NINE-TAIL fox, as a mythical animal with gifted fairy powers yet relatively ordinary looks, has experienced ups and downs in the traditional Chinese worshiping system.
Nine-tail fox carries the same looks of an ordinary fox, except that it has nine tails rather than one tail. As recorded in the Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas), the mythical fox-like animals have voices like human infants. They live in the mountains of Qingqiu — and they eat human flesh. Yet those who eat nine-tail foxes can resist bewitching.
The image of nine-tail foxes was then enriched in various legends and tales as mythical animals born with peerless good looking, unparalleled wisdom, and gifted privilege in Taoist practice. It is said that a nine-tail fox was usually born with only one tail, while gained an additional tail every 100 years with proper Taoist practice. The number of tails tells the power of the fox directly. A fox equipped with nine tails is almost undefeatable for humans.
Some scholars suggested that the nine-tail fox is probably an imagination based on subspecies of red fox in southern China featured by fluffy tail, which may be mistaken as more than one tails. Yet some other scholars tend to identify it as a totem in primitive religion.
A legend suggested that Yu, the founding monarch of Xia Dynasty (c. 21st century-16th century BC), married a white nine-tail fox when he passed Tushan Mountain in today’s Henan Province, as he heard a song suggesting such deed would bring him many children and grandchildren.
A widely accepted explanation of the legend is that Yu married a girl whose tribe takes nine-tail fox as totem.
The image of nine-tail foxes was widely taken as an auspicious sign for fertility in Han Dynasty (206 BC-220). Yet, probably because the nine-tail foxes are so similar to cunning and crafty foxes in appearance, they gradually lose their divine status in Chinese culture, and more often taken as evil spirits good at confusing people by attractive appearance.
The best-known nine-tail fox is probably Da Ji, a concubine of King Zhou of Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC) who was over thrown for his brutal rule. Such a tale had been there since early Song Dynasty (960-1279), and was gradually enriched until popular novel “Fengshen Yanyi” (The Canonization of the Gods) in Ming Dynasty spread it widely. In The Canonization of the Gods, the nine-tail fox was ordered by goddess Nv Wa to ruin King Zhou’s country. Yet, she did much more evil things than the goddess had asked for and was killed by Jiang Ziya with Nv Wa’s help.
Since then, nine-tailed foxes are mostly portrayed as female evils who seduce man and take their lives. Some tales suggest that a nine-tail fox needs to eat 100 livers of men, so as to achieve her nine tails and thus become incompatible. However, she will always fail when hunting the 100th liver.
There were fox-worshippers in China in Tang and Song Dynasty. And the trend of “plah keang” from Thailand seems to bring the worship back to some young Chinese. They believe that carrying the “plah keang” of the nine-tail fox can help bring them good luck in life, career and romance especially.