Mythical Creatures of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
WARNING-SPOILER ALERT! Please watch Shang-Chi before reading this article.
By Samantha Howie
In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Shang-chi finds himself competing against his father to find his mother’s birthplace, the mythical Ta Lo Village. Faced with the might of his father’s entire army, as well as the frightening man himself, and locked in the dungeon’s of his father’s compound, all hope seemed lost. That was, until they heard a strange sound, like the pounding of metal and a monstrous wail. They found, deep in their cell, a man - an acteur - and his little six-legged, four-winged friend.
Now, this is the point where, much like our protagonists themselves, the audience might have looked at fuzzy little Morris and wondered, “What? What is that? Where’s its face?” Morris is but the first of many traditional Chinese creatures to grace the Wuxia-influenced film! People unfamiliar with Chinese legends might be asking themselves “What am I looking at?” Well, we have answers, so read on!
To begin with, Morris the faceless creature, is something known as a “Dijiang”, which were originally described in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, an ancient bestiary of Chinese monsters. A dijiang is a six legged creature with four wings and no face. They live in a constant state of confusion, and are often tied with the Hundun, primordial chaos. Dijiang are known to enjoy song and dance, despite not having eyes or ears.
Similarly to the dijiang, the fenghuang, often called the “Chinese Phoenix” (despite not really being a phoenix at all) also carries a special appreciation for human music. These birds, aptly described as “I think those birds were on fire” by Trevor in the movie, were the first creatures Shang-chi and the group saw in Ta Lo. Again referenced in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, the fenghuang is a symbol of world peace, whose appearance was said to be a symbol of harmony before the enthronement of a new emperor. Unlike its depiction in the movie, the fenghuang is described as being red, blue, yellow, black and white - the five sacred colors.
The adorable nine-tailed foxes are also known as Huli Jing in Chinese. These fox spirits have been seen as both sacred symbols of royalty and evil temptresses depending on the dynasty. In the Classic of Mountains and Seas they were said to have the cry of a baby, and that they would trap and eat people. The huli jing were later brought to Japan and Korea as the kitsune and gumiho respectively.
Dazzled as they were by the beautiful wildlife of Ta Lo, Katy and the group very nearly drove into what was aptly described as a, “strange horse” (always keep your eyes on the road!). They were stopped by a qilin. Not quite horses, the Encyclopedia Britannica describes them as having “a single horn on its forehead, a yellow belly, a multicolored back, the body of a deer, and the tail of an ox.” Qilin are said to appear at the birth and death of wise rulers or sages.
Upon arrival at the outskirts of Ta Lo, Shang-Chi finds himself in a stand-off against the might of this mystical village. An army of warriors stop them, backed by their large guardian lions called shishi. The shishi are also known as “Lions of Buddha”. Many temples are guarded by a pair of shishi statues, the male lion holding a ball and the female having a cub.
Finally, in his most dire moment, Shang-Chi meets a massive Chinese dragon, the Great Protector of Ta Lo. Called “Long” in Chinese, these dragons are symbols of the Emperor himself and represent great fortune. Chinese dragons are praised for their wisdom and benevolence.
While western dragons are based on lizards, Chinese dragons have the body of a snake, head of a camel, eyes of a demon and the paws of a tiger. There are many kinds of dragons, some guard the heavens and others rule the seas. The Great Protector is a “Shenlong”, a Spiritual Dragon. These dragons are the ones responsible for blessing humans with wind and rain. Shenlong have historically been worshipped and respected, inspiring many rain rituals and legends.