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.

Xi

Variations: Xi-Rhinoceros; Xiqu (potentially); Si, Si-Rhinoceros (potentially)

Xi

Among the wildlife to be found on Cauldron Mountain, Mount Min and Pray-and-Pass Mountain is the Xi. It is like a black water buffalo with a pig’s head, a large belly, and three-toed elephant’s feet on short legs. It has three horns, found on its nose, forehead, and crown. The nose horn does not fall off and helps it eat. Xi feed primarily on brambles, and therefore often drool blood. It may be the same animal as the Xiqu, which is a man-eating blue-black ox that makes sounds like a baby.

The Si is similar, but blue or green with a single horn weighing 1,333 pounds. Its thick skin could be used as armor.

Guo Pu mocked the Xi for its big nose, and the Si for its tough hide which ironically made it more desirable and vulnerable to human exploitation.

Both Xi and Si have been used interchangeably to refer to a number of large herbivores including oxen, yaks, and buffalo, but they are generally believed to be rhinos.

References

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

Danghu

Variations: Danghu-bird

Danghu

Upper-Shen Mountain or Shangshen is a rugged, rocky peak with no vegetation on it, but there are hazelnut groves at its base. There, Danghu birds can be seen flying from branch to branch. A danghu looks like a pheasant, but it flies using its hypertrophied whiskers and throat feathers. Consuming a danghu protects from and cures myopia. Guo Pu extolled the virtues of the danghu, using it as a metaphor for the economical mindset of Daoism as it makes do with what it has.

Mathieu suggests that this bird is the masked Japanese grosbeak (Eophona personata), which is nonetheless unwhiskered and unpheasantlike.

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.

Bo

Variations: Poh

Bo

According to the Guideways through Mountains and Seas, the animal known as Bo can be found around Mount Winding-Center (identified as Mount Xue), where Huai-trees grow and where jade, realgar, and metals are plentiful. It can also be found on the plains of Mongolia and on islands in the Northern Sea. The existence of bo in the district of Shen Su was unknown to its residents, until a man called Leu Chang informed them by quoting the Shan Hai Jing for good measure.

A bo looks like a horse with a white body and a black tail, with a single horn on its head. It has tiger’s feet and saw-like tiger’s teeth, and makes a sound like a rolling drum. Bo are strict carnivores that feed upon tigers and leopards, although other sources state that leopards eat bo, and bo in turn eat tigers. A bo will protect against weapons if its flesh is eaten, or if tamed and used as a soldier.

Bo are just and honorable animals, and will reward virtuous behavior accordingly. When the wise magistrate Chung Wa of the Kingdom of Peh Chi faced an invasion by a large number of carnivorous wild animals, six bo appeared and slaughtered the beasts in thanks for the magistrate’s goodness. Duke Huan of Qi’s horse looked like a bo, according to his prime minister Guan Zhong, but presumably did not eat tigers.

References

Gould, C. (1886) Mythical Monsters. W. H. Allen and Co., London.

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.