Nine Tailed Fox, Huli Jing, and Fox Spirit in Chinese Culture

What are the Nine-Tailed Fox, Huli Jing, and Fox Spirit?


  • Nine-Tailed Fox (in Chinese Jiuwei Hu) is a mythical creature in ancient Chinese mythology.


It is a silver-white fox with nine tails, howls like a newborn baby, and only shows up in flourishing, prosperous, and peaceful places. 

Nine-Tailed Fox Drew by Shi Lin

Nine-Tailed Fox Drawn by Shi Lin

  • Huli Jing, recorded later in history, is a fox that obtained magic power, mostly can convert to or possess on human beings and come into the secular world.


Huli Jing can be good or bad, based on one's characteristics and practice means; however, in many folklores, they are evil creatures that would hurt or take away people's lives for their own benefit.


  • Fox Spirit is the fox deity that practices and obtains power in righteous ways, following the rules of Taoism Religion.


They would value morals and justice and help humans when it's necessary. Obtaining magic and immortality are their final goals, but they wouldn't hurt humans to achieve that. 

A Fox Spirit from TV Show "Legend of Nine Tails Fox"

A Fox Spirit from TV Show "Legend of Nine Tails Fox"

In many cases, Huli Jing and Fox Spirit are somewhat on similar phases, whose final goal is to become the powerful and auspicious Nine-Tailed Fox.  


In other scenarios, people would consider these three in the same way: a fox with supernatural, magic power. 


What is the origin of Nine-Tailed Fox?


Nine-Tailed Fox has firstly recorded in the ancient masterpiece The Classic of Mountains and Seas


In this book, Nine-Tailed Fox is a type of auspicious creature that has silver-white fur and nine tails, and would only appear in stable and prosperous kingdoms. 


They may prey on people, and humans that ate Nine-Tailed Fox's flesh can be protected from all types of evils and poisons. 


Meanwhile, most Nine-Tailed Foxes live in a magical place named Qingqiu. 

Nine-Tailed Foxes in Qingqiu

Nine-Tailed Foxes in Qingqiu, Picture from zhiyinqian.

In some folklores, when Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) was fighting against the huge flood, a Nine-Tailed Fox transformed into a beautiful woman, assisted, and fell in love with him. 


Another saying is that this woman, later the first queen of the Xia Dynasty (2070 BC — 1600 BC), was from a tribe that lives in Qingqiu, which is a place in today's Heze city of Shandong Province.


This powerful tribe named Tushan possibly had a nine-tailed fox as the totem or was an alliance of clans that all used fox as their totems. 

Bronze Artifact Decorated with Turquoise Unearthed From Erlitou Site, A Possible Relic Site of Part of the Xia Dynasty

Bronze Artifact Decorated with Turquoise Unearthed From Erlitou Site, A Possible Relic Site of Part of the Xia Dynasty — Luoyang Museum

Therefore, from the beginning, the Nine-Tailed Fox had been the symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity, happiness, and love. 


The changes of reputations of the Nine-Tailed Fox throughout history.


From the Xia (2070 BC — 1600 BC) to Han (202 BC — 220 AD) dynasties, Nine-Tailed Fox had been one of the propitious spirits, together with Chinese Dragon Loong, Chinese Phoenix Fenghuang, and Qilin

Auspicious and Kind Nine-Tailed Fox

Auspicious and Kind Nine-Tailed Fox, Picture from Lianhua.

Gradually, more records regarding foxes obtaining magic power, transforming into humans, and entering people's worlds, appeared and widespread in novels and folklores.


Since Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), Nine-Tailed Fox turned completely evil, after having been connected to two queens in history that overthrew kingdoms. 

Nine-Tailed Fox with Human Figure

Nine-Tailed Fox with Human Figure, Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan.

They were believed incarnations of powerful Nine-Tailed Foxes, extremely beautiful and seductive. They had lured and manipulated their kings, and in the end, perished their kingdoms. 


One is Daji, the queen of King Dixin, who perished the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), the other is Baosi, the queen of King Ji Gongheng, who ended the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 771 BC). 

Unearthed Ritual Bronze Vessel (Li Gui) with Inscriptions Carved inside Recorded the Battle of Muye that Perished Shang Dynasty, and the Establishment of the Zhou Dynasty
Inscriptions about the Battle of Muye on the Unearthed Bronze Bowl (Li Gui) of the Zhou Dynasty

Ritual Bronze Vessel (Li Gui) with Inscriptions Carved inside Recorded the Battle of Muye that Perished Shang Dynasty — National Museum of China

Hence, Nine-Tailed Fox became a seductive and indecent creature, a family wrecker, a kingdom destructor.


These two queens were real figures in history, however, whether they were incarnations of evil Nine-Tailed Foxes, and whether they should take responsibility for the fall of these two empires, no one can be absolutely sure to tell. 

Nine-Tailed Fox Drew by Shanze Li Yifan

Nine-Tailed Fox Drawn by Shanze Li Yifan


Is Huli Jing good or bad in folklores?


Since the Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern, and Southern Dynasties (220 — 589), foxes gradually were able to obtain magic power and emotion and transform into humans, after centuries of practice. 


The longer time they practice, the more power they got, and the more tails they would grow. 


During their tens of thousands of years long practice procedures, some of them would turn into humans and interact with people. 

Huli Jing Transformed Beautiful Woman

Huli Jing Transformed Beautiful Woman, Drawn by Zhang Wang.

In large numbers of novels and folklores, some Huli Jing had tricked, helped, made friends, or fell in love with people, while others of them had turned into beautiful women (sometimes handsome men), lured people to get humans' essence, even lives, to obtain power for their practice.


In some legends, powerful foxes also may share information with or possess humans, in exchange for people's help. 


Therefore, to sum up, Huli Jing can be good, sincere, mischievous, smart, greedy, or evil. Everything is possible to be found from Huli Jing. 

Image of Nine-Tailed Fox

Image of Nine-Tailed Fox, Picture from jasmineyu.

What does the fox symbolize in Chinese culture?


With changing reputations of Nine-Tailed Fox and the diverse characteristics of Huli Jing in folklores and legends, the fox has been the symbol of smartness, auspiciousness, beautiful love, as well as crafty, sly, evil, seductive, allure. 


Because of these complicated images, today, Nine-Tailed Fox shape decorations have been quite popular, especially among women, which believed can bring them good luck in their love lives.