Ced earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
While several notable Chinese mythical creatures, monsters, and demons originated from classic Chinese myths, far more were “first officially recorded” in ancient compendiums.
Compendiums such as the 4th Century BC geographical compilation, the Classic of Mountains and Seas.
Known as Shan Hai Jing (山海经) in Chinese, Classic of Mountains and Seas is an encyclopedic collection describing faraway lands and the fantastical tribes residing in them. Though obviously fictitious, many of the Chinese mythical creatures mentioned were eventually incorporated into other Chinese legends and folktales.
Together with similar works such as the Huainanzi Treatise (淮南子) and Soushen Ji (搜神记), these compendiums laid the foundation for many Chinese myths in the centuries to follow. In a way, they could be considered as China’s earliest, and bestselling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them textbooks.
Names in brackets are written in Simplified Chinese characters i.e. the form used in the People’s Republic of China. Note too that many of these characters used for these names are considered archaic and rarely used in today’s Chinese writings.
- Ao (鳌): An ancient giant tortoise that supports mountains and continents, the legs of which, supposedly, were also used by the goddess Nüwa to hold up the heavens. In the Huainanzi Treatise, it is said that an Ao carries the Taoist magical mountains of Penglai, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou on its back.
- Aoyin (傲因): A raggedly, awful Chinese mythical beast mentioned in Shenyi Jing. Armed with long, deadly claws and said to be very fond of eating human brains.
- Ba She (巴蛇): According to Shan Hai Jing, Ba She is an immense snake capable of swallowing entire elephants. The myth, in turn, gave rise to the Chinese saying, ren xin bu zu she tun xiang (人心不足蛇吞象), which translated as “Man’s greed is worse than the snake that swallows elephants.”
- Bai Ze (白泽): An ancient Chinese mythical creature capable of human speech and knowledgeable about the beings of the world. It is usually depicted as a four-legged creature with a human face. In Chinese creation myths, Huang Di encountered Bai Ze in the east and from this legendary creature, learned about the many supernatural beings of the world.
- Baihu (白虎): The White Tiger. One of the Four Symbols of the Chinese cosmology and guardian of the west. In Feng Shui, the White Tiger is associated with metals.
- Bifang Niao (毕方鸟): A Chinese mythological bird said to be the harbinger of fiery disasters. Its name is based on the sound of crackling burning wood.
- Bixi (赑屃): An ancient Chinese mythical dragon with the shell of a tortoise. Like Ao (see above), it is capable of holding up mountains and continents. Classic Chinese architecture often uses Bixi as a decorative element for the bases of pillars, plaques, etc.
- Boyi (猼訑): An ancient goat-like supernatural entity with nine foxtails and several eyes on its back. Wearing the fur of a Boyi has the benefit of heightening one’s courage.
- Changui (产鬼): Awful-looking wraiths believed to either be the spirits of women who died during childbirth, or the demons that cause the misfortune.
- Chenghuang (乘黄): Shan Hai Jing describes Chenghuang as a magnificent, divine steed. In today’s written and spoken Chinese, the name is still synonymous with a splendid horse.
- Chi Mei Wang Liang (魑魅魍魉): A generic term for malicious spirits of the wilderness, or mountain demons.
- Chongming Niao (重明鸟): A powerful avian in ancient Chinese folktales that's capable of defeating massive beasts. It has two irises within each eye. (Chongming means double sight in Chinese)
- Da Peng (大鹏): In Zhuangzi’s Xiaoyao You, Da Peng was a huge bird whose wing flaps were capable of stirring the seas. Originally an immense fish thousands of miles long known as a Kun, comparative mythologists have likened Da Peng to the Arabic Roc and the Hindu Garuda. Scholars continue to debate about the symbolic meaning of Zhuangzi’s peculiar tale.
- Dafeng (大风): In the Chinese language, Dafeng literally means a strong wind. In ancient Chinese myths though, Dafeng was a savage bird that was ultimately killed by Hou Yi.
- Dangkang (当康): A green, boar-like monster mentioned in Shan Hai Jing. The ancient compendium describes Dangkang as the harbinger of harvests.
- Daolao Gui (刀劳鬼): A deadly Chinese demon that was first described in Soushen Ji. Daolao Gui reside in the mountains and are described as having howls akin to storms. They also attack by firing poisonous projectiles.
- Daoshou (倒寿): A ferocious beast of the west, described as having the body of a tiger and the face of a human. According to Shenyi Jing, a Daoshou will always battle to death.
- Dijiang (帝江): One of the weirdest Chinese mythical creatures “recorded” in Shan Hai Jing, the Dijiang is a crimson, six-legged, four-winged creature with no facial features. This strange paranormal beast was also written about by Taoist sage Zhuangzi. In 2021, the Dijiang enjoyed its first worldwide cinematic debut when it was featured as an animal companion in the Marvel Studios movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
- Diren (氐人): An aquatic tribe similar in appearance to the merfolks of Western mythologies. Mentioned in various ancient Chinese texts.
- Diting (谛听): The steed of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha in Chinese Buddhism. It symbolizes faithfulness and has the feature of many animals.
- Duoji (多即): A harbinger of fiery disasters mentioned in Shan Hai Jing. This Chinese mythical beast is described as wolf-like, red-eyed, and with a white tail.
- Erzhong Ren (耳中人): A truly, truly weird creature introduced in the second story of Liaozhai i.e. the critically acclaimed Qing Dynasty compilation of Chinese supernatural stories. According to the tale, a scholar diligently practiced a mythical form of qigong, and one day, heard a tiny voice in his ear. The second time it happened, a miniature ogre actually crawled its way out. Unfortunately, before the scholar could have a heart-to-heart talk with the creature, a door knock startled the ogre and sent it scuttling away in panic. Thereafter, the scholar was delirious for half a year. It is up to the reader to decide whether author Pu Songling intended the creepy story to be a metaphor for schizophrenia.
- Fei (蜚): A boar-like creature described in Shan Hai Jing. It has a serpent’s tail and only one eye. Also, the bringer of drought, pestilence, and famine.
- Fei Tou Luan (飞头蛮): First mentioned in Soushen Ji, the Fei Tou Luan is a long-neck monstrosity similar to the Rokurokubi in Japanese Yokai mythology. The name itself is also sometimes used to describe monstrous flying heads similar in those in Southeast Asian horror folktales.
- Feifei (腓腓): A fox-like white supernatural creature recorded in Shan Hai Jing. Rearing one has the lovely benefit of dispelling depression.
- Feng (封): Ancient Chinese texts describe Feng as a humanoid creature with no feet and blood. Some modern scholars believe the creature to be a breed of the lingzhi mushroom.
- Fenghuang (凤凰): Often equated with the phoenix, the Chinese Fenghuang was originally a pair, with Feng being the male and Huang being the female. Synonymous with prosperity and blissful unions, the Fenghuang is till today, one of the most popular Chinese auspicious symbols. Occasionally, it also replaces the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac.
- Fengsheng Shou (风生兽): A leopard-like Chinese mythical creature with a nearly impregnable hide. It could be killed by repeatedly striking its head, but upon wind entering its mouth, would instantly be revived. (Thus “fengsheng,” which means wind-born). Described in ancient texts such as Baopuzi, it is said that humans can gain half a millennium of life from ingesting the brain of a Fengsheng Shou together with Chrysanthemum.
- Fuchong (蝮虫): A deadly snake listed in Shan Hai Jing. The largest could weigh as much as a hundred Chinese jin. It also has poisonous needles protruding from its nose.
- Goushe (钩蛇): A legendary and deadly serpent mentioned in various ancient Chinese texts. Other than being very large, it also has a lethal forked tail.
- Gu (蛊): Gu is a generic Chinese term for “hex,” although it could also refer to the creepy crawlies used in black magic. Chinese pop entertainment, particularly Hong Kong horror movies from the 80s, tend to depict Gu as oversized poisonous insects.
- Gudiao (蛊雕): A Chinese mythical bird listed in the Southern Mountain Chapter of Shan Hai Jing, the Gudiao is similar to a condor but also noticeably different. It is horned, man-eating, and with an awful shriek like that of a human baby. In short, this is one mythological creature few people would want to meet.
- Guhuo Niao (姑获鸟): A nine-headed demonic bird mentioned in several ancient Chinese texts. The medicinal compendium, Benchao Gangmu, describes it as the supernatural manifestation of women who died in childbirth. Some descriptions also state that the Guhuo Niao often cradles kidnapped children.
- Gui Chai (鬼差): A generic term for officers and agents of the Chinese underworld. Usually portrayed as ogre-like and monstrous in pop entertainment.
- Hanba (旱魃): In Chinese creation myths, Hanba, or just Ba, was the primordial spirit of drought. It assisted the Yellow Emperor when the latter was trapped by the tempests and fogs of Chiyou. Some versions also describe Hanba as a heavenly maiden in green gowns.
- Hou (犼): Also known as Denglong, Hou is a Chinese mythical creature believed to be one of the sons of the Dragon King. It symbolizes the mandate of heaven, and is described as resembling a deer but with the characteristics of many other animals. Today, four statues of Hou still stand at the top of Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate. Legend goes that the ones facing south i.e. away from the Forbidden City will roar if the emperor does not return from an expedition. In contrast, the ones facing north will howl if the presiding emperor is decadent and useless. The northward howls are declarations that the decadent emperor should leave the Forbidden City i.e. abdicate.
- Hu Jing (狐精): Hu Jing simply means fox/vixen spirit in the Chinese language, but for any Chinese, the name symbolizes much more. Thanks to the depiction of the evil consort Daji in Investiture of the Gods, “Hu Jing” is near synonymous in Chinese culture with adultery, seduction, and female demons. Chinese stories old and new inevitably depict such spirits as scheming and sexy seductresses.
- Huangfu Gui (黄父鬼): A terrifying plague spirit mentioned in Shenyi Jing. Though it feasted on ghosts, any household it visits will also succumb to illness.
- Jiangshi (僵尸): English write-ups tend to translate Jiangshi as the “Chinese vampire.” However, this hopping, paranormal creature is actually more of a Chinese zombie. Nowadays always portrayed as a pallid corpse dressed in Qing Dynasty imperial regalia, the most famous myth about the Jiangshi is that of corpses being reanimated this way for easy transportation to burial grounds or hometowns. In the 80s, thanks to the success of the Hong Kong horror-comedy Mr. Vampire, East Asia was briefly infatuated with this picture-perfect supernatural horror.
- Jin Chan (金蟾): A three-legged golden toad that resides in the Lunar Palace. In Chinese culture and Feng Shui, Jin Chan is a popular symbol of luck and wealth.
- Jingwu (金乌): More famously known as the “Three-legged Crow,” Jingwu, or the Golden Crow, has long been associated with the sun in East Asian cultures. In Chinese mythology, the ten suns that scorched the Earth during Emperor Yao’s reign were all Golden Crows. All but one were later shot down by the legendary archer, Hou Yi.
- Jiutou Niao (九头鸟): Jiutou Niao means “Nine-Headed Bird” and in Ancient China, it was worshipped by the ancestors of the Warring State of Chu till demonized by the cultural dominance of the reigning Zhou Dynasty. In subsequent centuries, the legendary bird’s unnatural appearance further led to it being associated with disasters, to the extent it was given the alternate name of Gui Che (鬼车, ghostly vehicle). Some folktales additionally state that the Jiutou Niao will suck away the life force of children. On seeing it, all lights must be extinguished and hounds released to banish the evil creature.
- Jiuying (九婴): According to Huainanzi, Jiuying was a deadly Chinese mythical creature of fire and water, with nine heads and a cry like that of a wailing baby. Extremely hostile to mankind, it was ultimately killed by Hou Yi.
- Jueyuan (玃猿): A breed of apes mentioned in several ancient Chinese texts. In most versions, they are described as kidnappers and, fond of carrying away females for rape and child-breeding.
- Kaiming Shou (开明兽): Yet another weird beast listed in Shan Hai Jing, the Kaiming Shou is described as having the body of a large tiger and nine human heads. Other ancient compendiums describe the magical beast as a servant of Xiwangmu and endowed with the power of prophecy.
- Kui (夔): Shan Hai Jing describes the Kui as an ox-like creature with no horns and only one leg. Legend has it that Huang Di used the hide of one to make a wondrous war drum. The echo of that drum could be heard from as far as 500 miles away.
- Liu Er Mi Hou (六耳猕猴): The “Six-Eared Macaque” is arguably the most dangerous antagonist in Journey to the West. This deceptive creature impersonated Su Wukong after the Monkey King abandoned his pilgrimage following a tiff with Tripitaka, with the impersonation so perfect, only Gautama Buddha could see through the pretense. Gautama Buddha later also listed the Six-Eared Macaque as one of Four Magical Monkeys. Su Wukong himself was one of this quartet, which was why the Six-Eared Macaque had powers similar to his.
- Luan (鸾): A Chinese mythical bird similar to the Fenghuang. It represents spring. It is also the symbol of Xiwangmu, the Taoist goddess of Mount Kunlun.
- Mafu (马腹): A Shan Hai Jing monster with the body of a tiger and the face of a human. Like many other Chinese mythical creatures listed in the compendium, the Mafu is described as having a cry similar to that of an infant’s voice.
- Nian (年): A horrific, man-eating monster that emerges from the mountains every Chinese New Year to feast on villagers. It was eventually driven away by the sound of firecrackers and the sight of red objects. The myth then became the basis for several Chinese New Year customs, with the Chinese character for Nian, also that for “year.”
- Panhu (盤瓠): A divine hound in the folktales of Southern China. According to Soushen Ji, Panhu was originally a worm, extracted from the ear of an old woman in Emperor Ku’s court. After the old woman placed the worm into a gourd, it transformed into a magical hound with five colors. Subsequent, Panhu assisted the imperial court in suppressing a rebellion and was given the princess’ hand as reward. Today, Panhu is considered the mythological ancestor of China’s Yao and She minority tribes. Some versions also describe Panhu as having a human body, but with the head of a hound.
- Pao Niao (狍茑): An ancient, man-eating Chinese legendary creature with the body of a goat, human hands and feet, and eyes in the armpits. Some Chinese ancient texts equate Pao Niao with Tao Tie of the Four Perils notoriety (see below).
- Penghou (彭侯): A murderous tree spirit mentioned in Soushen Ji. It has the body of a human but the head of a dog.
- Pixiu (貔貅): A hybrid Chinese mythical creature resembling a winged lion, the Pixiu is one of the most beloved symbols of wealth in Chinese Feng Shui practices. According to legend, the Pixiu only eats gold, silver, and jewels, and has no rectum, thus whatever wealth it ingests will never be expelled. Feng Shui practitioners further differentiate between the male and female Pixiu, with the female Pixiu said to be capable of deflecting misfortune.
- Qicang (奇鸧): An alternate name for the Nine-Headed Bird (see above).
- Qilin (麒麟): Also known as the Kirin, the Chinese Qilin is an auspicious beast with the body of a steed, and the horns and other features of a dragon. Its appearance announces the arrival of a sage or enlightened ruler, and in Taoism, the Qilin also punishes the wicked. In Chinese art, the Qilin is one of the most widely used decorative motifs.
- Qinglong (青龙): The Green Dragon. One of the Four Symbols of the Chinese cosmology and guardian of the east. In Feng Shui, the Green Dragon is associated with woods.
- Quzhou Sanguai (衢州三怪): Three murderous Chinese demons from medieval folktales of the Zhejiang region. They are:
- The White Cloth Demon (白布怪): A seemingly harmless piece of white cloth on the ground that would drag you to a pond for drowning, should you attempt to pick it up.
- The Single Horn Demon (独角怪): An ogre that relentlessly chases solitary humans traveling in the night, till the latter drops dead from exhaustion. If you happen to witness someone being chased by this demon, you will also fall ill and die
- Duck Demon (鸭怪): The Duck Demon's quack is so deadly, all who hear it will fall sick and die.
- Shan Xiao (山魈): Single-legged mountain ogres mentioned in Shan Hai Jing.
- Shangyang (商羊): In ancient Chinese legends, a one-legged divine bird that dances before rainfall.
- Shen (蜃): A gigantic clam/oyster in Chinese myths capable of creating illusions with its breath. Today, hai shi shen luo (海市蜃楼), or “the sea city and tower of Shen,” continues to be a Chinese metaphor for mirages and delusions.
- Si (兕): A mythical Chinese beast that resembles a rhinoceros. Also, the steed of Taoism Founder, Laozi.
- Sixiong (四凶): The Four Perils. In Chinese creation myths, these were four terrible creatures defeated by Huang Di. They were:
- Hun Dun (混沌): A winged demon with six legs and no face.
- Qiong Qi (窮奇): A man-eating monster.
- Tao Wu (檮杌): A savage, tiger-like creature.
- Tao Tie (饕餮): A gluttonous demon.
- Teng (螣): A winged serpent mentioned in various ancient Chinese texts.
- Tiangou (天狗): Ancient Chinese believe that eclipses were the results of the moon and sun being swallowed by a celestial dog known as “Tiangou.” Subsequently, the name was also used in Chinese astrology for comets that would bring great misfortune. Note that although the Chinese characters for Tiangou are the same as the Japanese Kanji for Tengu, the two mythical creatures are totally different.
- Tianlong Babu (天龙八部): The Chinese name for the Aṣṭagatyaḥ i.e. eight legions of non-human beings in Buddhist cosmology. Respectively, they are:
- Tian (天): Deva. Godlike beings with extremely long lifespans.
- Long (龙): Naga, or dragons. Some traditions consider such dragons as immense serpents.
- Yecha (夜叉): Yaksha. Nature spirits that could be benevolent or aggressive.
- Gan Ta Po (乾闼婆): Gandharva. Lesser deities with an affinity for music.
- A Xiu Luo (阿修罗): Asura. Powerful demigods often considered the natural enemies of the peace-loving Devas
- Jia Lou Luo (迦楼罗): Garuda. Huge birds with a fondness for eating dragons and serpents. In Hindu mythology, “Garuda” is the steed of Vishnu.
- Jin Na Luo (紧那罗): Kinnara. Celestial musicians. Described as half-human, half-bird.
- Mo Hou Luo Jia (摩睺罗伽): Mahoraga. Serpents with a human upper body.
- Wuzhiqi (无支祁): A legendary primordial water demon that wreaked havoc during Da Yu’s time. It resembled an ape and could also summon storms. Ultimately subdued by Yinglong and imprisoned under Mount Gui.
- Xiangliu (相柳): An ancient nine-headed Chinese snake monster, similar in form to the Greek Hydra. Said to be an officer of Gong Gong, the Ancient Chinese God of Water.
- Xiaotian Quan (哮天犬): The celestial dog of Yang Jian, a popular Taoist deity. Xiaotian Quan briefly fought Sun Wukong in Journey to the West.
- Xiezhi (獬豸): A wondrous Chinese legendary creature with the innate ability to differentiate the guilty from the innocent. Today, Taiwanese military police badges continue to bear an image of Xiezhi.
- Xiqu (犀渠): A man-eating, boar-like Chinese mythical creature mentioned in Shan Hai Jing.
- Xiyou (希有): Xiyou means “rare” in the Chinese language. It is also the name of an immense bird mentioned in several ancient Chinese texts. According to these accounts, the wingspan of Xiyou stretches over a thousand Chinese miles.
- Xuanwu (玄武): The Black Tortoise. One of the Four Symbols of the Chinese cosmology and guardian of the north. In Feng Shui, the Black Tortoise is associated with water. It is also commonly portrayed as a tortoise with a serpent entwined around it.
- Yayu (猰貐): In ancient Chinese myths, Yayu was a benevolent supernatural creature that was unfortunately killed by Wei, one of the 28 Constellation Gods. After resurrection by heaven, Yayu transformed into a savage, man-eating beast. Yayu was ultimately killed again by the legendary Chinese archer, Hou Yi.
- Yecha (夜叉): The Chinese name for Yaksha, “Yecha” is nowadays also used in Chinese writings and speech to refer to a fearsome person. The name is a popular epithet in Chinese Wuxia and Xianxia stories too.
- Yigui (疫鬼): The generic name for Chinese spirits/demons of plagues.
- Yinglong (应龙): In Chinese creation myths, Yinglong was a winged dragon and rain deity, and the chief lieutenant of Huang Di. In some versions of the classic myth, Yu and the Great Flood, Yinglong also assisted Yu to capture the flood demon Wuzhiqi (see above).
- Yingzhao (英招): A horse-like creature with tiger stripes and bird wings. Shan Hai Jing describes it as a keeper of celestial gardens.
- Yong (颙): A harbinger of drought. Described as having the appearance of an owl, but with a human face and four eyes.
- Yonghe (雍和): An awful harbinger of natural disaster recorded in Shan Hai Jing. It has a yellow body, an ape face, and red eyes. Often also regarded as an ancient god of panic and fear.
- Yuetu (月兔): The moon rabbit or jade rabbit of Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival fame. Chang’e’s companion and pet after she was stranded on the moon.
- Zhen (鴆): A Chinese mythical bird with red eyes, a black body, and extremely toxic purple green feathers. In several ancient Chinese texts, its feathers were used to concoct poisonous wine for the purpose of execution.
- Zhu (鴸): The archaic Chinese name for owls. Also, the name of a terrible bird with a human face and human hands for talons. According to legend, Zhu are the enemies of gentlemen. They are also determined to create civil strife by inflicting hardship on the righteous.
- Zhuhuai (诸怀): A man-eating boar with four horns listed in the Northern Mountain Chapter of Shan Hai Jing. It has human eyes and a call similar to that of wild geese.
- Zhujian (诸犍): A leopard-like creature with a long tail and a human face. Like Zhuhuai, another strange creature listed in the Northern Mountain Chapter of Shan Hai Jing.
- Zhuque (朱雀): The Vermilion Bird. One of the Four Symbols of the Chinese cosmology and guardian of the south. In Feng Shui, the Vermilion Bird is associated with fire.
- Zhuya (朱厌): A harbinger of war recorded in Shan Hai Jing. It has the appearance of a ferocious white ape with red feet.
- Zouyu (騶虞): An ancient, benevolent beast recorded in Shan Hai Jing. This Chinese mythical creature is so kind, it wouldn’t even step onto grass. It also only eats animals that have died naturally.
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List of Chinese Supernatural Text and Compilations Referenced:
- Baopuzi (抱朴子): Written by Jin Dynasty scholar Ge Hong, this ancient Taoist text discusses many cultivation methods. Some chapters also discuss literature and politics.
- Huainanzi Treatise (淮南子): Believed to be written before 139 BC, this collection of essays includes many mentions of ancient Yin Yang theories. It is also political in nature, with a focus on defining the conditions necessary for social order.
- Liaozhai (聊斋): Known in English as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, Liaozhai is very simply, China’s most famous compilation of ghostly stories. Written during the early years of the Qing Dynasty, it is also one of the four great works of classic Chinese literature.
- Shan Hai Jing (山海经): As mentioned in my introduction, this 4th Century BC compilation is easily the most comprehensive text to refer to when seeking information on Chinese mythical creatures.
- Shenyi Jing (神异经): An ancient collection of supernatural folktales, believed to be originally compiled by the Western Han Dynasty scholar, Dongfang Shuo. Several chapters are noted for their similarities to Shan Hai Jing.
- Soushen Ji (搜神记): Though less famous than Journey to the West, this collection of ancient Chinese legends and supernatural stories is still celebrated as one of the greatest texts as far as Chinese mythicism is concerned.
- Zhuangzi (庄子): The writings of Taoist sage Zhuangzi range from the philosophical to the baffling. The Wandering Beyond chapter i.e. Xiaoyao You is also famous for its description of fantastical creatures and places.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Ced Yong