A partial list of Chinese mythological creatures which have appeared in Xianxia and Xuanhuan novels.
This Bestiary is meant to complement the Beings & Creatures section of the main glossary.
Dragon (龙 lóng) – a mythical, chimeric creature of utmost importance in Chinese mythology and culture. It represents Yang, the Chinese Emperor, masculinity, imperial power, transformation, good fortune, and much more. Dragons wield tremendous power over the natural world and are particularly adept at controlling water and the weather. [Picture]
- Chinese Dragons are quite different from Western Dragons.
- Chinese Dragons have the physical attributes of many different animals, some of which include a camel’s head, a snake’s body, a carp’s scales, a catfish’s whiskers, a stag’s antlers, an eagle’s talons, etc…
- Dragons are sometimes divided into four categories: Jiaolong (蛟龙) which are scaled dragons, Yinglong (应龙) which are winged dragons, Qiulong (虬龙) which are horned dragons, and Chilong (螭龙) which are hornless dragons.
Phoenix (凤凰 fènghuáng) – also known as the Fenghuang. A mythical bird of great importance in Chinese mythology and culture. It represents Yin, the Chinese Empress, femininity, virtue, and good fortune. [Picture]
- Although it’s commonly translated as “Phoenix”, the Fenghuang is quite different from a Western Phoenix.
- The Fenghuang looks like a pheasant with five-colored plumage and the tail feathers of a peacock.
The Four Divine Beasts (四神兽 sì shénshòu) (四大神兽) – also known as the Four Symbols (四象). They hold great significance in Chinese cosmology, with each beast representing a Cardinal Direction, a Season, and an Element.
- Azure Dragon (青龙 qīnglóng) – represents the East, Spring, and the Wood element. [Picture]
- White Tiger (白虎 báihǔ) – represents the West, Autumn, and the Metal element. [Picture]
- Black Tortoise (玄武 xuánwǔ) – represents the North, Winter, and the Water element. It’s also known as the Turtle-Snake (龟蛇), and it looks like a tortoise entwined with a snake. [Picture] The Black Tortoise is closely connected to the warrior god Xuanwu.
- Vermilion Bird (朱雀 zhūquè) – represents the South, Summer, and the Fire element. It looks like a red pheasant, although sometimes it’s depicted with multi-colored plumage. [Picture] It shouldn’t be confused with the Chinese Phoenix.
- In mythology, the Yellow Dragon is an incarnation of the Yellow Emperor – the reputed ancestor of the Chinese people.
The Four Auspicious Beasts (四瑞兽 sì ruìshòu) – also known as the Four Divinities (四灵). A revered group of animals which symbolize prosperity and longevity. They are the Dragon, Phoenix, Qilin, and Tortoise.
- The Four Auspicious Beasts are sometimes said to be the rulers of all other animals. Dragons rule over animals with scales, Phoenixes rule over animals with feathers, Qilins rule over animals with fur or hair, and Tortoises rule over animals with shells.
Qilin (麒麟 qílín) – also known as Kylin, Kirin, or the Chinese Unicorn. A divine and auspicious beast, sometimes described as looking like a hybrid of a dragon and a deer or horse. Known for its great wisdom, nobility, benevolence, and magical powers. [Picture]
- Qilin is sometimes translated as “Unicorn”, but it’s different from Western Unicorns. However, they’re similar in that they’re both good and “pure” creatures. Also, Qilin horns and Unicorn horns are both considered to be very rare and magical.
The Nine Sons of the Dragon (龙生九子 lóng shēng jiǔzǐ) – according to legend, the Dragon King has nine offspring, and they each have very distinct appearances and personalities. There are more then nine creatures listed below because not all sources agree on which creatures make up the set of “Nine Sons”.
- Qiuniu (囚牛) – looks like a small yellow dragon. Known for its love of music.
- Yazi (睚眦) – looks like a hybrid of a dragon and leopard. Known for its bad temper and love of fighting.
- Chaofeng (嘲风) – looks like a savage beast. Known for its fearlessness and love of high places.
- Pulao (蒲牢) – looks like a small dragon. Known for its love of roaring.
- Suanni (狻猊) – also called the Suanni Lion. It looks like a hybrid of a dragon and lion. Known for its fierce appearance and love of tranquility and burning incense.
- Bixi (赑屃) or Baxia (霸下) – looks like a hybrid of a dragon and tortoise. Known for its great strength and love of carrying heavy objects (often stone steles) on its back.
- Bi’an (狴犴) – also called the Bi’an Tiger. It looks like a hybrid of a dragon and tiger. Known for its awe-inspiring presence and love of justice and righteousness.
- Fuxi (负屃) – looks like a dragon. Known for its love of literature and calligraphy.
- Chiwen (螭吻 / 鸱吻) – looks like a hybrid of a dragon and fish. Known for its love of swallowing things and its power over water. It can suppress evil and extinguish fires.
- Gongfu (蚣蝮) – looks somewhat like a dragon. Known for its love of swimming and its power over flood waters.
- Jiaotu (椒图) – looks like a hybrid of a dragon and a snail or clam. Known for its love of solitude.
- The Qilin, Pixiu, Hou, and Taotie are also sometimes counted among the Nine Sons of the Dragon, but they have separate entries in this bestiary.
Torch Dragon (烛龙 zhúlóng) – also known as Zhulong or the Candle Dragon. A deity with a human face and a long, serpentine body. It can control day and night simply by opening or closing its eyes. It can also control the weather simply by breathing. [Picture]
- In mythology, the Raindragon was a servant of the Yellow Emperor, assisted Yu the Great in taming the floods, and is sometimes credited with killing Chiyou and Kuafu.
- It’s called the “Responding Dragon” because it responds to the prayers of people wishing for rain.
Soaring Dragon (飞龙 fēilóng) – also known as Feilong or the Flying Dragon. A type of dragon which flies among the clouds. The term “Soaring Dragon” is also used to refer to very talented people.
- In mythology, there were originally ten Suns in the form of ten Golden Crows. They one day went on a rampage and scorched the earth, which led to the godly archer Houyi slaying nine of them to put an end to the crisis.
- In mythology, it’s a rabbit that lives on the moon. It accompanies the moon goddess Chang’e and produces the elixir of life by pounding medicinal herbs.
Heavenly Dog (天狗 tiāngǒu) – also known as Tiangou or the Celestial Dog. In mythology, it’s a black dog which caused eclipses by trying to eat the sun and moon. People would customarily beat on gongs and set off firecrackers during an eclipse in order to scare the Heavenly Dog away. [Picture]
- The Heavenly Dog is possibly associated with the star Sirius, which is called the Dog Star in many different cultures. In China, the star is called 天狼 = the Celestial Wolf, Heavenly Wolf, or Sky Wolf.
Fox Spirit (狐狸精 húlijīng) – also known as a Fox Demon (狐妖). A mythical fox that has gained spiritual awareness and magical powers, usually by absorbing the natural energy of the world over many years. Some Fox Demons are capable of assuming a human form, and the malicious ones will transform into beautiful women in order to seduce and devour men. [Picture]
- Nine-tailed Fox (九尾狐 jiǔwěihú) – an especially powerful Fox Demon. Generally, Fox Demons will gain additional tails as they grow older and more powerful, with a total of nine tails being the maximum number.
Xiezhi (獬豸 xièzhì) – a mythical beast somewhat similar to the Qilin, but with only a single horn on its head. The Xiezhi symbolizes justice and can magically distinguish between good and evil, truth and lies, the innocent and the guilty. When faced with a wicked person, it will gore them with its horn and then devour them. [Picture]
Pixiu (貔貅 píxiū) – an auspicious beast which looks like a winged lion with the head of a dragon. It has great powers of luck, being capable of attracting wealth to itself while warding off evil. [Picture]
- In some accounts, there are two different types of Pixiu: the Tianlu (天祿) which has one horn and can attract wealth, and the Bixie (辟邪) which has two horns and can ward off evil.
Guardian Lions (石狮 shíshī) (石狮子) – also known as Guardian Stone Lions. Mystical beasts which guard temples, homes, and other buildings. They always come in pairs: male and female, representing Yin and Yang. They have protective powers and a connection to Buddhism. [Picture]
Baize Lion (白泽 báizé) – also called the Beast of the White Marsh. An auspicious beast which can speak human languages and is known for its great wisdom. It looks like a white lion with horns and (sometimes) multiple sets of eyes. [Picture]
- “Baize” literally means “White Marsh”.
- In mythology, the Baize taught the Yellow Emperor about all the supernatural creatures in the world and how to overcome them.
Thousand Li Horse (千里马 qiānlǐmǎ) – a mythical horse which can run a thousand li (roughly 400 km or 250 miles) in a single day. Sometimes said to possess wings. This term is also used to refer to any fine horse in general. [Picture]
- The Heavenly Horse (天马 tiānmǎ) is a similar creature.
Feiyi Snake (肥遗 féiyí) – a mythical snake with a single head and two bodies. Drought occurs wherever it appears.
Zhuyan Ape (朱厌 zhūyàn) – a mythical ape with a white head and red legs. War breaks out wherever it appears.
Zhujian Leopard (诸犍 zhūjiān) – a mythical beast which resembles a leopard. It has a single eye, a long tail, and the ears of an ox. Known for its great strength and loud roaring.
Peng (鹏 péng) – also known as the Kunpeng (鲲鹏) or Golden-winged Great Peng (金翅大鹏). An unfathomably gigantic bird which transforms from a fish. Just by spreading its wings, it can shroud the heavens. And with a single flap, it can travel vast distances. [Picture]
- The fish is the Kun, the bird is the Peng, and together they are called the Kunpeng.
- The Peng is often conflated with the Roc and the Garuda – two other gigantic, mythical birds of prey.
Luan Bird (鸾 luán) (鸾鸟 luánniǎo) – a mythical bird related to the Fenghuang (Phoenix). For this reason, it’s also called a Phoenix at times. The Luan’s plumage is blue, as opposed to the red or multi-colored plumage of the Fenghuang.
- Luan Birds are sometimes said to serve as the mounts or messengers of the gods. For example, the Qingniao (“Blue Birds”) belonging to the Queen Mother of the West are supposedly Luan Birds.
Nine-headed Bird (九头鸟 jiǔtóuniǎo) – also known as the Nine Phoenix (九凤 jiǔfèng) or Nine-headed Phoenix. A mythical bird distantly related to the Fenghuang (Phoenix). Its nine heads are depicted as either bird or human heads. [Picture]
Jian Bird (鹣 jiān) – a mythical bird with only one eye and one wing. Jian Birds survive by joining in pairs (鹣鹣), and this mutual dependence symbolizes the bond between a husband and wife.
Bifang Crane (毕方 bìfāng) (必方) – a mythical fire bird. It resembles a Red-crowned Crane, but only has a single leg. The name “Bifang” is supposedly an onomatopoeia for the sound of wood crackling in a fire. They are considered to be ominous, with sightings of Bifang Cranes heralding disastrous wild fires.
The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (天龙八部) – eight races of deities from Buddhist cosmology, sometimes said to be protectors of Buddhism. Although they are much more powerful and long-lived than humans, they too are trapped in the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). A famous Wuxia novel was inspired by and named after these deities.
- Deva (天人) (天众) – heavenly beings. They are said to be the highest and most blessed lifeforms in the Three Realms.
- Naga (那伽) (龙众) – dragon-like or serpent-like beings. They are sometimes said to live in the seas and to have powers over water. They have great enmity with the Garudas.
- Yaksha (夜叉) – demonic beings that eat human flesh. Interestingly, they are also sometimes said to be benevolent nature spirits. Possibly related to Rakshasas.
- Gandharva (乾闼婆) (乾达婆) – heavenly beings known for their skill as musicians. They consume fragrances (especially from incense) instead of ordinary food.
- Asura (修罗) (阿修罗) – also known as Shura or Ashura. Warlike beings commonly depicted with three heads and six arms. Well-known for their anger, belligerence, and great strength. They once warred with the Devas and were cast out of the Heavens.
- Garuda (迦楼罗) – gigantic bird-like beings which hunt Nagas. Garudas are often conflated with Rocs and Pengs.
- Kinnara (紧那罗) – heavenly beings sometimes depicted as half-human and half-bird. Known for their skill in singing and dancing.
- Mahoraga (摩睺罗伽) (摩睺罗迦) – serpent-like beings which live beneath the earth.
Rakshasa (罗刹 luóchà) – also known as Raksha or Luocha. Ugly, demonic beings which eat human flesh. Often said to be shapeshifters with powers of illusion. They may belong to the same species as Yakshas, with Rakshasas being the evil nature spirits and Yakshas being the good nature spirits. They are also sometimes considered to be related to Asuras.
Hungry Ghosts (饿鬼 èguǐ) – also known as Preta. Tormented spirits which suffer from insatiable hunger, often depicted with distended bellies. Born from the souls of people who were excessively greedy or miserly in life. Alternatively, born from the souls of people who’ve been forgotten by their descendants (and thus no longer receive offerings through ancestor worship). [Picture]
The Four Fiends (四凶 sìxiōng) – in mythology, a group of monsters which were banished by Emperor Shun to bring order to human society.
- Hundun (混沌) – represents Chaos. It’s a faceless being, sometimes described as resembling a dog or bear. It attacks the virtuous and obeys the commands of the wicked. “Hundun” is also the name of the Primordial Chaos in Chinese mythology.
- Taotie (饕餮) – represents Gluttony. It has no body, only the head of a ferocious beast. It seeks to devour everything.
- Taowu (梼杌) – represents Ignorance. Sometimes described as resembling as tiger or boar. It spreads ignorance among humans.
- Qiongqi (穷奇): represents Deviousness. It looks like a winged tiger. It eats people, instigates wars, and commits many other evil deeds.
The Five Venoms (五毒 wǔdú) – also known as the Five Poisons. A group of venomous/poisonous creatures which are occasionally mentioned in Traditional Chinese medicine, in martial arts techniques, or as a component of charms and amulets. The group consists of the Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Toad, and Lizard. The Spider sometimes replaces the Lizard, since Lizards aren’t actually venomous.
- The Five Venoms are used in Chinese charms and amulets based on the concept of “fighting poison with poison” (以毒攻毒). The idea is that a charm bearing the image of the Five Venoms should be effective in warding off pests, evil spirits, and other sources of poison.
Jiangshi (僵尸 jiāngshī) – also known as a Hopping Corpse or Chinese Vampire. A reanimated corpse which feeds on the Qi of living people. Usually depicted dressed in the garments of a court official and with a paper talisman attached to its forehead. Due to rigor mortis, it moves by either hopping or walking awkwardly, often with its arms outstretched. [Picture]
- They possibly have a connection to Ba, the daughter of the Yellow Emperor. According to legend, she was a goddess with powers over drought. She was one day sent down to the mortal world to fight her father’s enemies. She defeated them, but in the process, she lost too much of her divine power and became unable to return to the Heavens. She was forced to remain in the mortal world, and drought continued to follow in her footsteps. For this, people cursed her as a “Drought Demon”.
Yayu (猰貐 yàyǔ) (窫 窳) – a man-eating beast which makes a sound like a child crying. It looks like a dragon or tiger, and is sometimes described as having a human face.