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Short description: Legendary creature in old Chinese literature
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Zouyu illustration from the Chinese encyclopedia Gujin Tushu Jicheng

Zouyu (Chinese: 騶虞), also called zouwu (騶吾) or zouya (騶牙), is a legendary creature mentioned in old Chinese literature. The earliest known appearance of the characters 騶虞 (zou yu) is in the Book of Songs,[1][2] but J.J.L. Duyvendak describes that the interpretation of that little poem as referring to an animal of that name is "very doubtful".[1]

Zouyu appears in a number of later works, where it is described as "righteous" animal, which, similarly to a qilin, only appears during the rule of a benevolent and sincere monarch. It is said to be as fierce-looking as a tiger, but gentle and strictly vegetarian, and described in some books (already in Shuowen Jiezi[3]) as a white tiger with black spots.[1]

In 1404, during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, Prince Zhu Su, his relative from Kaifeng (in modern-day Henan province) sent him a captured zouyu spotted and captured in Shenhou (zh); an anonymous painter later painted that zouyu, which was evidently a rare white tiger.[1][4] Another zouyu was sighted in Shandong.[1] The zouyu sightings were mentioned by contemporaneous authors as good omens, along with the Yellow River running clear and the delivery of a qilin (i.e., an African giraffe) by a Bengal delegation that arrived to China aboard Zheng He's fleet.[1]

Puzzled about the real zoological identity of the zouyu said to be captured during the Yongle era, Duyvendak exclaims, "Can it possibly have been a Pandah?"[1] Following him, some modern authors consider zouyu to refer to the giant panda.[5]

Sinologist and linguist Wolfgang Behr includes the zouyu ~ zouwu ~ zouya among several leophoric names, besides 獅子 shī-zǐ and 狻猊 suān-ní, in ancient Chinese texts to denote lions.[6]

Riordan & Shi (2016) propose that Zou Yu ("驺瑜 [sic]")[lower-alpha 1] and other words for some enigmatic pantherine predators in ancient Chinese texts[lower-alpha 2] possibly denoted snow leopards.[8][lower-alpha 3]

Popular culture

The creature appears in the 2018 fantasy film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald as an elephant-sized cat resembling a lion/tiger mix with large eyes, four upper tusks, and a ruffled tail (resembling those of Chinese guardian lions and those from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings three years later on) and has the ability to apparate.[14]


  1. Riordan & Shi mistakenly give the pinyin transcription of 驺虞 (variants: 驺吾 ~ 騶吾[7]) in the Classic of Mountains and Seas as Zhu Jian instead of Zou Yu.
  2. For examples, the Meng Ji (孟極) in the Classic of Mountains and Seas; the Zun Er ("拵栭 [sic]"[8] ~ "尊耳";[9] rendered "酋耳" (Qiu Er) in Siku Quanshu version[10]) in Lost Book of Zhou, and the Pi Xiu (貔貅) in Records of the Grand Historian.[11]
  3. Riordan & Shi also state that the snow leopards were named Ai Ye Bao (艾叶豹 ~ 艾葉豹, "common mugwort leaves leopards") in Li Shizhen's Bencao Gangmu[12][13] as well as He Ye Bao (荷叶豹 ~ 荷葉豹).[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Duyvendak, J.J.L. (1939), "The True Dates of the Chinese Maritime Expeditions in the Early Fifteenth Century The True Dates of the Chinese Maritime Expeditions in the Early Fifteenth Century", T'oung Pao, Second Series 34 (5): 402 
  2. Book of Poetry: Zou Yu
  3. Shuowen Jiezi, radical 虍 (tiger)
  4. (2019), "Precious Birds and Strange Beasts", The NPM Zoo: Animal Paintings in the Museum Collection. Publisher: National Palace Museum. Access date: 6 October 2023
  5. China Giant Panda Museum: Historical Records in Ancient China . Supposed Chinese historical terminology appears in the Chinese version of this article, 我国古代的历史记载
  6. Behr, Wolfgang. (2004). "Hinc sunt leones – two ancient Eurasian migratory terms in Chinese revisited (I)". International Journal of Central Asian Studies. 9, 2004, p. 14-15 of pp. 1-25
  7. Classic of Mountains and Seas - Extensively Annotated (山海經廣注) - "vol 12. The classic of regions within the seas: The north (海內北經)"; Siku Quanshu version, vol. 6 - 14, p. 116 of 167
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Riordan, Philip & Shi, Kun (2016). "Chapter 42 - China: Current State of Snow Leopard Conservation in China" in McCarthy, Malton, & Nyhus (editors) Snow Leopards: Biodiversity of the World: Conservation from Genes to Landscapes 1st Edition, p. 524
  9. Yi Zhou Shu (Lost Book of Zhou) "Wang Hui Jie (The King's Gathering - Explained)". Sibi Congkan version, p. 174 of 236
  10. Yi Zhou Shu (Lost Book of Zhou) "Wang Hui Jie (The King's Gathering - Explained)". Siku Quanshu version: vol. 7 -10" p. 17 of 79
  11. Shi Ji, "Vol. 1 - Annals of the Five Emperors"; Siku Quansu version, vol. 1, p. 153 of 237
  12. Li Shizhen, Bencao Gangmu, "vol. 51, section leopard (豹)
  13. Li Shizhen (author), Paul U. Unschuld (translator), (2021). Ben Cao Gang Mu, Volume IX: Fowls, Domestic & Wild Animals, Human Substances. Publisher: University of California Press. p. 673
  14. "Breakdown of the 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' Comic-Con Official Trailer! - The-Leaky-Cauldron.org" (in en-US). 2018-07-21. http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2018/07/21/breakdown-of-the-fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald-comic-con-official-trailer/. 

Further reading