forces.

 

On one occasion, Bai Ze descended to the earthly realm and imparted this wisdom to the Yellow Emperor (approximately 2717 BC — 2599 BC). The Yellow Emperor then compiled this knowledge into a tome, making it accessible to all of his subjects.

Mythical Creature Bai Ze

Mythical Creature Bai Ze, by Artist Shuangjiang Pengsang.

The Prototype of the Legendary Mount Kunlun

Drawing upon mythological accounts and the historical territories of ancient Chinese civilizations, the Xicheng Mountain, later apotheosized in Chinese culture, is regarded as the prototype of the enigmatic Mount Kunlun.

 

Located in Shanxi province, Xicheng Mountain stands in an area where the earliest Chinese ancestors resided, laying the foundational cornerstone of Chinese culture.

 

This is the very land where the legendary Yu the Great battled against the colossal flood, and King Tang of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC) conducted grand ceremonies to beseech the heavens for rain

Even today, the inhabitants of this region can identify the mountain's four gates and nine paths, mirroring the descriptions of the mythical Mount Kunlun in astonishing detail.

Prototype of Mountain of Fire outside Mount Xicheng of Mythology in China

Red Mountain Outside the Mount Xicheng, the Prototype of Mountain of Fire outside the Mount Kunlun.  

The Geographical Kunlun Mountains

Nestled in the northwestern reaches of China, the Geological Kunlun Mountains command a majestic and awe-inspiring presence. In the realm of Taoism Religion, this region is hailed as the most sacred of all

With altitudes averaging between 5,500 and 6,000 meters (approximately 3.42 to 3.73 miles) and spanning an expansive area of approximately 500,000 square kilometers (about 193,051 square miles), the Kunlun Mountains are predominantly cloaked in pristine, glistening snow.

Presently, only a small fraction of the Kunlun Mountains is accessible to travelers, while the vast majority of this region remains veiled in enigmatic allure. 

Kunlun Mountains covered by snow
mythical islands in Chinese Mythology

Three Mystical Islands in the East

Penglai, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou are three grand islands or mountains floating in the sea in the east of China. 

Within these mystical realms, palaces crafted from the finest jade, silver, and gold glisten, while the flora and fauna radiate a pure whiteness akin to billowing clouds.

 

These enigmatic islands are also home to potent deities, presided over by the supreme Dong Wanggong, the sovereign of male deities. 

Penglai Island Painted by Artist Qiu Ying (about 1497 — 1552)

Penglai Island Painted by Artist Qiu Ying (about 1498 — 1552) — Poly Art Museum

Hence, two of China's most illustrious emperors, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC — 210 BC) and Emperor Wu of Han (156 BC — 87 BC), sought entry into this mythic domain, in their quest for immortality.

 

In his pursuit, Qin Shi Huang even commanded the construction of three islands within a vast lake at his palace, meticulously replicating the essence of these eastern mythic mountains.

 

This tradition of emulating the Three Islands in One Lake layout extended to many subsequent emperors, adorning their Imperial Palaces.

Penglai Mountains

Penglai Mountains, by Artist Annian Yaya

holy mountains in Chinese Mythology

Holy Mountains From Mythology and Folklore

Mythological Mountains in Legend and Folklore

Within the ancient mythological geology masterpiece, the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a myriad of holy and enigmatic mountains finds their record, with several renowned ones holding significant places in Chinese mythology and folklore.

  • Danxue Mountain: A mythic realm said to be adorned with gold and jade, Danxue Mountain is the legendary residence of the Chinese Phoenix, known as Fenghuang. 

  • Qingqiu Mountain: Positioned with jade on its southern slopes and cyan mineral pigment on the north, Qingqiu stands as the homeland of the Nine-Tailed Fox or Jiu Wei Hu. 

  • Fajiu Mountain: A landscape veiled in lush vegetation and rocky terrain, Fajiu Mountain is where the mythical deity Jingwei is said to reside. 

  • Mount Buzhou: Located in the frigid reaches to the northwest of the Kunlun Mountains, Mount Buzhou once served as the celestial pillar supporting the heavens until its shattering at the hands of Gong Gong.

  • Changliu Mountain: Beasts of this mountain bear resplendent tails, and the birds exhibit vibrant heads. Changliu's jade is renowned for its radiance, and the deity Shaohao is believed to reside at its summit. 

Mystical Mountains from Chinese Legend

Mystical Mountains from Chinese Legend, Picture from Yigerende Xiuxing.

Geological Mountains with Mystical Significance

Beyond the realms of myth and legend, the real world is graced with mountains that bear mystical power and profound meanings. 

Mount Tai — the Connection of Heaven and Acheron

Mount Tai in Shandong Province is believed to serve as a bridge connecting the celestial, human, and netherworld dimensions.

 

At its base lies the entrance to the underworld, traversed by departed souls, while its summit opens a path to the heavens above.

 

Thus, this revered mountain witnessed grand Fengshan Ceremonies presided over by accomplished emperors.

 

As a result, Mount Tai claims the mantle of the most sacred mountain in Chinese culture, where myth and politics intertwine in a tapestry of profound significance.

Mount Tai in Shandong Province

Ancient Stairs and Buildings on Mount Tai of Shandong Province. 

Grand Mountains with Mystical Meanings and Profound Significance

From the inception of Taoism Religion during the late Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) to the introduction of Buddhism, local mythology and folklore continued to flourish.

 

Over time, the most splendid mountains, rivers, and lakes became home to deities from both religious traditions and local legends. These divine beings diligently safeguarded their respective domains and watched over the local populace

For millennia, Taoists and Buddhists sought solace and enlightenment in these serene and captivating landscapes.

 

They constructed magnificent temples, pagodas, and grottoes, each endowed with profound significance and mystical meanings, bearing testament to the enduring spiritual practices that have graced these hallowed locales. 

Ancient Taoist Religion Temples on Wudang Mountains.

Ancient Taoist Religion Temples on Wudang Mountains.

heroes and legends in central plain

Great Heroes and Legends in the Central Plain

On the Central Plain of ancient China, was the place where many deities, creatures, and people lived and fought.

 

Together they survived and built some strong clans, formed ancient Chinese culture, and left some legendary stories.

 

Click to Read Chinese Creation Myth and Legends

Yellow Emperor in A War Against Chi You

Yellow Emperor in A War Against Chi You, by Artist Le Xi

Mythical animals in Chinese mythology

Mythical Creatures in Chinese Folklore and Mythology

Within this enchanting mythological world, a plethora of extraordinary creatures reside.

 

Some find their origins in The Classic of Mountains and Seas, while others have been born from the annals of different mythological tomes and local folk traditions.

 

These beings have served as conduits for divination, objects of reverence in religious practices, or participants in arcane rituals.

 

The images of particularly auspicious creatures continue to grace clothing, decor, and architectural designs, their popularity undiminished over time. 

 

This wondrous mythological world and its inhabitants have indelibly etched their influence on contemporary Xianxia Culture, lending their mystical allure to the present day.

 

Click to Read More About Mythical Creatures from Chinese Mythology

Mythical Place Fenglin State

Fenglin State Where Inhabited by Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang, Qilin, Divine Herbs, and Immortals; Painted by Artist Xu Chengcheng.

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