Episode 136: Nine-tailed Fox Spirits

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Today we will talk about the beautiful and mysterious nine-tailed fox spirits 九尾狐. There are numerous fox spirits 狐狸精 in Chinese mythology and the nine-tailed fox spirits is the most known. What’s the impression of the nine-tailed fox spirit in your mind? We will finally talk about how the concept of the nine-tailed fox spirits evolved through the history.


The earliest text about nine-tailed fox spirits is from the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC. The book actually mentioned the nine-tailed fox spirits in a few chapters. For example, in the chapter NanShanJing 南山经, it says, “There is a kind of beast living on the Land of QingQiu 青丘. The beast resembles a fox with nine tails. It makes a sound like a baby and eats men. Whoever eats the beast will be protected against poison. “ It is believed that the nine-tailed fox spirits lived in the place called QingQiu, which means Green Hills and although it eats human, human eat it can get protected. The historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋朝 noted the book that, “the nine-tailed fox spirit is an auspicious omen that appeared during times of peace. ”


In the book Master Lv’s Spring and Autumn Annals 吕氏春秋, an Chinese classic text complied around 239 BC, there is a story about Yu the Great, who was a legendary ruler in ancient China around the Great flood time around the year 2000BC. The story says once Yu the Great passed the place TuShan 涂山 and said, “there should be an omen of me getting married.” Then there he heard the song from a local girl who claimed to be a white nine-tailed fox and was interested in having a family with Yu the Great. Later they got married and had the son Qi 启. In this story, nine-tailed fox not only represents fertility but also royalty.

During the Han dynasty especially the Eastern Han dynasty, which is between the year 25 ~220, the idea of heavenly prophecy was popular especially in the politics. Nine-tailed tails was symbolize as a beneficial god and even more emphasized as an auspicious omen that appeared during times of peace with the wise king. From the stone carvings during the Han dynasty, we could find the image of nine-tailed foxes on the side of Queen Mother of the West 西王母. We have talked about Queen Mother of the West in Ep74, please check it out if you want to know about her. In the stone carvings, the Queen Mother of the West is always in the center with a dragon and a tiger on her two sides and a toad underneath. A nine-tailed fox is in the corner. Sometimes the fox has six, seven or eight tails. So far it seems the nine-tailed fox is still a holy spirit.



Since Tang dynasty 唐朝 between the year 618~ 907, the holy royal fox spirit started become more popular among the normal people. They are not just for the king but they started to appear in folklore. People started to worship fox spirits in villages. The famous poet from the Tang dynasty Bai Juyi 白居易 wrote an article in which he compared Daji 妲己 and Baosi 褒姒 with fox spirits. Daji is from around the 1000 BC. Baosi is from around 700 BC. They were both the consort and concubine of two kings and their stories are both known as the classic examples of how a beauty causes the downfall of a dynasty in Chinese culture. We will talk about their stories in our future episodes. But clearly here, they are considered as the negative influences on the kings and the fox spirits started to change.


In the Song dynasty 宋朝 between the year 960 ~ 1279, nine-tailed foxes were almost totally became the evil spirits that seduce people based on the article we just talked about. This is when Japanese and Korean heard about the fox spirits and became Kitsune in Japanese mythology and Kumiho in Korean mythology. In English the word Huli jing 狐狸精 from Chinese in just used as fox spirits.

One of most known mythical story of nine-tailed fox is from the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义from the Ming dynasty 明朝 in the 16th century. The story confirmed that Daji is an evil nine-tailed fox spirit in a beautiful woman’s form. The king Shangzhou 商纣 王didn’t do anything wrong but was just seduced and haunted by her.


At last, during Qing dynasty 清朝, the last dynasty in ancient China, the book Strange Stories from the a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异 published in 1740 emerged and it contains many stories about fox spirits and they all have different characteristics like human. And there are male fox spirits, old fox spirits and kid fox spirits in the book. They can be malevolent and can be lovely. Most the female fox spirits in the book are smart, brave and would sacrifice for the loved ones.


Until today, people still love the stories of fox spirits and the image is a fox spirit becomes more complicated and interesting. Like the word Huli Jing 狐狸精 in modern Chinese has been a negative word to refer to a woman who is good at flirting with men and interfere other people’s relationships. However, today maybe some women probably wouldn’t offended being called as a Huli Jing. Women can be whoever they want to be if they choose to be. Good at flirting and being extremely attractive is not so bad, right? Because we know the downfall of a dynasty is not caused by a woman and if the man is seduced, he should be responsible for it.



山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

吕氏春秋 Master Lv’s Spring and Autumn Annals

封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

聊斋志异 Strange Stories from the a Chinese Studio

Episode 97: YingNing The laughing girl – part 4

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Today we will finish our story about Ying Ning , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异.

Last time, we talked about YingNing went back home with Wang ZiFu and their figured out YingNing was a fox spirit’s daughter from Mr. Wu.

Wang ZiFu’ s mother let her share a room with her daughter, she started her life in Wang’s family and took her part of duties of family. Her knitted better than any women. She laughed a lot but nobody had any problems with it and everyone liked her.


Wang ZiFu’s mother fixed a date for Ying Ning and Wang ZiFu’s wedding although she still felt suspicious about her being the daughter of a fox spirit. She tried to check YingNing’s shadow under the sun and found nothing weird.

On the wedding day, Ying Ning dressed up in all the finery of a bride. She laughed so hard that she was unable to kneel down and she was excused by people. Wang ZiFu sometimes thought his wife was too silly that would not keep the secrets between them, but she never indulged in gossip.

Whenever Wang ZiFu’s mother was in trouble or bad mood, YingNing could always make her feel better with her laugh. The servants came to ask her for help when they made some mistakes and tried not to get punishment. YingNing had a great interest in flowers. She collected all kinds of species from people she knew and even secretly pawned her jewels to buy them. After a few months the whole place was planted with flowers.


Behind the house there was a tree right next to the neighbor. YingNing always climbed up on the tree and played with her flowers and sometimes stick the flowers in her hair, for which Wang ZiFu’s mother rebuked her severely. One day, the neighbor’s son saw her and was enchanted by her beauty. YingNing didn’t try to hide but started to laught. The young man thought she was flirting with him and was much smitten with her. YingNing pointed at the wall between them and left. The young man thought YingNing meant they would have a secret date at the wall at night. So he presented at night and saw YingNing sure was there waiting for him. He was so horny and jumped onto her. The next moment he felt a deep pain in his lower body, he looked carefully, it was not YingNing but just a log of wood and he was stung by a scorpion. He died in the middle of the night.

His father sued Wang ZiFu of having a witch wife. The judge happened to be an admirer of Wang ZiFu’s talend and knew he was a noble man. Therefore, they got away any punishment. Wang ZiFu’s mother gave YingNing the last word, “I knew you would cause some troubles with your silly and naive personality. We are lucky this time. I can’t imagine if met another judge, how could your husband ever have the reputation and respect? ” This time, YingNing didn’t laugh and swore she would laugh no more. Wang ZiFu’s mother added, “everyone laughs but at the reasonable times.” However, from that moment, YingNing laughed no more even when people tried to make her though her expression was by no means sad.

One night, in front of her husband, YingNing cried. Wang ZiFu was confused. YingNing said, “I didn’t want to scare you before since we didn’t know each other for too long. Now you and your mother have been so kind to me and care about me, I will keep nothing from you. I am the daughter of a fox. When my mother went away, she asked the spirit of an old woman to take care of me with whom I grew up for over 10 years. I have no siblings and all I have now is you. Now my foster mother is lying on the hill alone and she has been depressed about it. If you could be so kind to bury her with her past husband Mr. Qin together her spirit may be at rest. ”

Wang ZiFu consented. On a selected date, the couple brought a coffin to the hill. YingNing pointed to a spot amidst the shrubs and there they dig out the old woman’s dead body. YingNing held the body and wet bitterly. Then they put the body in the coffin and buried it next to Mr. Qin’s tomb.

That night, Wang ZiFu had a dream that the old woman came to thank him. He told YingNing when he wake up. She said she saw her and was warned by her not to frighten him. He asked why she didn’t ask her to stay. YingNing replied, “she is a ghost and can’t be a good thing for her to stay too long around many alive people.” He asked about YingNing’s maid XiaoRong and she said XiaoRong was a fox spirit too. She was married now.

Since then, every year on QingMing Festival, the couple would go to visit Mr. Chin and YingNing’s foster mother’s tombs. YingNing gave birth to a son after a year who wasn’t afraid of strangers and laughed all the time just like his mother used to be.


In the end, the author commented the story, YingNing looks like an innocent and silly her that she laughs all the time. But think about the trick she did at the wall, who can compared with her? She was grateful for her foster mother, she stopped laughing but crying. My girl YingNing was trying to use her laugh to hide her real feelings. I heard there is a kind of plants called XiaoYiHu 笑矣乎, the name basically means laughing, when you smell it you would start laughing and can’t stop. If you plant this in the house, then even the silk tree. or orange day-lily can’t compare with it. Silk tree is called HeHuanHua 合欢 花 in Chinese, which literally means happy together. Orange day-lily is called WangYouCao in Chinese, which literally means forgetting the sadness. Not to say to flower JieYuHua 解语 花, full of pretentiousness. JieYuHua literally means understanding the words and it is a kind of mythical flower, which is supposed to understandable.

So the author used the names of different flowers to metaphor YingNing as the plant XiaoYiHu that her innocent and natural laugh was better than anything especially the people who know so well about social norms and following the strict rules.

In the book Strange Stories from A Chinese Studio, you can tell the author himself is a conflicted person that on one hand he pursued the main values of the society and one the other hand he values the natural spirits like YingNing.



聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Episode 96: YingNing The Laughing Girl – part 3

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Today we will continue our story about YingNing , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异.

Last time we talked about Wang ZiFu found the girl he fell in love with and was invited into the house to stay for a while

The next day Wang ZiFu went to the garden behind the house with a well-kept lawn and plenty of trees and flowers. There was an arbor consisting of three posts. Walking through the flowers, he heard some noise from the trees and looking up saw YingNing on it who at once burst out laughing and nearly fell off. “Don’t! Don’t! Be careful!” cried Wang ZiFu. YingNing tried to get down from the tree giggling all the time until when she was near the ground, she missed her hold and tumbled down with a run. This finally stopped her laugh. Wang ZiFu helped her to stand up and gently squeezed her hand. YingNing began to laugh again leaning against a tree.

Wang ZiFu waited until she finished laughing and then took the flower out of his sleeve. “It is dead. Why are you still keeping it?” asked YingNing. “You dropped it on the Lantern Festival so I keep it. ” “What is the point of keeping it?” asked YingNing. “To show my love that I will never forget. Since the first time we met, I have a love sickness and thought I would die. It is my luck to meet you again, I pray you have pity on me.” “It is a piece of cake.I am your cousin. If you need flowers, I will tell the servants get a whole basket full of flowers when you leave.” YingNing replied. “Did you not understand what I said?” Wang ZiFu asked. “I don’t care about flowers but the person who picked the flower.” “Of course” answered she, “everybody cares about their relatives.” Wang ZiFu said, “I wasn’t talking about the ordinary relations but the love between husband and wife.” “What’s the difference?” asked YingNing. “Husband and wife sleep together at night.” YingNing lowered her head and thought for a while said, “I am used to sleep with strangers.” Wang ZiFu saw a maid walking towards to them and slipped away.

Later, they all met in the old woman’s room. The old woman asked, “where did you go?” YingNing replied, “we were talking in the garden. ” The old woman said, “the dinner has been ready for a while. I can’t think what you had to say all this while.” YingNing said, “my cousin said he wanted to sleep with me.” Wang ZiFu was so ashamed and made her a sign to her to be quite so she smiled and said no more. It is lucky that the old woman was a little deaf and didn’t catch the words. Wang ZiFu whispered to YingNing , “our conversation is private and is not supposed to tell others.” YingNing said, “I never hold any secrets from my mother, besides, what harm can there be talking about sleeping together?” Wang ZiFu sighed and thought YingNing was such a naive and innocent girl. He didn’t know what to do the let her understand.

After dinner, the servants from Wang ZiFu’s family came to find him. Because his mother couldn’t find him after he left in the village and they remember this location Mr.Wu mentioned. Wang ZiFu told the old woman and begged her to let him bring YingNing to go back with him. “I have had the idea in my head for a long time. But I am too old to travel. If you will take care of my girl and introduce to her to her aunt, it would be wonderful. ”




So she called YingNing who came up laughing as usual. Whereupon the old woman commented, “what makes you always laugh? You would be a perfect girl if you stop being that silly. You cousin wants to talk you to visit the families. Go ahead and get ready.” The old woman provided refreshment for the servants from Wang ZiFu’s family and told YingNing that her aunt was quite well enough off to maintain her, she had better stay there for a while and study the basic principles and books. So she could marry to a good husband in the future with the help of her aunt.

So off they left, when they reached the brow of the hill, they looked back and could still see the old woman leaning against the door gazing towards the north. When they arrived home, his mother was surprised to see such a good-looking girl and asked him who she was. Wang ZiFu told her YingNing was his cousin, the daughter of his aunt’s. “It was all made up by Mr. Wu. He was lying to you about the location and your cousin. ” cried his mother, “I had a sister married to the Qin’s family but she died many years ago. She can’t be still alive ” she asked about the details about what the old woman looked like and was obliged to acknowledged the identity.




When she was wondering how she could be still living, Mr. Wu came to visit. YingNing retired within. Mr. Wu was lost in astonishment as well after hearing the whole story. He thought for a while and asked, “is the young lady’s name YingNing?” Wang ZiFu confirmed him and asked how he knew. “Mr. Qin was bewitched by a fox spirit after his wife’s death and subsequently died. The fox had a daughter named YingNing. Even after Mr. Qin’s death, the fox spirit frequently came back to visit. The families invited the Taoist priest to exorcise it. The fox then left with her daughter YingNing. Now here she is.” While they were talking, peals of laughter were heard from within. Wang ZiFu’s mother remarked what a silly and innocent girl she was. Mr. Wu asked to be introduced and YingNing came out with a bow. Then she ran back into the room and burst out laughing again. Everyone was amused by her laugh.

Mr. Wu suggested he would go to visit YingNing’s family and find out more about the story and plus he could arrange the marriage. Like some stories we talked about before, this time he came to the same location, there weren’t any houses just some flowers scattered on the hills. He remembered Mr. Qin had buried not too far, but he couldn’t find the grave either.

Wang ZiFu’s mother told YingNing what Mr. Wu found at her home, YingNing showed no signs of fear or alarm. Neither did she cry about she was alone now even when Wang ZiFu’s mother condole with her on no long having a home. She still laughed in a silly way.

If you want to find out what happens next, check out our next episode.



聊斋 志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Episode 95 : YingNing The Laughing Girl – part 2

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Today we will continue our story about Ying Ning , the laughing girl from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异.

Last time, we talked about a man named Wang ZiFu met a girl on the street and had a love sickness. He left home to find the girl. Walking alone on the road with no clue, he headed to the north hill. After around 10 miles, he was in the midst of mountains. Down in the valley below, buried under trees and flowers, he spotted a house. There were a number of willow trees and bamboos around the house. Birds were chirping on the branches. He didn’t venture to go in but sat on a huge rock.

After not too long, he heard a girl’s voice from within calling, “XiaoRong 小荣” and the voice was sweet-toned. While he was listening, a young lady hold a sprig of apricot flower walking toward him from east to the west. She was trying to stick the flower into her hair. As soon as she raised her head, she saw Wang ZiFu stopped what she was doing. Then, smothering a laugh, she gather the flowers and ran into the house. It was the girl Wang ZiFu was looking for!


However, the girl went back into the house and he had any reason to follow her in. There were no one on the street and he was afraid he would forget the location. So he remained sit at the gate from morning till the sunset. He saw the young lady peeking through he door and was astonished to find him still there.


Suddenly, an old woman leaning on a crane came out of the house and asked Wang ZiFu, “ where are you from young man? I heard you were here this morning. What do you want? Are you hungry? ”Wang ZiFu got up quickly and made a bow. “I am here to visit the relatives.” She asked him what their names were but he couldn’t give any answer. At which she laughed and said , “it is funny that you are looking fore some relatives without knowing their names.Why don’t you just come inside and have something to eat. We have an extra bed for you to sleep. You can leave tomorrow morning and find out the names. ” Wang ZiFu was hungry then and besides, this could bring him close to the young lady. So he accepted the offer and followed the old lady into the house.


They walked along a path paved with white stones with red flowers along the way. The fallen pedals scattered on the steps. Passing through another door, it was a yard full of creepers and other flowers. The old woman showed him room clean and tidy. As soon as they sat down, he felt someone was peeking through the windows. “XiaoRong! Please go and prepare some food.” the old lady cried out. A maid outside immediately answered, “yes madam”.

Meanwhile, Wang ZiFu explained where he was from and who he was. The old loday as shocked, “your mother and I are cousins. But due to our poverty and having no sons, we didn’t contact each other for so long. You are my nephew and a grown up man now.” Wang ZiFu said, “I came here to visit you and my cousin but I didn’t remember your name. ” Remember Wang ZiFu’s cousin made up that the girl was his cousin but in real life it turned out to be the truth. How weird! The old lady introduced herself that her husband’s last name is Qin 秦. She had no sons but one daughter , a child of a concubine of her husbands. She adopted the girl after her mother remarried. “She is a clever girl just with less education. She is always joyful without knowing the sorrows of life. I will let you meet with her later.”

After the tasty dinner, the old woman asked the maid to bring Ying Ning to her. After a while, there was a giggling at the door. The old woman cried out, “Ying Ning! Your cousin is here.” There was then a great tittering as the maid pushed into the room. She covered her mouth and couldn’t stop laughing. “Don’t you release we have a guest. Behave well.” YingNing tried to control herself from laughing . Wang ZiFu made her a bow. The old lady introduced each other. Wang ZiFu asked the old lady how old YingNing was. But the old lady didn’t hear him which made YingNing start laughing again.


“I told you” observed by the old woman, “she does’t have much education. She is already 16 years old but as silly as a kid.” “One old younger than me” Wang ZiFu addressed. “What about your wife?” to which Wang ZiFu replied that he had none. The old lady said, “a clever handsome young man like you is not yet engaged? YingNing is single as well. You two would make a great couple if it wasn’t that you two are cousins.” Wang ZiFu said nothing but staring at YingNing. The maid whispered to YingNing “it is the fellow with the wicked eyes. He didn’t change at all!” YingNing started to laugh again. She proposed to the maid that they should go and check the peach flowers in the garden and off they left. As soon as she left the room , she burst into laugh again. The old man gave orders to make bed ready for Wang ZiFu and told him he could stay for a few days.

If you want to find out what happens next, check out our next episode.



Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异

Episode 94: YingNing The Laughing Girl – part 1

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Today we will talk about a girl who likes laughing called YingNing 婴宁. The story is from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋 志异, a collection of stories about ghosts and immortals we already mentioned a lot of times. YingNing is probably the author’s favorite character because at the end of the story he called “my girl YingNing” and the favorite of a lot of readers of the book.


There was a man named Wang ZiFu 王子服 from the place called LuoDian 罗店, whose father passed away when he was a kid. He was clever that he passed the first level of the Imperial Exam at the age of 14. His mother spoiled him and didn’t allow him to stray far away from home. He once was engaged with the daughter from the Xiao’s 萧. Unexpectedly the girl passed away before they got married and he was still looking for a wife.

On the day of the Lantern Festival 上元节, Wang ZiFu was invited by his cousin Mr. Wu, the son of his uncle to go to some celebration events. Not too far when they left the village, Mr. Wu was needed to be home. Wang ZiFu saw plenty of girls going the events, he decided to go by himself in high spirits. Among others, he noticed a girl with her maid. The girl was holding a sprig of plum blossom and was the so the most beautiful girl Wang ZiFu had ever seen. Especially her smiling face was so unforgettable. He stared at her and forgot it was kind of rude. The girl saw him and walked passed by telling her maid, “that guy has a wicked look in his eyes” . She dropped the flower on the ground, laughed and walked away. Wang ZiFu picked up the flower and stood there as if he lost his wits. Just want to explain here, in ancient China, with the influence of Confucianism, men and women were supposed not to have physical contact in the public. If the girl feels like she has a good impression of a guy, instead of asking the guy out for a date or flirting, she would sometimes drop something of her own on the ground as a sign so the guy can see and keep it.


Wang ZiFu went back home in a melancholy mood and hid the flower under his pillow. He lied down to sleep. He would neither talk nor eat. His mother worried about him and even called in priests to draw off evil spirits. Nothing helped but he lost more weight. The doctor gave some prescriptions and he seemed bewildered in his mind. Whatever his mother inquired about how he got sick, he gave no answers. But we probably can tell that he was having a love sickness. In Chinese we call it XiangSiBing 相思病, which basically means love sickness. It is an informal description however it can be associated with depression and mental health problems.


One day his cousin Mr. Wu came to visit. Wang ZiFu started to weep at the sight of his cousin and with the comfort he told everything happened and begged Mr. Wu to help him. Mr. Wu smiled and said, “how foolish you are. I will make inquiries who the girl is. The girl can’t be from an aristocratic family to be walking alone in the country. If she is not engaged, I have no doubt we can arrange the affair. You just need to put yourself together and get well. It is on me now.” Wang ZiFu heard the words and felt much relieved. Mr. Wu told Wang ZiFu’s mother about her son and immediately setting on the girl. All his efforts proved fruitless.

With the hope of seeing the girl again, Wang ZiFu’s appetite returned and got well. After a few days, his cousin Mr. Wu came to visit him again. Wang ZiFu couldn’t wait to ask how it was looking for the girl. Mr. Wu made something up and lied to him, “i already found out who she is. It turned out to be my aunt’s daughter who is still single.” Wang ZiFu was overjoyed and asked who she lived. “On the southeastern hill about 10 miles from here.” Mr. Wu was still lying. Wang ZiFu begged him again and again to do his best.

Wu ZiFu got better and restored the health from the sickness. He checked the flower under the pillow and found that though dried up, the pedals had not fallen. He played with the flower while thinking of the girl. He kept writing letters to his cousin Mr.Wu but Wu didn’t show up with excuses. Plus, his mother made the offers to introduce other girls to him worrying he would have a relapse, he refused each time.

He reflected 10 miles is not far and there wasn’t need to rely on others. He decided to find the girl himself. Carrying the flower in his sleeve, he left home without informing anyone.

If you want to find out what happens next, check out our next episode.



聊斋志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio