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The ‘four evils’ are still out there

APART from protectors and god-like creatures, there are also evil-beings in Chinese myths. Si Xiong, or the Four Evils, are one of the most famous.

The Four Evils are Tao Tie饕餮, Hun Dun混沌, Qiong Qi穷奇 and Tao Wu梼杌. Each holds evil characteristics such as encouraging greed, distorting truth, and making wars. The evil beasts’ names are still often referred to as metaphors out of superstition.

Some legends suggest the four evils were born from four evil and rebellious tribe leaders after they died in ancient times: San Miao三苗, Huan Dou驩兜, Gong Gong共工 and Gun鲧. They ruled in the reign of the Shun Emperor 舜帝, who was defeated and exiled in the end. But there are many other stories of the origins of the beasts.

Tao Tie 饕餮

Tao Tie is the symbol of greed.  

As described in Shan Hai Jing 山海经 (the Classic of Mountains and Seas), Tao Tie features a sheep’s body, tiger’s teeth and human face and hands. Its eyes are hidden under his armpits. It has baby’s voice, yet it eats humans.

And in folk stories, Tao Tie eats everything. The monster is so greedy that it even eats its own body. Therefore, the patterns of Tao Tie are often found in ancient cooking vessels, yet only with its head. Tao Tie Shengyan饕餮盛宴, or a feast for Tao Tie, is often used in Chinese to indicate an extraordinarily grand banquet with delicious food.

The monster in Zhang Yimou’s recent movie “The Great Wall” was created based on the legendary Tao Tie.

There are also legends suggesting that when the Yellow Emperor beheaded Chi You, his head fell on the earth and became Tao Tie.

Hun Dun 混沌

There are different versions of Hun Dun.

The version of Hun Dun in Shen Yi Jing 神异经 (the Classic of Gods and Strange Animals) in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD220) is the most common.

In this version, Hun Dun is a monster that cannot distinguish right from wrong.

Hun Dun shapes like a huge dog. It has bear’s palm yet no claws; it has eyes yet cannot see; it can walk yet cannot move; it has ears but cannot hear.

It has belly yet with no organs such as a heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidney; it has intestines yet cannot twist.

Anything it eats passes through the intestines directly.

It is capable of human emotions, yet it cannot distinguish right from wrong. When encountering noble men, Hun Dun will have conflicts with them; but meeting evil people, it will follow their instructions.

Shan Hai Jing, on the other hand, describes it as a god bird colored red and shaped like a bag.

It has six feet, four wings yet no face. It lives in the Tianshan Mountain. It sings and dances.

As recorded in Zhuang Zi 庄子 (a book by Taoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou and a student), Hun Dun was the emperor of central China, with no apertures like eyes, nostrils, mouth or ears. He treated the emperors of South Sea and North Sea well at his place. Intending to repay his hospitality, the other two emperors offered to dig seven apertures for Hun Dun. They dug one aperture a day. Yet when all the seven apertures were done, Hun Dun died.

Qiong Qi 穷奇

As recorded in Shan Hai Jing, Qiong Qi looks like a tiger with wings, and always eats humans from the head. It can speak human language. It is good at confusing people’s minds and making wars.

Shen Yi Jing elaborated its character more in details. When hearing people quarrel, it will eat the reasonable one. When hearing about people who are loyal and faithful, it will bite their noses off. But when hearing people being unreasonable and atrocious, it will offer them his food.

However, there are also versions describing it as a rare animal that eat Gu 蛊 (legendary venomous insects) that harm people. 

Qiong Qi is often used as a metaphor for those who act in bad faith and defame those who show loyalty. As written in Shi Ji (The Historical Record), there was a bad offspring of emperor Shaohao who behaved badly and resented loyal people. He was called Qiong Qi.

Tao Wu 梼杌

According to Shen Yi Jing, Tao Wu is a tiger-like beast with a tiger’s feet, a man’s face and a pig’s teeth. Its hair is 2-3 meters long and it has a tail more than 315 meters long. It lives in the remote regions in the west.

Tao Wu is often used to label a man who is fierce and stubborn. As recorded in Zuo Zhuan 左传, a commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, there was a bad offspring of Zhuan Xu 颛顼 (one of the five great ancient emperors) who could not be taught. He was called Tao Wu.

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