Bìxì 赑屃; China’s Monster

Bixi 赑屃 Bì Xì; China’s Monster

B for Bixi  赑屃 Bì Xì; China's Monster. Shou qiu Bixi Shandong near Qufu
B for Bixi / 赑屃 / Bì Xì; China’s Monster Shouqiu Bixi near Qufu

Bixi 赑屃 Bì Xì; China’s Monster . If you have ever visited a Chinese temple, you will have come across this mythological beast, straining under the heavy weight of the stele it is carrying. Though often referred to as a turtle or tortoise, the Bixi is in fact a hybrid creature with the body of a dragon, topped by the shell of a turtle.

Bixi and cat at the Dongyue Temple Beijing
Bixi and cat at the Dongyue Temple Beijing

Bixi / 赑屃 / Bì Xì; China’s Monster: The Legend

According to legend, the Bixi was one of the nine sons of the Dragon King. Endowed with super-natural strength, he could move mountains and stir up the seas. However, King Yu the Great (c. 2123–2025 BC), famous for bringing the floods under control, managed to tame the great beast that subsequently helped him dig canals and throw up barriers to keep the waters at bay.

B for Bixi  赑屃 /Bì Xì; China's Monster: Bixi at the Jietai Si temple near Beijing
Bixi 赑屃 /Bì Xì; China’s Monster: Bixi at the Jietai Si temple near Beijing

Once the risk of flooding had subsided, Yu was worried the Bixi might go back to wreaking havoc with the mountains and seas. In order to prevent this, he made him carry a mammoth stone with an inscription praising his deeds.

Bixis in Jietai si near Beijing
Bixi 赑屃 /Bì Xì; China’s Monster:Bixis in Jietai si near Beijing

The tradition of stelae borne by turtles or tortoises originated in the late Han dynasty (early 3rd century) and continued to flourish during the Ming (1368 to 1644) and Qing (1644 to 1912) dynasties.  Apparently, the early specimens still looked like real aquatic turtles, but the later ones started sprouting small ears and showing large, prominent teeth, eventually morphing into the characteristic dragon-headed creature we are most familiar with nowadays.

Bixi  赑屃 Bì Xì; China's Monster. Giant Bixi Qufu Shandong
Giant Bixi Qufu Shandong

Bixi / 赑屃 / Bì Xì; China’s Monster: Not only in China

Apart from temples, sculptures of Bixi also appear at the entrance to mausoleums, bearing funerary tablets, as well as near bridges and archways, commemorating important events such as imperial visits. Besides China, Bixi can also be found in other East Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam and even as far as Mongolia and parts of Russia.

Bixi  赑屃 Bì Xì; China's Monster. Colossal Bixi Kaiyuan Temple Zhending
Colossal Bixi Kaiyuan Temple Zhending

People traditionally like to rub the Bixi for good luck, which unfortunately can damage the sculptures and erase the patterns on their shell or the inscriptions.

Adam and a Bixi Mencius temple Zuocheng Shandong
Adam and a Bixi Mencius temple Zuocheng Shandong near Qufu

Bìxì; 赑屃 China’s Monster: INTERESTING EARLY EXAMPLES:

Bixi  赑屃 Bì Xì; China's Monster. Shouqiu Bixi near Qufu
Shouqiu Bixi near Qufu

Confucius Temple Qufu: The creatures looked quite realistic through the Song dynasty, when huge tortoise pedestals, such as the ones in Shou Qiu near Qufu.

The Nestorian stele in the Beilin Museum in Xi'an, China.
The Nestorian stele in the Beilin Museum in Xi’an, China. David Castor (user:dcastor). 

In Xian, in 1625, an ancient Christian stele was unearthed and later mounted on the back of a turtle. This so-called Nestorian stele dates from the Tang dynasty (781) and bears witness to 150 years of early Christianity in China.

Nestorian stele dates from the Tang dynasty (781)
Nestorian stele dates from the Tang dynasty (781) Photo taken by Frits V. Holm in Xi’an in 1907

Its inscriptions in Chinese and Syriac Aramaic (Aramaic being the language Jesus would have spoken) describe the existence of Christian communities in several cities in northern China. According to the stele, missionaries belonging to the Church of the East came to China in the ninth year of emperor Tai Tsung (635) with sacred books and images. The stele was buried in 845, probably during a period of religious persecution.

Top of Bixi Stele Mencious Temple Zuocheng Shandong
Top of Bixi Stele Mencius Temple Zuocheng Shandong near Qufu

In 1907, the stele was moved to Xian’s fascinating Stele Forest museum, where it can still be admired.

Colossal Bixi Kaiyuan Temple Zhending

Colossal Bixi Kaiyuan Temple Zhending

These days, long-lost Bixi continue to be unearthed during archaeological excavations and construction work. Among the most remarkable finds is the discovery of a huge 1200-year-old Bi Xi in Zhengding (Hebei Province) in June 2006.

Margie and theColossal Bixi Kaiyuan Temple Zhending
Margie and theColossal Bixi Kaiyuan Temple Zhending

The stone turtle is 8.4 m long, 3.2 m wide, and 2.6 m tall, and weighs 107 tons. It has since been moved to Zhengding’s Kaiyuan Temple.[20]


Author: Adam

My name is Adam. I have a degree in Chinese History from SOAS and a masters in International Politics focused on China from the same university. I have travelled around China 9 times and since 2000 I have travelled every year for two months. I guess I kind of like the place!

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