88 Chinese Legendary Creatures to Know About

Updated on September 13, 2019
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Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video-gaming.

88 magical and fascinating Chinese legendary creatures.
88 magical and fascinating Chinese legendary creatures.

Preface

While several notable Chinese legendary creatures 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 beings residing in them. Though obviously fictitious, many of the supernatural creatures mentioned within 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.

Note:

Names in brackets are written in Simplified Chinese characters i.e. the form used in the People’s Republic of China. Note that many of these characters are considered archaic and rarely used in modern Chinese writings.

Shan Hai Jing is the most “authoritative” source of Chinese legendary creatures.
Shan Hai Jing is the most “authoritative” source of Chinese legendary creatures.
  • Ao (): 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
  • Aoyin (傲因): A raggedly, awful monster with long claws mentioned in Shenyi Jing. 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 an elephant in whole. This myth gave rise to the Chinese saying, ren xin bu zu she tun xiang (人心不足蛇吞象). Translated as “Man’s greed is worse than the snake that swallows an elephant.”
  • Bai Ze (白泽): An ancient magical beast 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, learnt about the many supernatural beings of the world.
  • Baihu (白虎): The White Tiger. One of the Four Symbols of the Chinese Constellations and guardian of the west. In Feng Shui, the White Tiger is associated with metals.
  • Bifang Niao (毕方鸟): A single-legged 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 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 fox tails and 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 wild and malicious spirits.
  • Chongming Niao (重明鸟): A powerful avian in ancient Chinese folktales 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 peculair 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 supernatural creature mentioned in Shan Hai Jing. The ancient compendium describes Dangkang as the harbinger of harvests.
  • Daolao Gui (刀劳鬼): A deadly monster 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 legendary creatures “recorded” in Shan Hai Jing, the Dijiang is a crimson, six-legged, four-winged creature with no facial features at all. This strange beast was also written about by Taoist sage Zhuangzi.

Generic illustration of Dijiang found in most versions of Shan Hai Jing sold today.
Generic illustration of Dijiang found in most versions of Shan Hai Jing sold today.
  • 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 listed in Shan Hai Jing. Described as wolf-like, red-eyed, and with a white tail.
  • Erzhong Ren (耳中人): A truly, truly weird creature mentioned in the second story of Liaozhai, the critically acclaimed medieval compilation of Chinese supernatural stories. So the story goes, 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 emerged from his ear. Unfortunately, before the scholar could have a heart-to-heart talk with the ogre, a door knock startled the creature 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 (): 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 actually a long-neck monstrosity, similar to the Rokurokubi in Japanese Yokai mythology. The name itself is also sometimes used to describe monstrous flying heads.
  • Feifei (腓腓): A fox-like white supernatural creature recorded in Shan Hai Jing. Rearing one has the lovely benefit of dispelling depression.
  • Feng (): 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 union, the Fenghuang is one of the most beloved Chinese auspicious symbols. Occasionally, it also replaces the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac.
  • Fengsheng Shou (风生兽): A leopard-like creature with a near 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 several ancient texts such as Baopuzi, it is also 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. The serpent 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 forked tail.
  • Gu (): Gu is one of the generic Chinese terms for “hex,” although it could also refer to the creepy crawlies used in black magic. Chinese pop entertainment tend to depict Gu as exotic and poisonous insects.
  • Gudiao (蛊雕): A weird beast listed in the Southern Mountain Chapter of Shan Hai Jing. The Gudiao is described as similar to a condor but also noticeably different. It is also horned, man-eating, and with a shriek like that of a human baby.
  • 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 Chinese 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 Huangdi when the latter was trapped by the tempests and fogs of Chiyou. Some versions describe Hanba as a heavenly maiden in green gowns.
  • Hou (): Also known as Denglong, Hou is a Chinese legendary 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 northwards howls are declarations that the decadent emperor should leave the Forbidden City i.e. get lost.
  • Hu Jing (狐精): Hu Jing simply means fox/vixen spirit in the Chinese language, but for any Chinese, the name symbolizes far 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 and seduction. Chinese stories old and new almost 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, whichever 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, fearsome 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 the purpose of 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 supernatural horror.

The Jiangshi is probably the most famous Chinese legendary creature in pop culture.
The Jiangshi is probably the most famous Chinese legendary creature in pop culture.
  • 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. However, the divine bird was eventually demonized by the culture dominance of the reigning Zhou Dynasty. In subsequent centuries, the legendary bird’s unnatural appearance further led to it being associated with disaster, to the extent it was given the alternate name of Gui Che (鬼车), or “ghostly vehicle.” Some folktales even 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 chase the creature away.
  • Jiuying (九婴): According to Huainanzi, Jiuying was a deadly beast 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, fond of carrying away females for the purpose of 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 texts describe the magical beast as a servant of Xiwangmu and endowed with the power of prophecy.

You wouldn’t want to enter in a verbal argument with a Kaiming Shou.
You wouldn’t want to enter in a verbal argument with a Kaiming Shou. | Source
  • Kui (): 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. One of the most dangerous antagonists of Journey to the West, this insidious creature impersonated Su Wukong after the Monkey King abandoned his pilgrimage following a tiff with Tripitaka. The impersonation was so perfect only Gautama Buddha could see through the presence. Gautama Buddha also listed the Six-Eared Macaque as one of the Four Magical Monkeys. Su Wukong himself was one of these, which was why the Six-Eared Macaque had powers similar to his.
  • Luan (): 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 legendary creatures listed in the compendium, the Mafu is described as having a cry similar to that of an infant’s voice.
  • Nian (): The 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. This myth forms 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 Southern Chinese mythology. According to Soushen Ji, Panhu was originally a worm, extracted from the ear of an old woman of 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 married the princess 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 monster 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 legendary 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 and Qirin. 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 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 Constellations and guardian of the east. In Feng Shui, the Green Dragon is associated with woods.
  • Quzhou Sanguai (衢州三怪): Three murderous demons from medieval Chinese folktales of the Zhejiang region that were also featured in one of the stories of Liaozhai. They were:
    • The White Cloth Demon (白布): 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): An ogre that relentlessly chases solitary humans traveling in the night, till the latter drop 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): Its quack is so deadly, all who hear it will fall sick, and eventually die.
  • Shan Xiao (山魈): Single-legged, mountain ogres mentioned in Shan Hai Jing.

Apart from monsters, Shan Hai Jing also listed many tribes of strange humans. For examples, those with multiple heads and those with a gaping hole in the chest.
Apart from monsters, Shan Hai Jing also listed many tribes of strange humans. For examples, those with multiple heads and those with a gaping hole in the chest.
  • Shangyang (商羊): In ancient Chinese legends, a one-legged divine bird that would dance prior to rainfall.
  • Shen (): 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 metaphor in the Chinese language for mirages and delusions.
  • Si (): 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.

Artistic impression of Taowu and Taotie in the Japanese RPG game series, Shin Megami Tensei.
Artistic impression of Taowu and Taotie in the Japanese RPG game series, Shin Megami Tensei.
  • Teng (): A winged serpent mentioned in various ancient Chinese texts.
  • Tiangou (天狗): The 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 the Chinese characters for Tiangou are the same as the Japanese Kanji for Tengu. However, the two mythical creatures are totally different.
  • Tianlong Babu (天龙八部): The Chinese name for the Aṣṭagatyaḥ, eight legions of non-human beings in Buddhist Cosmology. Respectively, they are:
    • Tian (): Deva. Godlike beings with extremely long lifespans.
    • Long (): Naga, or dragons. Some traditions also consider such dragons as immense serpents.
    • Yecha (夜叉): Yaksha. Nature spirits that could either be benevolent or violent.
    • Gan Ta Po (乾闼婆): Gandharva. Lower deities with an affinity for music.
    • A Xiu Luo (阿修罗): Asura. Powerful demigods often considered to be the natural enemies of the peace-loving Devas
    • Jia Lou Luo (迦楼罗): Garuda. Huge birds with a fondness for eating dragons or 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 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. Described as an officer of Gong Gong, the Ancient Chinese God of Water.

Artistic impression of Xiangliu in the Japanese RPG resource book series, Truth in Fantasy.
Artistic impression of Xiangliu in the Japanese RPG resource book series, Truth in Fantasy.
  • 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, vicious boar mentioned in Shan Hai Jing.
  • Xiyou (希有): Xiyou means “rare” in Chinese. 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 Constellations 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 creature 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 Chinese name for 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 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 (): 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 national 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 (): A mythical bird with red eyes, a black body, and purple green feathers. Its feathers are highly toxic. In several ancient Chinese texts, its feathers used to concoct poisonous wine for the purpose of execution.
  • Zhu (): The archaic Chinese name for owls. Also, the name for a terrible bird with a human face and human hands for talons. Zhu are said to be the enemies of the gentlemen. They are also determined to create civil strife through 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 Constellations 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 legendary creature is so kind, it wouldn’t even step onto grass. It also eats only animal that have died naturally.

Xiezhi is known as Haetae in Korea, where it is also a symbol of justice and righteousness.
Xiezhi is known as Haetae in Korea, where it is also a symbol of justice and righteousness.

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    © 2019 Kuan Leong Yong

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