Using Chinese Magical Terms
Though generally considered the dominant civilization of East Asia, China is a melting pot of many Asian cultures, heavily influenced by neighboring civilizations such as India.
Within the realm of Chinese fantasy fiction, many terms and words reflect this millennia-long coexistence of imported or native beliefs. In recent decades, terms commonly used in the Wuxia pop fiction genre have “crossed over” to fantasy stories too; such stories are referred to in Chinese as the Xianxia genre. The word Xianxia means “immortal chivalry/hero.”
If you’re looking for Chinese magical terms to spice up your fantasy stories, for example, when naming weapons, here’s a list to choose from. All reflect the rich development of mythical culture in China over the centuries. All, indirectly, reflect Chinese culture and heritage too.
Before choosing, note that the “oriental mythical” flavor derived from using Chinese magical terms also depends on word placement. As such, do read the following sub-sections before examining the list.
Word Placement: The Object Always Comes Last
Most Chinese magical terms on this list are names. They are nouns that could be used to form compound nouns.
A few are verbs that could transform into adjectives when paired with other nouns.
In all cases, the object named or described always comes last in Chinese. For example:
- Xiángmó Jiàn (降魔剑): A demon-subduing sword
- Jiàn Xiángmó (剑降魔): This is downright wrong and will sound more like a person’s name.
Within English writing, such details aren’t necessarily crucial. Readers who do not read Chinese would certainly not know the difference too.
That said, if authenticity is important to you, and if you do not want Chinese readers to dismiss your names as amateurish attempts at oriental exoticism, correct formation is highly recommended.
For example, “Sword of Xiangmo” will sound fine in English but, nonetheless, comical to those familiar with Chinese.
A Note on Chinese (I.E. Mandarin Pronunciations)
Standard Chinese is, in reality, the Beijing dialect. For many foreigners, the tonal differences between characters make this East Asian vernacular frustratingly tough to learn. These tonal differences can result in completely different meanings. For example:
- Dāi (呆): Dumb | Dài (带): To bring
To go into more detail, there are four different tones. Each is represented in Hanyu Pinyin, i.e., the official Mandarin romanization system, by four different diacritics. These glyphs are always written above English vowels. For example:
- ā á ǎ à
For the sake of spoken accuracy and for readers who might be using the following list as a Chinese learning tool, diacritics are included in the romanized terms. On the other hand, whether or not to use such diacritics in your fantasy stories is a matter of stylization preference.
List of Magical Terms and Names
- Bābǎo (八宝): Translated as “eight treasures,” this term could refer to eight sacred treasures in Buddhism, or eight auspicious objects in Chinese culture. Sometimes used to name magical objects of great power or with the ability to bestow fortune.
- Bāguà (八卦): The Chinese name for the Eight Trigrams of Taoism. Said to be derived from markings on the shell of a mythical tortoise, each trigram represents an elemental concept, and in combination, presents the reality of the universe. In turn, the 64 hexagrams derived from pairing trigrams form the basis of the classic divination text, the I Ching. As one of the most significant religious and cultural symbols of China, Bāguà concepts are present in Chinese martial arts, medicine, astrology, astronomy, and of course, geomancy. Within fiction, the term is also widely used to name everything from skills to artifacts, to weapons. In general, anything carrying this name is regarded as intricate, complex, and/or possessing elemental powers.
- Bǎidú (百毒): One hundred poisons. The term doesn’t actually refer to 100 types of poison. Instead, it is a synonym for “extremely poisonous” or poisons in general.
- Báigǔ (白骨): While the characters translate to “white bones,” the term is generally used to name evil weapons and techniques. Particularly, techniques that require unethical practices to master.
- Běidǒu Qīxīng (北斗七星): The seven stars of the Big Dipper. A very popular term in both Xianxia and Wuxia, items and techniques named using this term usually possess celestial powers or complexity. In the Wuxia classic Legend of the Condor Heroes, the Běidǒu Qīxīng Array was a complex battle formation simultaneously executed by seven swordsmen.
- Běimíng (北冥): The vast ocean of the north. Famously mentioned in Zhuangzi’s Free and Easy Wandering and the home of the strange Da Peng. In Chinese fiction, the name is usually used to designate icy powers or the ability to contain any quantity.
- Bìhǎi (碧海): The azure seas. A great term to use when naming powers and objects with oceanic powers.
- Bīngpò (冰魄): In classic literature, this is a metaphor for the moon, with the characters themselves meaning “icy soul.” In newer writings, though, it is used to name objects or skills with icy powers.
- Bìxié (辟邪): While the characters mean “avoiding evil,” the actual meaning is that of “evil banishing.” Great for naming weapons or skills with exorcism abilities.
- Bùsǐ (不死): Undying. Frequently used as an adjective. For example, bùsǐshēn (不死身) i.e. undying body.
- Cāngqióng (苍穹): A poetic term that means “azure sky” or “broad sky.”
- Chīmèi Wǎngliǎng (魑魅魍魉): A generic name for the dangerous spirits of the wild. If used to name objects, only the first two characters are used.
- Chuāncháng (穿肠): “Intestine piercing.” This term is often used to name extremely lethal poisons. Substances that if ingested, will “burn holes” in your intestines.
- Chúnyáng (纯阳): “Pure yang.” Traditional Taoist beliefs state that the world was formed by “pure yang” and “pure yin,” with these two forces also likened to fire and water. “Chúnyáng Zi” is additionally one of the titles of Lü Dongbin, one of the Chinese Eight Immortals. This Chinese magical term is often used to name techniques that purely use Yang force. [Pure yin is known as Chúnyīn (纯阴)]
- Dàbēi (大悲): The epithet for Guanyin, the Chinese Buddhism Goddess of Mercy. Though translated as “great compassion,” newer Wuxia and Xianxia productions have used the term to name techniques of devastating power. Dàzhì (大智) i.e. "great wisdom," the epithet for Manjustri, is sometimes also used.
- Dàluō Jīnxiān (大罗金仙): Benevolent celestial immortals. Though this term is often used in Chinese fantasy stories and drama series, it is not Taoist in origin. Rather, it began as a folkloric reference.
- Dámó (达摩): The Chinese name for Bodhidharma, the transmitter of Zen Buddhism to China. Also, the supposed creator of Shaolin kungfu. In Wuxia, Dámó is often used to name techniques of great power. With Chinese fantasy stories, techniques or artifacts carrying the name are similarly of great (Buddhist) power, and with the ability to banish worldly evil.
- Dìmài (地脉): In geomancy, Dìmài refers to the pulse of the earth. In other words, leylines.
- Dìnghǎi (定海): Ocean-calming. Despite the meaning of the characters, many Xianxia artifacts named as such do not possess oceanic or aquatic powers.
- Dìyù (地狱): The “earthly prison.” In other words, the Chinese name for hell.
- Fàntiān (梵天): The Chinese Buddhism name for Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation. Weapons, artifacts, and techniques carrying this name typically contain great power, though not always of the creation type.
- Fāntiān (翻天): Heavenly upheaval. In the classic saga, Investiture of the Gods, the Fāntiān Seal was an artifact of frightening power. You could effortlessly bash your enemy’s head to pulp with it.
- Fǎshēn (法身): The Chinese term for the Buddhist concept of Dharmakaya. In Chinese fantasy stories, though, it is a generic term that means the “true form” of a god or immortal.
- Fēijiàn (飞剑): “Flying sword.” As such magical weapons are nothing unusual in Chinese fantasy stories, the term is seldom used to name special weapons.
- Fēishēn (飞升): To “fly and rise.” A Taoist term for transfiguration i.e. when a priest attains immortality.
- Fēng huǒ (风火): Wind and fire. This term was most famously used in the classic saga, Investiture of the Gods, to name the fiery, spinning wheels that boy warrior god Nezha stands on. The term could imply blazing speeds too.
- Fènglíng (凤翎): Phoenix feathers. Like in Western fantasy stories, the vibrant feathers of the immortal phoenix are believed to be capable of splendid magic in Chinese fantasy sagas.
- Fú (符): Talisman. In Chinese culture, these could greatly vary in power.
- Fúxī (伏羲): A mythical ancestor of the Chinese race credited with many inventions including the creation of humanity. Part of the mythical Three Sovereigns, Fúxī is also said to be with the creation of the I Ching, having derived the 64 trigrams from markings on the back of a mythical tortoise. Because of this association, his name is often paired with Bāguà (八卦) to name skills of great complexity or with the ability to control elements. For example, 伏羲八卦剑 (The Fúxī Bāguà Sword).
- Gōngdé (功德): Merit. In Chinese culture and especially Chinese Buddhism, the accumulation of merits assures good rebirth after one’s passing.
- Gǔ (蛊): Though most online services translate this character as “poison,” within the Chinese language, it exclusively refers to the exotic and often horrific poisons used by minority tribes. For example, the ones purportedly favored by the Miao Tribe.
- Guǐ (鬼): The Chinese word for “ghost.” Of note, weapons or techniques containing this character aren’t necessarily terrifying. Rather, the connotation is that of “macabre” or "wicked."
- Guǐgǔ (鬼谷): Ghostly valley. This term is sometimes used to name dangerous, desolate areas. However, it more commonly refers to Guiguzi (鬼谷子), a semi-mystical strategist, philosopher, and seer from the Warring States Period.
- Guǐkū (鬼哭): Ghostly wailing the likes of banshee screams.
- Guǐyì (诡异): The Chinese adjective for “macabre.”
- Hánbīng (寒冰): Freezing ice. In the Chinese language, 冰 simply means ice. By adding 寒 before it, the ice is implied to be exceptionally cold, un-melting, or formed over a long period of time.
- Hàotiān (昊天): The “broad sky” or “clear sky.” Also, one of the original titles of the Jade Emperor. In the Chinese fantasy novel and drama series, Duoluo Continent, Hàotiān was used to name the strongest faction and weapon.
- Huānlè (欢乐): Happiness. As innocuously as the term is, when used to name poisons or elixirs, it suggests aphrodisiacal properties.
- Huànyǐng (幻影): Illusion. Could be used as a noun by itself or to name objects and techniques.
- Hùntiān (浑天): Armillary. In ancient Chinese beliefs, the world was believed to be encapsulated by a sky the likes of an armillary sphere. Artifacts carrying this Chinese magical term thus typically have infinite properties, such as endless length or the ability to contain anything. For example, Warrior God Nezha’s Armillary Sash.
- Hùnyuán (混元): Primordial. The term additional carries the connotations of “raw energy” and “encompassing might.”
- Huǒyàn (火焰): Fiery. In Journey to the West, the Flaming Mountains of Xinjiang was named Huǒyàn Shān (火焰山). The ferocious flames made even the great Monkey King fume in frustration.
- Jiàngtóu (降头): Hex or black magic. Culturally, this term is today, near-exclusively used to describe the curses and spells of Southeast Asian countries. This phenomenon is partly due to the slew of Hong Kong horror movies featuring such magic in the 80s.
- Jiànzhèn (剑阵): A sword array or formation. Executed by multiple swordsmen at the same time, such arrays are always formidable.
- Jiāolóng (蛟龙): A dragon with the ability to cause floods. The name could also imply writhing might or strength, and is often used to name swords.
- Jiāyè (迦葉): The shortened, Chinese name for Mahākāśyapa, one of the ten disciples of Gautama Buddha. Often used to name objects or skills with Buddhist powers.
- Jīng (经): Sutra. In Chinese fantasy stories and Wuxia sagas, though, the word more often describes written tomes of superior skills or forbidden secrets.
- Jīngāng (金刚): The Chinese Buddhism term for “Vajra.” In Buddhism and Hinduism, a Vajra is a small, single-hand weapon that’s indestructible and with the properties of thunderbolts. It could also refer to supreme, irrefutable truths. Often translated as “diamond” in English writings, Jīngāng is heavily used in Chinese fantasy writings and Wuxia stories to name skills of great physical might.
- Jìngshì (净世): To “cleanse the world.” In other words, to bring upon an apocalypse in hopes of a better tomorrow.
- Jīnsī (金丝): “Gold wire” or “golden threaded.” Often used to name armor pieces that are intricate, priceless, or near indestructible.
- Jiǔlí (九黎): The ancient tribe defeated by the Yellow Emperor, one of the three legendary sovereigns of Ancient China. The victory itself secured rulership of China for the Yellow Emperor and thus in Chinese fiction, the name is sometimes used to name antagonistic tribes. Particular, dangerous foreign tribes.
- Jiǔlóng (九龙): The Nine Dragons. In folklore, this refers to nine Chinese dragons that held dominion over water bodies. In the Baopuzi ancient text, though, it is instead a generic term for the celestial steeds of gods. Today, 九龙 is of course, also the Chinese name for Hong Kong’s Kowloon District.
- Jiǔtiān (九天): The “Nine Heavens.” Taoism states that the heavenly realm is divided into nine layers, somewhat akin to Dante’s description of paradise. The term could alternatively refer to the eight ordinal directions, with the “ninth direction” being the middle.
- Kūnlún (昆仑): In Chinese mythology, the Kunlun mountain range, located to the west of China, is the abode of gods and immortals. It is also said to be the home of the Queen Mother of the West, an ancient goddess that predates even Taoism.
- Léihuǒ (雷火): “Thunder fire.” An alternate term for lightning.
- Léngyán (楞严): The Chinese Buddhism name for the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, an important and influential text in Mahayana Buddhism. Like other such names, it is sometimes used to name weapons or skills with great Buddhist powers. The term itself translates to “heroic progress” or “heroic valor.”
- Liànhuà (炼化): To refine. Could also mean to metamorphose.
- Liǎngyì (两亿): A Taoist term for the Yīn and the Yáng, as based on terminology found within the I Ching. (See below entry on Yīnyáng)
- Liánhuā (莲花): Lotus. As lotuses represent purity in Buddhism, objects, and techniques named after the plant tend to have purifying abilities in Chinese fantasy stories.
- Líhuǒ (离火): The character 离 means “to depart/leave.” However, it is also the name for the Chinese trigram for fire. The character is thus often paired with 火 i.e. fire to describe magical, intense flames.
- Lìng (令): This Chinese character could mean “decree” or “order.” It could also refer to the wooden/metal tokens representing such decrees. In Chinese fantasy stories, Lìng are usually weapons with significant power. In actual Taoism worship, they are also talismans that could be carried or displayed.
- Línglóng (玲珑): “Exquisite” or “amazing.” One of the most famous magical artifacts in Investiture of the Gods is the Línglóng Pagoda. This golden artifact, mere inches tall, could expand to the size of an actual pagoda and imprison any enemy.
- Língxiāo (凌霄): The name of the Chinese trumpet creeper flower. Could also refer to the high heavens/sky. In Journey to the West, the celestial court of the Jade Emperor was named the Precious Língxiāo Palace.
- Língzhū (灵珠): Magical pearl. In Chinese fantasy stories, a common trope is that of protagonists or antagonists gaining great power from ingesting such pearls. Alternatively, heroes and villains could be the human form of magical pearls that have achieved sentience.
- Lónghǔ (龙虎): Dragon and tiger. A metaphor that means “martial.”
- Lúnhuí (轮回): Reincarnation.
- Luóhàn (罗汉): The Chinese Buddhism term for “Arhat.” In Buddhism, an Arhat is an enlightened follower who is supremely wise but has yet to achieve full enlightenment i.e. Buddhahood. Within Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, there are also the “18 Arhats,” these being 18 monks with distinctive features. The name is thus often used to name physical skills or weapons of great physical strength or with Buddhist powers.
- Miàofǎ (妙法): A Buddhist term that roughly means “profound doctrine.” Part of the Chinese name of the famous Lotus Sutra, and part of the mantra recited by Japanese Nichiren Buddhists.
- Míhún (迷魂): To “bewilder the soul.” In other words, to bewitch.
- Mítuó (弥陀): The shortened name of Amituofo i.e. Amitabha Buddha, the Western Buddha of Longevity.
- Mó (魔): Demon. Could also mean “demonic” when used as an adjective.
- Móhē (摩诃): The Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term, Maha. Like the original word, it means “great,” “splendid,” or “abundant.”
- Mówáng (魔王): Demon king or lord.
- Pán (盘): A plate or tray. As mundane as this sounds, in Chinese fantasies, pán can be objects of unbelievable powers. When so, they tend to be elaborately decorated or infused with primordial elemental might.
- Pénglái (蓬莱): A mythical island populated by immortals in Chinese mythology. Said to be located at the eastern end of the Bohai Sea.
- Pīlì (霹雳): An extremely loud thunder. In the Chinese language, this term is almost entirely used as a metaphor to describe events or movements that are impossibly swift and aggressive.
- Qiánkūn (乾坤): Qián and kūn are the names of the trigrams for heaven (sky) and earth respectively. When used in combination, they mean “the universe,”
- Qiānnián (千年): Millennium. This term is frequently used to describe exceptionally powerful villains. For example, a Qiānnián serpent demoness. (Implication here being the fiend has been cultivating/training for centuries) It is often also used to name medicine that is unusually potent or effective because of age. For example, Qiānnián ginseng. A thousand-year old ginseng.
- Qībǎo (七宝): Seven types of precious metals and gems in Buddhism. There is no written consensus over what the metals and gems are, though. For example, the Prajnaparamita Sutra defines the seven as gold, silver, colored glaze, clam, agate, amber, and coral. On the other hand, the Amitabha Sutra replaces coral with red pearl. Used as a Chinese magical term, qībǎo generally implies that an object is extremely valuable.
- Qīnglóng, Báihǔ, Xuánwǔ, Zhūquè (青龙, 白虎, 玄武, 朱雀): The Four Holy Beast of Chinese culture and astrology, commonly referred to in whole as Sìlíng (四靈) too. Respectively, they are the Green Dragon, the White Tiger, the Black Tortoise, and the Vermillion Bird. In this order, they also represent the elements of wood, metal, water, and fire. Or the directions of East, West, North, and South.
- Qīngtiān (青天): “Blue sky” or “clear skies.” A Chinese metaphor for justice.
- Qīshā (七煞): A major star in the Purple Star astrology system. Though the individual characters literary translate to “seven killers,” within the divination system, this celestial body actually denotes bravery, rational perseverance, and steadfast loyalty. More interesting, Wuxia stories frequently name deadly, murderous skills after this star.
- Qīyào (七曜): The seven days of the week. Or, the seven stars of Ursa Major. Note that as like the Japanese week, Chinese weekdays were originally named after elements and celestial bodies. For example, Monday was the “moon” day. Tuesday was the “fire” day. And so on.
- Rúlái (如来): The Chinese translation for the Pali Buddhist term, “Tathagata.” In Buddhist sutras, Gautama Buddha refers to himself as this, the term denoting a person who is beyond transitionary phenomena such as reincarnation. In Chinese culture, however, the term is synonymous with the character for Buddha i.e. fó (佛). Chinese historians attribute this to author Wu Cheng’en referring to Gautama Buddha as Rúlái in Journey to the West.
- Rúyì (如意): “As you wish.” This term is often used to name auspicious objects such as those sold in Fengshui shops or during the Chinese New Year. Most famously also used to name the morphing golden cudgel of Sun Wukong, the handsome Chinese Monkey King.
- Sānhún Qīpò (三魂七魄): In Taoism, the human soul is described as consisting of “three souls and seven spirits.” Within pop culture depictions, the loss of any component doesn’t equate to destruction or death too. However, one whose soul is incomplete will tend to be bewildered or deranged.
- Sānjiè (三界): The “three realms.” In Buddhist philosophy, these are the realms of desire, form, and the formless.
- Sānmèi (三昧): The Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term, “Samadhi.” Though Samadhi refers to a state of proper meditative consciousness, in Chinese fantasy stories, it is frequently used to name exceptionally powerful elemental magic. For example, Sānmèi Zhēnhuǒ (三昧真火) refers to magical fire that cannot be extinguished by normal means.
- Shénmù (神木): Magical wood. In Chinese fiction, any object made from this will have some sort of miraculous properties.
- Shénnóng (神农): The “Divine Farmer” is a legendary ruler who’s sometimes considered one of the mythical Three Sovereigns of Ancient China. His most famous legend is also that of him ingesting hundreds of herbs to understand their properties; in the end, dying after eating particularly toxic strands of grass. Objects with miraculous medicinal properties are therefore often named in his honor.
- Shényǐn (神隐): “Elusive” and “unpredictable.” Could also be used to describe inexplicable human disappearance i.e. a vanished person is assumed to have been “hidden” by gods. (Trivia: The famous Miyazaki animated movie, Spirited Away, is based on the latter concept)
- Shíkōng (时空): Time and space. This term is more commonly used in Chinese science fiction than classical fantasy.
- Sìxiàng (四象): The classic Chinese term for the sectors of the four cardinal directions, as well as the astrological phenomena/implications associated with each.
- Suō (梭): “Shuttle” or “spindle.” In Xianxia stories, oversized spindles could be objects of unbelievable power. For example, one of the deadliest weapons in the Shǔshān stories was a spindle, described as capable of nuclear-like destruction.
- Suǒhún (鎖魂): “Soul-locking.” As the translation implies, this is the act of taking over a victim’s body. In other words, similar to Imperius Curse in the Harry Potter books.
- Tàihào (太昊): A title of Fúxī (see above).
- Tàijí (太极): Also known in English as “Tai Chi” or “Shadowboxing,” this concept of Chinese martial arts was supposed developed by Wudang Taoist priest Zhang Sanfeng. (Modern historians debate this, however). A fusion of the Yīn and Yáng, the term Tàijí is extensively used in Chinese writings to name objects and skills that are Taoist in nature. Or anything involving the harmonization of opposing elements.
- Tàiyǐ (太乙): Also written as the similar-sounding 太一, this term has many meanings. In Chinese astrology, it is the name of a star. Within Taoism text, it instead refers to the Tao i.e the philosophical Way of the faith. Jump forth to medieval times, Sage Taiyi was the name of Nezha’s teacher in Investiture of the Gods, the benevolent master who gifted the warrior god his most powerful weapons. Lastly, Sage Taiyi, or Tàiyǐ Zhēnrén (真人), is today worshipped by Taoists as the savior of the dead. Within the Taoist pantheon, he is one of the highest-ranking gods too.
- Tàiyīn (太阴): An archaic name for the Moon. Could also mean “lunar.”
- Tàiyuè (太岳): An alternate name for Tàishān (泰山). Throughout history, Mount Tai, one of the Five Holy Mountains of China, has been a place of historical and cultural importance. Within the Chinese language, Tàishān is also a metaphor for trustworthiness and integrity.
- Téngkōng (腾空): Airborne. The connotation is more of the “ability to fly by itself,” though.
- Tiāngāng (天罡): The “handle” of the Big Dipper constellation. In Taoist invocations, could also refer to the 36 celestial warriors under the command of the divine Zhenwu Dadi (真武大帝). [The “pan” of the Big Dipper is known as Xuánjī (璇玑), the name formed from the latter characters of the Chinese names for Phecda and Merak.]
- Tiānjié (天劫): “Heavenly calamity” or “unavoidable disaster.”
- Tiānláng (天狼): The “heavenly wolf,” or more accurately, Sirius. Interestingly, while some Taoist temples venerate the personification of Sirius, modern Chinese movies and TV drama series tend to use the name to describe calamities or evil weapons.
- Tiānmó (天魔): The Chinese name for Mara, the Buddhist Demon of Temptation. Infamously, Mara attempted to thwart the Buddha’s enlightenment by tempting the latter with his three beautiful daughters.
- Tiānyī (天一): The “heavenly one,” or more accurately, “the first in heaven.” When used to name objects, it implies supreme superiority or uniqueness.
- Tú (图): This Chinese character simply means “diagram” and is one of the first that Chinese children learn in kindergarten. In Chinese fantasy stories, however, magical diagrams count among the most powerful artifacts. Typically, they could capture any enemy, harbor a vast array of powers, or have entire worlds contained within.
- Wúcháng (无常): There are two meanings for this term. It could refer to impermanence. It could also refer to the Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常) i.e. the two ghastly officers of the Chinese hell. In general, the term is seldom used to name objects too. Instead, it is used to form epithets or the names of sinister characters.
- Wǔguǐ (五鬼): The Five Ghosts of Folkloric Taoism. Frightening as the name is, the Five Ghosts are not evil. Rather, they are spirits that represent nether energies, with powers that could be used for good. For example, they could be invoked to bring wealth or to banish one’s enemies.
- Wújí (无极): Infinity or infinite. Ancient Chinese philosophy further used this term to refer to the primordial particles that created the universe.
- Wǔléi (五雷): The “five thunders,” or more accurately, the “five thunderbolts” of Taoism magic. Each thunderbolt is respectively the power of one of the five directional Thunder Sovereigns of the Taoist pantheon. Each bolt could also represent one of the five Chinese elements.
- Wúliàng (无量): A Chinese Buddhism term that means “boundless.” When used to name weapons or techniques, it implies infinite strength.
- Wūxiāng (无相): “Formless” or “shapeless.” Often used in Chinese Wuxia writings to name techniques that are unpredictable i.e. near impossible to avoid.
- Wǔxíng (五行): The Chinese five elements. These being, gold (metal), wood, water, earth, and fire.
- Xiángmó (降魔): To subdue demons. Often used to name objects capable of banishing evil.
- Xiángyún (祥云): “Blissful clouds” or “auspicious clouds.” Nonsensical as the translation sounds in English, classic Chinese fantasy stories are fond of describing gods as always appearing while engulfed by or standing atop such clouds.
- Xiānjiè (仙界): The realm of the (good) immortals. Of note, the realm of the gods is typically called Tiānjiè (天界) or Tiāntíng (天庭), the latter meaning “heavenly court.” Vice versa, the realm of demons is called Mójiè (魔界).
- Xiāntiān (先天): Innate. In mythical and mystical texts, it could also mean “primordial.”
- Xiānyuán (仙缘): One’s propensity to achieve immortality or godhood.
- Xiānyuè (仙乐): “Celestial music.” Modern Xianxia drama series sometimes depict such music as capable of dispelling evil.
- Xiūliàn (修炼): To train. To cultivate one’s skills and prowess.
- Xiūluō (修罗): The snipped, Chinese transliteration for the Hindu/Buddhist term, “Asura.” Within the Chinese language, the term now represents “physical conflict,” “warrior might,” “aggressiveness,” and even “danger.” Very often used to name objects and techniques, or to form epithets for deadly characters.
- Xīxīng (吸星): An “absorbing star.” A newer term that’s used to describe objects or techniques with the ability to absorb energy. Some newer stories also use this term as a name for black holes.
- Xuántiě (玄铁): “Mysterious” or “pure” metal. Used to name rare and extremely durable metals.
- Xuánmíng (玄冥): The “mysterious nether.” This Chinese magical term is nowadays usually used to name deadly skills heavy in the use of negative energies. Was also used in classic Chinese poetry as a poetic name for winter.
- Xuántiān (玄天): The “way of nature.” Alternative, it could refer to the northern sky.
- Xuányáng (玄阳): The “mysterious yang” or “mysterious positive energy.” As 玄 could also mean “black,” while 阳 is the Chinese character for “sun,” this term alternatively refers to eclipses.
- Xuānyuán (轩辕): The legendary birthplace of the Yellow Emperor, the name lately used by his (supposed) descendants as a surname. In modern times, the name has also been used to describe objects with celestial powers. Lastly, Taiwanese game maker Softstar previously translated the term as “heavenly,” when naming their best-selling RPG series.
- Xuèyǐng (血影): Popularized by the Shǔshān series of Xianxia stories, this term simply means “blood shadow.” In the stories, it is the name of one of the deadliest antagonists.
- Yīnyáng (阴阳): The Chinese dualistic philosophy of the positive and negative, variously translated as bright-dark, hot-cold, masculine-feminine, etc. A central concept in Chinese mythical cultivation, philosophy, medicine, Wushu, and so on, it is important to know that yīn doesn’t imply evil. In most applications, a harmonious balance of both elements is sought after.
- Yōumíng (幽冥): The netherworld or “of the nether.” While the above-mentioned Dìyù refers to the afterlife prison for sinners, Yōumíng is a lyrical term for the entire world of the ghostly deceased. There is a vague connotation of sadness and mystery too.
- Yuán (缘): Interestingly, though this character is commonly used in the Chinese language, there are few proper translations online, perhaps because the concept is uniquely Asian. To an extent, it means “destiny” or “fate,” but it can also imply “providence.” When used to refer to the destined connection between two persons, the meaning further becomes similar to the Shinto concept of musubi. Lastly, a common Chinese lament is yǒuyuán wúfèn (有缘无份). This means “destined to meet but not fated to be together.”
- Yuánshén (元神): In Taoism, one’s soul could be elevated into a higher form through careful cultivation. The transfigured form, known as yuánshén, is then capable of supernatural abilities such as astral projections.
- Zàohuà (造化): Google translates this as “good fortune.” However, it more accurately means “repercussions.” For example, the consequences of one’s actions, as based on the Buddhist laws of karma.
- Zhàoyāo (照妖): Devil-revealing. Most often used to name mirrors capable of revealing the true forms of devils and demons.
- Zhèn (阵): Arrays or formations. Arrays are deadly businesses in Chinese fantasy stories or Wuxia sagas, whether when executed by one person or as a group. One could liken such arrays to an entire abode of control in which enemies have slim chances of escape.
- Zhēnqì (真气): Qì is well-known as the “internal energy” of Qigong and meditation practices. When the word Zhēn is added before qì, it implies mythical energy or a purer form of power.
- Zhòu (咒): This character has two different meanings. It could refer to curses. It could also refer to mantras and chants such as those recited in Tibetan Buddhism. Within the Chinese language, the character is also a verb.
- Zhōutiān (周天): A Taoist term for time, based on the observation of astrological movements. Generally speaking, one Zhōutiān is equivalent to one full day. However, in Chinese Qigong practices, the term instead refers to the cycle of one breath within a practitioner’s body. There is also the distinction between a big (大, Dà) Zhōutiān and a small (小, Xiǎo) one.
- Zuìniè (罪孽): Sin. Moral crimes. You are going to end up in Dìyù if your accumulated Zuìniè is as “high as a mountain.”
Appendix A: Further Notes on How to Correctly Use Chinese Magical Terms in English Writings
Examples: Taiyi Xiangmo Sword | Xuanming Hanbing Rod | Damo Dinghai Pearl
This five-character combination is extremely popular in Xianxia stories. The formation always begins with a mythical name or title, followed by a description i.e. adjective. The object, as mentioned earlier, is always placed last.
Examples: Xuantian Sword | Fenghuo Spear | Dabei Sutra
This simpler, three-character formation is perhaps more suitable for use in English writing. Within Chinese literature, the shorter name doesn’t necessarily imply weaker powers too.
3. [Noun/Name]-[Simple Adjective/Noun]-[Object]
Examples: Shennong Golden Cauldron | Jiutian Jade Rod | Jiulong Fiery Palm
This four-character formation could be awkward to use in English, though in some cases, it might still be effective. In essence, the adjective used before the object is a common one the likes of “red,” “jade,” “flying,” etc.
Appendix B: Buddhist Powers Versus Taoist Powers?
In Western fantasy stories, it would be weird to differentiate between “Nordic powers” and “Greek powers.” Or “Christian powers” versus “Islamic powers,” etc.
In Chinese fantasy stories, though, the difference between Buddhist powers and Taoist powers is a major trope. It doesn’t only denotes separate origins, even the methods of cultivation are implied to be starkly different.
The above said, few Chinese can pinpoint the exact differences. Furthermore, classic sagas such as Journey to the West and the Zu Mountain series heavily suggest that Buddhist powers are superior, without fully explaining why.
Personally, I view “Buddhist powers” as heavy on philosophical enlightenment and the banishing of worldly deception, while “Taoist powers” focus on utilizing elemental forces, benefitting from mathematical complexities, and harmonizing with nature.
Given both forms of power are ultimately used to banish evil in fantasy stories, any actual difference, whatever they are, might not be relevant too.
Appendix C: The Stars of the Chinese Big Dipper
Each star of the Big Dipper constellation has two names in Chinese. That is, a traditional one and a Taoist one, the latter used in divination systems.
Unless you’re fussy about the exact connotations of the names, all can be used to name artifacts.
|English Name||Chinese Name||Taoist Name|
Appendix D: Reference Sources
Apart from the numerous Chinese fantasy i.e. Xianxia movies and drama series produced each year, the terms on this list are sourced from the following works:
Investiture of the Gods: The most extensive fantasy saga in classic Chinese literature, this Ming Dynasty work is a treasure trove of exotic-sounding weapons and artifacts. One could easily write an entire book introducing all the magical items.
Journey to the West: Like Investiture, the adventures of the Monkey King also feature a plethora of magical items and weapons.
The Zu Mountain Sagas: Known as Shǔshān Jiànxiá Zhuàn (蜀山剑侠传) in Chinese, the original books were never finished. The unusual blend of magic with Wuxia elements, in turn, inspired numerous movies, drama series, and video games in recent decades. Like Investiture, a key attraction of the stories are the many fantastical artifacts and weapons.
© 2021 Ced Yong