Fox Spirit Stories in the “Taiping Guangji” or “Extensive Records of the Taiping Era” (first published 978 CE): by P. E. Rempel

The Taiping Guangji contains stories of the occult and supernatural and, as such, is a key source for information about Chinese fox spirits. For a general impression of what fox spirits are, I prefer to let the stories speak for themselves: the three examples given below should serve this purpose. But why were these stories written in the first place and what do they represent? Many of them quite plainly illustrate beliefs surrounding Buddhist reincarnation; that is, fox spirits attempt to by-pass legitimate karmic progression, through the use of magic and trickery, in order to attain fraudulent human status. But the stories may also comment on aspects of society, such as class and social mobility. The desire to better one’s lot and thwart the forces aligned to frustrate such ambitions.

The stories below are my own translations.

” Speaking of Foxes”

(Taiping guangji, volume 447)

At fifty years of age foxes are able to transform themselves into women. At one hundred years into beauties and magic sorcerers. Sometimes they become men and women and screw around. They also have the power to know about faraway events, charm swarms of insects and evil spirits, as well as confuse and befuddle people. At a thousand years of age they can communicate with Heaven, becoming celestial fox spirits.

“Auspicious Resonances”

(Taiping guangji, volume 447)

Nine-tailed foxes are divine animals. Their fur is red and they have four legs and nine tails. They come from a country of green hills and have voices that sound like young infants. Eating them enables people to stave off strange and pernicious forces, and the likes of flying insects and poisonous creatures.

“Sun Yan”

(Taiping guangji, volume 447)

In the Wei dynasty, there was a singer of funeral dirges named Sun Yan. After being married for three years, his wife had yet to removed her clothes in bed. Yan secretly chastised her.

One night he spied on her as she slept, then stealthily undid her clothes. She had a tail a yard long which resembled that of a fox. Yan was shocked and kicked her out of the house. The creature was just on the point of leaving, when it grabbed a knife off the counter. It cut off a lock of Yan’s hair and fled. The neighbors all gave chase, but the wife had already changed into a fox and they couldn’t chase it down.

Afterwards, in the capital city more than a hundred and thirty men had some of their hair snipped off. First the fox would become a maiden, strolling streets and roads in human clothing and looking chaste. Men saw her and anticipated great delight. But those who came close invariably suffered an unexpected trim. For a time, any woman who wore colorful clothes was accused of being a fox spirit.


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One thought on “Fox Spirit Stories in the “Taiping Guangji” or “Extensive Records of the Taiping Era” (first published 978 CE): by P. E. Rempel

  1. Pingback: “Shang-gwan Gee and the Fox Spirit” (Translated from the Chinese by P. E. Rempel) | P. E. Rempel

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