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Main : Chinese

Huli Jing - The Chinese fox

Foxes reached their full flower in China. Chinese foxes are earnest scholars, dedicated rakes, devoted lovers, seductresses par excellence, tricksters, poltergeists, drinking companions, karmic avengers, and always, always great moralizers.

Folklore and Novels  •  Quotations  •  Worship  •  Resources

Chinese Terminology

Hu: Fox.

Huli jing: Fox spirit. Literally, "exquisite fox." Also a modern colloquial term for a dangerous seductress, a slut, or a whore.

Hujing: Fox spirit. An older word which also means "exquisite fox."

Huxian: Immortal fox.

Xian: Immortal or transcendent person. Because foxes were often worshipped in folk religion, they were sometimes called xian (or derivatives thereof, such as xianren) in order to avoid saying their real name, in the same way that English speakers referred to fairies as "the good folk," "the fair folk," "the people under the hill," and so on. Other varieties of immortal creatures were called xian as well.

Jinwei hu: Nine-tailed fox.

Laohu: Old fox. Foxes must attain great age before they can transform into humans, so all shapeshifting foxes are technically old; however, this term carries the connotation of a fox so old that it is old even for a fox. The term also removes some of the sexual connotations of the fox, since sexlessness is associated with age.

Books and Theses

Chan, Leo Tak-Hong. The Discourse on Foxes and Ghosts. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998. [find it]

Huntington, Rania. Alien Kind: Foxes and Late Imperial Chinese Narrative. [find it]

Oh, my sisters and oh, my brothers, this is the book you have been awaiting. Fox worship, foxes and romance, foxes and sex, foxes and transcendence, foxes and ghosts, what to do when you've got a fox living in the guest room. Huntington devotes considerable space to the development of the fox through history, which explains a lot about the contradictions in popular fox stories. And she does this all in a lively and jargon-free style that's a pleasure to read. If you want a taste, scroll down and click on the link to "Foxes and Sex in Late Imperial Chinese Narrative".

Huntington, Rania. Foxes and Ming-Qing Fiction. Thesis (Ph.D), Harvard University, 1996.

Jameson, R.D. Three Lectures on Chinese Folklore. Beijing: North China Union Language School, 1932. [find it]

Kang, Xiaofei. Power on the Margins: The Cult of the Fox in Late Imperial and Modern North China. Columbia University Press, 2006. [find it]

Walthall, Anne. Peasant Uprisings: A Critical Anthology of Peasant Histories. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. [find it]

Foxes are connected with late Edo peasant uprisings as a symbol of social change, as in "A Tale of a Dream from the Fox Woman Plain," pp. 169-92.


Barr, Allan. "A Comparative Study of Early and Late Tales in Liaozhai zhiyi." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 45(2):161, 1985.

Coman, B.J. "Mr Tung’s Fox Tenants." Quadrant Magazine XLIX:6, 2005.

Huntington, Rania. "Foxes and Sex in Late Imperial Chinese Narrative." Nan Nü 2(2000)1: 78-128.

Examines the relationship between foxes, sex, and Chinese views of the sexes, with a focus on foxes as seductresses rather than wives or romantic heroines. This article became a chapter of Huntington's book Alien Kind.

Download a free copy of this article (and the rest of this issue of Nan Nü) from Ingenta Select.

The Illuminated Lantern. "Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits." 2000.

Jameson, R.D. "The Chinese Art of Shifting Shape". Journal of American Folklore 64(253):275-280. 1951.

Johnson, T.W. "Far Eastern Fox Lore". Asian Folklore Studies 33:35-68. 1974.

Kang, Xiaofei, "The Fox [hu] and the Barbarian [hu]: Unraveling Representations of the Other in Late Tang Tales." Journal of Chinese Religions 27(1999): 35-67.

Kang, Xiaofei, "Sex with Foxes: Fantasy and Power in Traditional Chinese Stories." River Gazette 5(2):8. 2005. [HTML version]

Krappe, Alexander H. "Far Eastern Fox Lore". California Folklore Quarterly 3(2):124-147. 1944.

Watters, T. "Chinese Fox-Myths". Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s., 8:45-65. 1874.

Wikipedia. Fox spirit.

Wu, Fatima. "Foxes in Chinese Supernatural Tales". Parts One and Two. Tamkang Review 17(2):121-53 and 17(3):263-94, 1986.

Fox Worship

The Chinese worshipped foxes, though never at the level of official religion. Instead, foxes were a part of folk religion. This unofficial worship reached to the highest levels of society; in the late 1920's, in a family shrine ostensibly dedicated to the Buddha, Kuan Yin, and other official deities, Lao Tai-tai, an aristocratic woman of Beijing, shows off her family's icon of a fox:

"This," [Lao Tai-tai] said with a beaming smile, "is the best of all."

"And who is this?" I asked, for I did not recognize the scholarly-looking old man in the picture hanging on the west wall, the little old man with the intelligent, shrewd face. He was sitting in a garden with a great tree behind him and flowering shrubs around, dignified in his long flowing blue silk robes and tall black hat of a long-past dynasty.

"He is the Second Son of the King of the Fox Fairies. He was so good and learned that he was allowed to take human form. We worship him for scholarship and for official position and for wealth." These, I knew, were synonymous to most of the people. She lit a big bundle of incense and set it in the burner on the table. (Old Madam Yin: A Memoir of Peking Life, by Ida Pruitt, p. 35)

Kang, Xiaofei, "Power on the Margins: The Cult of the Fox in Late Imperial China." Thesis (Ph.D.), Columbia University, 2000, 414p.

Read the abstract here.

Kang Xiaofei, "In the Name of the Buddha: the Cult of the Fox at a Sacred Site in Contemporary Northern Shaanxi." Minsu quyi, no.138 (2002): 67-110.

Li Wei-tsu. "On the Cult of the Four Sacred Animals". Folklore Studies 7:1-94