Lushu

Lushu

[Guest art courtesy of the awesome Arlyn Reid! Let them know how much you like it!]

South of the Niu-Trees Mountain in China has red metal on its southern slope and white metal on its northern slope. It is also home to the Lushu, which looks like a horse with a white head, a red tail, and stripes like a tiger. Its cry is like a human singing. Wearing the lushu from one’s belt ensures the conception of many descendants.

While the Shan Hai Jing is unclear on the subject, Guo Pu clarifies that a piece of the lushu’s skin and hair ensures fertility. Its red tail may be a symbol of its vigor and potency.

The stripes suggest that the lushu may be inspired by a number of striped ungulates – zebras, wild donkeys, or even okapis. Mathieu cites the polygamy of zebras and the historical virility of donkeys, but it probably is not an extinct species of red-tailed zebra.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Fei

Variations: Fei-beast

Fei

The Fei or Fei-beast can be found on Great Mountain, the eighth and last of China’s Eastern Mountains. It is shaped liked an ox, with a white head and a single eye. Its tail is that of a snake.

When a fei moves over grass, the plants below it wither and die. When it crosses a stream, the water evaporates at its touch. Its appearance is an omen of worldwide plague and wars.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Qinyuan

Variations: Qinyuan-bird, Yuanyuan, Zhiyuan

Qinyuan

Mount Kunlun is the Pillar of Heaven, a place of great energy and endowed of a fiery brilliant aura. Four rivers – Black, Red, Yellow, and Oceanic – flow from Mount Kunlun, and the mountain is administered by the god Luwu, or the Queen Mother of the West Xi-Wangmu in later texts.

Many wonderful birds and beasts dwell on Mount Kunlun, including the Qinyuan or Qinyuan-bird. It looks like a bee, but is the size of a mandarin duck. Its sting is venomous enough to kill other animals and to wither trees.

Despite the classification as a “bird”, Mathieu believes it to be simply a large stinging insect.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Yin Shu

Variations: Tien-schu, Tin-schu, Tyn-schu, Yn-schu

yin-shu

In Siberia, mammoth fossils were seen as the remains of giant mole-like creatures that lived and moved underground. These subterannean monsters tore up riverbanks as they tunneled, but died in broad daylight.

In China, numerous sources, including the treatise Ly-Ki, tell of the Yin Shu, the “Hidden Rodent” or “Hidden Mouse” that dwells in dark caves. The yin shu grows from the size of a buffalo to as big as an elephant in Manchurian manuscripts, but otherwise looks mouselike. It has a no tail (or a short tail), is dark in color, and has short legs, a short neck, and small eyes. Yin shu are dim-witted, slow, and extremely powerful, digging out caves in areas with the roots of the fu-kia plant. They have shown up when rivers flooded plains, and die instantly when exposed to sunlight.

Until recently, mammoth bones in drugstores were labeled as yin shu.

References

Buel, J. W. (1887) Sea and Land. Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

Laufer, B. and Pelliot, P. (1913) Arabic and Chinese Trade in Walrus and Narwhal Ivory. T’Oung Pao, Second Series, v. 14, no. 3, pp. 315-370.

Pouchet, F. A. (1865) L’Univers. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, Paris.

Qiongqi

Variations: Thoroughly-Odd, Divine Dog

Qiongqi

Two versions of the Qiongqi, or “Thoroughly-Odd”, are described in the Guideways. The first variant of this Chinese creature is from Mount Gui, and resembles an ox with the quills of a hedgehog, and it howls like a dog. The second lives in the Land of the Demon People, and is a winged tiger. A third variety, referred to as a “divine dog”, is human with a dog’s head.

Qiongqi are carnivorous, and devour their prey head or feet first. They feed on people who wear their hair long, making them a particular threat to shamans and demons. They are evil creatures who devour the loyal and feed the rebellious, but they also eat insect poison.

Qiongqi has also appeared as the son of the thearch Lesser-Brilliance in Zuo’s Narratives, as the offspring of the Northern Desert Wind in Master of Huainan, and one of twelve divinities invoked in the Grand Exorcism.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Ṣannāja

Variations: Ṣannājah, Ṣunnājah, Sannaja; Nubian Horse (erroneously)

Sannaja

The Ṣannāja, “Cymbalist” (!), is a gigantic, deadly, yet pathetic creature originally described by al-Qazwini. It can be found in the land of Tibet, making it an abominable snowman of sorts, although it has more in common with the Gorgons of Greek myth.

According to al-Qazwini, the ṣannāja is indescribably vast, such that no animal can compare to it in size. This largest of all beasts makes dens one league wide.

Neither al-Qazwini nor al-Damiri describe its appearance, so artistic depictions of ṣannājas vary. As it is described in the same section along with insects and reptiles, the Wasit manuscript shows it with six stubby legs and a segmented, shelled turtle-like body. Its red, vaguely spiderish head is blank except for hair and two large, staring eyes. The artist of the C.1300 manuscript gives the ṣannāja a tusked, leonine head with massive, spotted folds of skin all over its body. A third is more cautious, assigning it the looks of a dragon. Finally, one Egyptian account is a ṣannāja in name only, placing it in African rivers and giving it four duck feet, a horse’s mane, water-buffalo skin, and a huge mouth. Described as the “Nubian Horse” living in water and ruining crops on land, this is the only case where the name has been applied to the hippopotamus.

The most distinctive quality of the ṣannāja is its deadly gaze, which nonetheless has a peculiar quality. Any animal that sees the ṣannāja dies instantly, but if the ṣannāja sees the animal first, it is the one to expire. Thus animals of Tibet come up to ṣannājas with their eyes closed, such that the monster will see them and drop dead, guaranteeing them a feast for weeks to come.

Accounts of mammoth fossils from Central Asia may have inspired the enormous ṣannāja. Traditional Tibetan art and kirttimukha faces may also have had a hand in its genesis.

References

Berlekamp, P. (2011) Wonder, Image, and Cosmos in Medieval Islam. Yale University Press, New Haven.

al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) Ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon), vol. II, part I. Luzac and Co., London.

Komaroff, L. and Carboni, S. (eds.) (2002) The Legacy of Genghis Khan. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Rapoport, Y. and Savage-Smith, E. (eds.) (2014) An Eleventh-Century Egyptian Guide to the Universe. Brill, Leiden.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

Xuangui

Variations: Twisting-Turtle, Round-Turtle, Xuan-Turtle

Xuangui

Xuangui, or Twisting-Turtles, are found in the Strange River, east of the Niu-Trees Mountain. They are black turtles with a bird’s head and a viper’s tail, and they make sounds like that of splitting wood. Wearing a piece of xuangui from the belt protects from deafness and calluses. Mathieu compares it to the Japanese water turtle Clemmys japonica.

It is unclear what, exactly, is strange about the river.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.