Week 15: Hồ ly tinh – the fox spirit/demon

This week on #VNmyth, we’ll go over Vietnamese Hồ ly tinh (and some of its counter parts in other parts of Asia like Chinese Hu li Jing, Japanese Kitsune, Korean Gumiho).

I. Differentiate the entities:

Etymology: Vietnamese hồ li tinh is a direct translation of the word Hu Li Jing in Chinese, both means “demon fox” (or sometimes translated as “spirit fox” by Western media). On the other hand, the term “kitsune” from Japanese just means “fox;” the tinh/jing – ‘demon (or spirit, depends on the translation)’ part was left out. Kumiho/Gumiho means nine-tails fox, something entirely different, though it can sometimes be used interchangeably.


+ Until recently, Gumiho had traditionally been depicted as pure evil and ruthless. One of the most famous gumiho stories: “The fox sister,” is quite a horror show.

+ The hu li jing, kitsune, and hồ li tinh are generally depicted as mischievous, lustful, and have ambiguous moral compasses. In Liaozhai zhiyi, hu li jing were said to have many types. Some charmed people before sucking the life force out of them, but there were also those who cultivate naturally without harming anyone.

+ Daji in Fengshen Yanyi is a hu li jing who had cultivated for 1000 years. Tamamo no Mae, one of the three evil Yokai, was also a concubine. You typically don’t see Vietnamese Hồ Li Tinh get that high up in society.

II. Tales of the hồ li tinh:

1. The second conquest of Lạc Long Quân:

In ancient times, there was a white fox in the land of Hanoi today. To charm and lure village folks into its lair, it would often come out and turn into a gorgeous human, either as a handsome young man or a charming young woman. The victims were of both genders, and none ever escaped its grasp.

The dragon king was aware of this, so he came to the fox den and had a massive battle with the beast that lasted for days and nights. The demon fox finally retreated into its lair, so the dragon king flooded the cave and drowned it, creating West Lake – the biggest lake in Hanoi nowadays.

2. The story of the fox lady that saved the emperor

During the war between Đại Việt and Đại Minh (1407-1427), there was a man named Lê Lợi, who later become the emperor of Vietnam. During the early day of his uprising, he lost many battles and often had to avoid being captured by the Chinese soldiers. After losing yet another fight and being separated from his men, Lê Lợi was chased into the jungle. Thanks to his slight build, he hid in a thick bush, hoping that the sharp thorns would make the enemy too reluctant to check thoroughly and just go away. Usually, it would work. But, unlucky for him, that time, the Chinese army brought dogs to sniff him out.

As the enemy soldiers approached closer and closer, Lê Lợi saw a corpse of a woman lying nearby, an arrow from the Minh soldiers pierced her neck. Lê Lợi, out of option, pleaded to the corpse out of desperation:

“If you can save me today, I’ll avenge you someday.”

Nothing happened.

The dogs stopped at Lê Lợi’s hiding spot, then barked loudly. The Chinese soldiers didn’t want to go into the thorny bush, used spears to stab around. Le Loi was hit, but he forced himself to keep quiet. His blood, however, remained on the tip of the spear.

The Chinese soldier was beyond thrill, as capturing the uprising leader would ensure great reward. At that moment, a wounded fox jumped out of the bush, left its blood everywhere, and was promptly eaten by the dogs. That soldier, thinking the blood on his spear must be from that fox, cursed and left.

Believing it was the dead woman save him, Le Loi announced her as a deity: Hộ Quốc Hồ Phu Nhân (Country’s Guardian Madame Vixen).

3. The three demon foxes with the treasures:

Okay, so the story essentially starts with a rich (or at least middle-class) family. The father saw a flower with three-colored petals and brought it back to the house to gift his daughter. Little did he know that the flower was actually transformed into by three demon foxes. The demons’ aim was the souls of his family. Luckily for him, his daughter didn’t like the flower and demanded it was thrown away to rot. The three demons were just about to go away when the father chop down a tree nearby to make a door latch. They instead went into the latch.

After the door latch was brought into the house, one night, the leader of the three demons went out and tried to have his way with the family daughter. But because she resisted, it stole her soul and went back into the door latch. Without her soul, the young maiden fell into a coma that no doctor could cure. As the father was taking care of his daughter, the next night, the second demon came out of the latch and took his soul. Then the third demon came out and took the soul of one of the help.

A witch doctor (could be Taoist, or several other things, really, since as covered before, Vietnamese used one word for all people who uses magic) came and successfully gotten the soul of the father and the help back, but he was unable to win against the leader of the demon foxes. As the witch doctor went away in shame, the young daughter remained in a coma, the house was widely known as haunted, and people tried to stay away from it.

Until one day, a student/scholar named Long (means “dragon” in both Chinese and Sino-Vietnamese) went by the house on his trip to the capital city for the exam.

AMERIKANISCHER DRACHE JAKE LONG - Löse Puzzlespiele kostenlos auf Puzzle  Factory
No, definitely not this Long, but anyway, back to the story at hand!

The family initially turned him away because they were haunted and didn’t want him to risk his life, but the young scholar insisted on staying; all he asked for was a lamp so he could study and a sharp knife for self-defense. That night, one of the fox demons came out in the form of a beautiful maiden to try and tempt him, but the scholar remained focused on his readings. The demon went away, and the second one came out in the form of a buffed and scary-looking man. The monster tried to scare the scholar, but he remained focused on his reading still. Finally, the demon leader came out, took one look at the young scholar before running away, screaming: “we need to get out of here; this man is dangerous!” Long was fast on his feet, though, and managed to cut off one of the demon’s feet before it could retreat back into the door latch.

The pain when its foot was cut off was so much that the demon had to let go of the maiden’s soul, and thus, she woke up. The cut-off foot turned back into a fox’s foot, naturally. The following day, the family were rejoiced to have their daughter back. The scholar showed the fox’s foot to them but refused all money rewards he was offered. All he asked for in return was the door latch.

As the scholar left to be on his way to the exam again, the three demons came out of the door latch and begged him to let them go, promising him treasures if he did. His prizes were a sun that, if taken out during the night, would make and keep it daytime for as long as it is out, a moon that, similar to the sun, could make and keep it a full moon night whenever it’s taken out, and an enchanted horse that could run across the country in hours.

How the scholar came to need these gifts is a story for another day, as it no longer had anything to do with the demon foxes. As for what the scholar did with the door latch, different version says different things.

III. Additional comments:

_ Lạc Long Quân along with his wife, Âu Cơ, by lore are the ancestors of all Kinh Vietnamese. In his youth before he met his wife, he had fought three monsters: Ngư Tinh (Fish Demon), Hồ Tinh (Fox Demon), and Mộc Tinh (Tree Demon) and brought peace to the land. After his marriage to Âu Cơ and the subsequent birth of the 100 children that went to become the ancestors of all Kinh Vietnamese, he and his wife had the first divorced in Vietnamese history, with him leading 50 sons down to the sea and his wife taking the remaining 50 to the highlands. The sons that followed Âu Cơ went on to become the Hùng Kings. After that, Lạc Long Quân would continue to help the Vietnamese people from afar, often appearing in dreams or sending his right-hand god, Kim Quy to deliver the message.

_ Some pictures of the West Lake in Hanoi

_ Lê Lợi, as you might have noticed, also have made an appearance in week 11 when we covered the Deity Kim Quy. The Madame Vixen from his lore also inspired a character in one of our old works, as well as will be appearing in book 1 of the Half-Dead Series as a supporting character.

_ According to different versions of the story, the scholar either burned the door latch so the fox demons would die and unable to harm anyone ever again, or let them go with a warning after making them swear they won’t harm human lives again, in case you were wondering.

As per usual, if you enjoyed reading these post, remember to like, share, and subscribe. See you next week!

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