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 119: One-Foot Bird

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Today we will talk about a mythical animal in Chinese mythology, a one-foot bird. The creature is called ShangYang 商羊. In the nature, some birds like herons or cranes sometimes stand with one foot so I assume this mythical animal ShangYang might be based on those birds. This mythical one-foot bird always dances before the rain. So since rain normally was regarded as beneficial in the agriculture society like ancient China, ShangYang was a lucky mythical animal.


In the book KongZiJiaYu 孔子家语from the early Han dynasty around 206 BC ~ 220 AD, a collection of sayings of Confucius as a supplement to the book Analects 论语. I am not sure how much the stories in this book KongZiJiaYu really are about Confucius. It says, there was a kind of one-foot bird in the place Qi 齐. The bird jumped and danced around in the palace and people were upset and invited Confucius to solve the problem. Confucius said, “this bird is called ShangYang , a lucky bird to bring water. In the old times, kids like to jump around with one foot like the bird and singing a song about the coming rain. Now the bird shows up. We need to inform people the coming rain and repair dikes to prevent flooding. ” A few days after Confucius’ words, heavy rains fell in the place.


There is a ritual of praying for rain in the ancient China maybe in some places today that people would dress up as a bird with a mask and jump with one foot. There is a pose with one foot jumping in some traditional Chinese dance called ShangYang dance.



孔子家语 KongZiJiaYu

论语 Analects

Episode 112: Snow Spirit

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It is winter time in the north hemisphere.Today we will talk about the Snow Spirit, a mythical animal in Chinese mythology.

Snow Spirit 雪精 is the name of this mythical animal. Guess what animal is the Snow Spirit? A white donkey. In the book TaiPingQingHua 太平清话from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says, Mr. HongYa 洪崖先生 rides a white donkey called the Snow Spirit. Mr. HongYa as an ancient musician and also a Taoist immortal.


In the book GuJinTuShuJiCheng 古今图书集成from the Qing dynasty 清朝, it says, after Mr. HongYa became a Taoist immortal, he rode his Snow Spirit and rose to the sky from a maple tree.


In the book GuJinXiaoShuo 古今小说 from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says, GuShenZhenRen 姑射真人, an immortal is the god of snow, who has a white donkey called Snow Spirit. Whenever the white donkey shed, it snows. A hair of the Snow Spirit falls one inch of snow. Mr. HongYe takes care of the Snow Spirit and usually put it in a gourd which he carries around. Once Mr. HongYa attended a banquet and got drunk. The white donkey ran away from the gourd and shed all over in the world. There was a heavy snow.




太平清话 TaiPingQingHua

古今图书 集成 GuJinTuShuJiCheng

古今小说 GuJinXiaoShuo

Episode 100: Chinese phoenix

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Today is our Episode 100! Thank you for all the listeners who like and support us all the way! What are we going to talk about today?

There is a phrase in Chinese called BaiNiaoChaoFeng 百鸟 朝凤, which means hundreds of birds worshiping the Chinese phoenix. It is from the book TaiPingYuLan 太平预览 from the Song dynasty 宋朝. In the book, it mentions a scene saw by people a Chinese phoenix followed by hundreds of birds while singing, which is a good omen.


Today we will talk about the mythical creature FengHuang 凤凰, Chinese phoenix. The Chinese translation of the Greek mythical creature phoenix is FengHuang and the English translation of the Chinese mythical creature FengHuang is Chinese phoenix. So they are similar, however, quite different.

First, phoenix is associated with the sun that obtains new life by arising from the ashes and dies in a show of flames. FengHuang however, the name Feng 凤 is from the character Feng 风 meaning wind and doesn’t reborn. One represents the worshiping of the sun fire and one represents the worshiping of wind.

Second, the Greek word phoenix derives the name of its purple-red hue that phoenix is the color of red and yellow. There are variations about the coloration of phoenix. FengHuang however is five-colored.

Third, phoenix is as similar in size to an eagle or even larger than ostrich. FengHuang however, according to the historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋朝, is around 6 chi 尺,which is about 180 cm pretty long but also light since it is based on the a peacock or a golden pheasant.

The image and meaning of FengHuang evolved through history. The earliest description is from the book Classics of the Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC, it says there is a five-colored bird called HuangNiao 皇鸟, or LuanNiao 鸾鸟 or FengNiao 凤鸟. The bird is in a shape similar to a chicken. It eats and drinks, sings and dances. When it is seen, the world would be peaceful.


In the book ShuoWenJieZi 说文解字from the Eastern Han dynasty 东汉时期 around the 2nd century, it says, Feng is a holy bird. It represents the wind. It has the neck of a snake, the tail of a fish , the forehead of a stork, the “whiskers” (a handful of red feathers around the neck looking like whiskers) of a Mandarin duck, the pattern of a dragon, the back of a tortoise, the beak of a rooster, and the jaw of a swallow.


In the early times, FengHuang represented power sent from the heavens to the emperors and people used the word FengHuang to represent noble people or more accurately noble men in the ancient times. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. FengHuang likes to land on the Chinese parasol tree. That’s one reason Chinese people the parasol trees.

Since the Tang dynasty, the word has been more causally used. In the early times, Feng represents the male bird and Huang represents the female bird and has the meaning of love and couples. Since the Han dynasty 汉朝 , dragon started to represent royalty and the emperor. FengHuang was gradually feminized and used to represent empresses. The dragon-and-phoenix design is the symbol of harmony relationship between husband and wife.




太平预览 TaiPingYuLan

山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi

Episode 89: Nine Sons Of The Dragon

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I know we haven’t really talked about dragon yet. Since there are so much about the dragon in Chinese mythology, today I decide to talk about the nine sons of the dragon. Why are there nine sons? In Chinese, besides the number, nine also means many like in English a couple of means a few. Nine also was considered the number of the emperor.

There is a Chinese saying called nine sons of the dragon are all different. The myth about that the dragon has nine sons started from the Ming dynasty 明朝 in the book HuaiLuTangJi 怀麓堂集 and ShengAnWaiJi 升庵外集.

There are different variations of the nine sons. According to the book HuaiLuTangJi by the author Li DongYang 李东 阳, it says,

The first son is called QiuNiu 囚牛, a mythical creature that likes music and can be found as a decoration to adorn musical instruments like a string instrument HuQin 胡琴. Niu means cows but I am sure if QiuNiu is a hybrid of a cow and a dragon.


The second son is called 睚眦 YaZi (二 四声), a mythical creature that is aggressive. He likes to fight and can be found as decorations on the cross-guard of swords. It looks like YaZi is having the blade in its mouth. YaZi’s eyes are always widely open and looks like a hybrid of a wolf and a dragon.


The third son is called 嘲风 ChaoFeng, a mythical creature that likes adventures and can be found on the corners of roofs. ChaoFeng represents good luck and power and of course ward off evil spirits.


The fourth son is called 蒲牢 PuLao, a mythical creature that likes to scream and can be found as decorations on the top of bells. So the bells can be heard far away. It says PuLao is scared of whales so the bell hammer sometimes is carved as a whale.


The fifth son is called 狻猊 SuanNi (一 二声), a mythical creature that is quite and likes to sit down and can be found on the bases or at the feet of a Buddhist idols or a Buddhist incense burner. SuanNi looks like a hybrid of a lion and a dragon. Like we talked about in the episode 13 guardian lions that there are no lions in China. The lion symbolism is from Indian culture through Buddhism. The name SuanNi is said a translation of lion from some language from the central Asia. Maybe that’s also a reason that SuanNi can be found around Buddhism statues.


The sixth son is called 赑屃 BiXi (四四声) or BaXia 霸下,a mythical creature with a hard shell looking like a hybrid of a turtle and a dragon. People sometimes misinterpret them as turtles however BiXi has teeth. It is able to carry heavy objects like tombstones.


The seventh son is called 狴犴 BiAn (四四声), a mythical creature that looks like a hybrid of a tiger and a dragon. BiAn likes litigation and stands for justice. It can be found in the court room and prisons.


The eighth son is called 负屃 FuXi (四四声), a mythical creature that likes literature and can be found on the top of tombstones. FuXi looks like dragon itself.


The ninth son is called ChiWen 鸱吻 (一三声), a mythical creature that has a wide throat and likes to swallow. ChiWen looks like a hybrid of a fish and a dragon. It can be found on both ends of the ridgepoles of roofs and looks like they are swallowing the ridgepoles. Since ChiWen is half fish, it can put off fire. So the wooden structured buildings are protected not being caught on fire.

龙生九子 9

According to the book ShengAnJi, there are some variations. There is son called TaoTie 饕餮, a mythical creature that likes to eat and its head pattern can be found on cooking wares.


There is a son called BaXia 虫八 虫夏 (一四声), a mythical creature that like water and can be found on bridges and outlets of sewage.


There is a son called JiaoTu 椒图, a mythical creature that looks like a clam and doesn’t like to be disturbed and can be found on the front door as decorations of door knobs.



怀麓堂集 HuaiLuTangJi

升庵外集 ShengAnWaiJi