Nine-tailed fox
The nine-tailed fox in the Shanhaijing, depicted in an edition from the Qing dynasty
Chinese name
Literal meaningnine-tailed fox
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet
  • hồ ly tinh
  • cáo chín đuôi
Chữ Hán狐狸精
Chữ Nôm𤞺𠃩𡳪
Korean name
Japanese name
Illustration of a Fox Spirit from the Chinese encyclopedia Gujin Tushu Jicheng.

The nine-tailed fox (Chinese: 九尾狐; pinyin: jiǔwěihú) is a mythical fox entity originating from Chinese mythology.

In Chinese folklores, foxes are depicted as spirits possessed of magic powers. These foxes are often depicted as mischievous, usually tricking other people, with the ability to disguise themselves as a beautiful man or woman.

The fox spirit is an especially prolific shapeshifter, known variously as the húli jīng (fox spirit) in China, the kitsune (fox) in Japan, and the kumiho (nine-tailed fox) in Korea. Although the specifics of the tales vary, these fox spirits can usually shapeshift, often taking the form of beautiful young women who attempt to seduce men, whether for mere mischief or to consume their bodies or spirits.[1][better source needed]


Painting of a nine-tailed fox spirit from Yanju's tomb, Gansu Province.

The earliest mention of the nine-tailed fox is the Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Seas), compiled from the Warring States period (475 BC–221 BC) to the Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD; 25 AD –220 AD) period. The work states:

The Land of Green-Hills ([Qing Qiu]) lies north of Tianwu. The foxes there have four legs and nine tails. According to another version, it is located north of Sunrise Valley.[2]

In chapter 14 of the Shanhaijing, Guo Pu had commented that the nine-tailed fox was an auspicious omen that appeared during times of peace.[2] However, in chapter 1, another aspect of the nine-tailed fox is described:

Three hundred li farther east is Green-Hills ([Qing Qiu]) Mountain, where much jade can be found on its south slope and green cinnabar on its north. There is a beast here whose form resembles a fox with nine tails. It makes a sound like a baby and is a man-eater. Whoever eats it will be protected against insect-poison (gu).[2]

Prince Hanzoku terrorized by a Kyubi. Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 19th century.

In one ancient myth, Yu the Great encountered a white nine-tailed fox, which he interpreted as an auspicious sign that he would marry Nüjiao.[2] In Han iconography, the nine-tailed fox is sometimes depicted at Mount Kunlun and along with Xi Wangmu in her role as the goddess of immortality.[2] According to the first-century Baihutong (Debates in the White Tiger Hall), the fox's nine tails symbolize abundant progeny.[2]

Describing the transformation and other features of the fox, Guo Pu (276–324) made the following comment:

When a fox is fifty years old, it can transform itself into a woman; when a hundred years old, it becomes a beautiful female, or a spirit medium, or an adult male who has sexual intercourse with women. Such beings are able to know things at more than a thousand miles' distance; they can poison men by sorcery, or possess and bewilder them, so that they lose their memory and knowledge; and when a fox is a thousand years old, it ascends to heaven and becomes a celestial fox.[3]

In other articles, it is said that" “The fox demon from Heaven was incarnated as this woman to bring disaster to the Shang Dynasty.”[4] “Once in human form, fox spirits would take advantage of mortal humans…. However, there are several exceptions to this general rule. Some stories describe fox spirits as having a strong sense of honor.”[5]

The Youyang Zazu made a connection between nine-tailed foxes and the divine:

Among the arts of the Way, there is a specific doctrine of the celestial fox. [The doctrine] says that the celestial fox has nine tails and a golden color. It serves in the Palace of the Sun and Moon and has its own fu (talisman) and a jiao ritual. It can transcend yin and yang.[6]

In popular culture

Each of the nine-tailed fox appearances are listed in each section in order by year:


Literature, graphic novels, comics


TV series

See also


  1. ^ Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew (2014). "Shapeshifter". The Ashgate encyclopedia of literary and cinematic monsters. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing. p. 510. ISBN 9781409425625.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Strassberg (2002), pp. 88–89 & 183–184
  3. ^ Kang (2006), p. 17
  4. ^ Li, Guoping (July 2023). "Confucian Order and Religious Doctrines: Rhetorical Characterizations of Illustrations in the Fiction "Quanxiang Pinghua" in the Yuan Dynasty". Religions. 14 (7): 847. doi:10.3390/rel14070847. ISSN 2077-1444.
  5. ^ Mirsky, Anna (2022-08-19). "Fox Spirits". Foxes and Women in Imperial China.
  6. ^ Kang (2006), p. 23