The zouwu in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Culture

That Chinese creature in ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is surprisingly accurate

Nov 22, 2018

JK Rowling was inspired by Chinese mythology when she created one of the most dazzling creatures in the latest Fantastic Beasts movie.

The scene-stealing zouwu (驺吾), also called zouyu (驺虞) in some Chinese texts, is an elephant-sized beast with the head of a tiger and the tail of a pheasant.

The zouwu in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
The zouwu in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” / Photo: Warner Bros

Newt Scamander, the zoologist wizard played by Eddie Redmayne, encounters the furry beast wreaking havoc on the streets of Paris.

“It travels 1,000 miles in a day,” he says, “and can go from one district of Paris to another in a single leap.”

Scamander manages to tame the zouwu into cat-like composure with a furry ball reminiscent of the orb used in Chinese dragon dances.

Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, tames the zouwu in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, tames the zouwu in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” / Photo: Warner Bros

The creators of the Fantastic Beasts movie appear to have taken historical descriptions of the zouwu quite literally.

Their version has five shades of red and orange, a nod to the way it’s described in classical Chinese texts as having “five colors,” though the phrase is often used to describe anything that’s colorful or shiny, not necessarily with five colors.

The movie’s zouwu also bears resemblance to the Tai Hang fire dragon, a straw effigy adorned with incense sticks that’s paraded around Hong Kong once a year.

The zouwu (left) and the Tai Hang fire dragon (right).
The zouwu (left) and the Tai Hang fire dragon (right). / Photo: Warner Bros/Shutterstock

The zouwu is not the only reference to Chinese culture in the film.

Ezra Miller, who plays Credence Barebone, told the Global Times that he based his character’s movements off tai chi.

Symbol of benevolence

In Chinese mythology, the zouwu first appears in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a compendium of fictional creatures similar to Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The exact authors and time of writing remain unknown, though extant copies of the text date back to the Han Dynasty, which began around 200 BC.

A Ming Dynasty woodcut depicting the zouwu.
A Ming Dynasty woodcut depicting the zouwu. / Photo: Wellcome Library

In later texts, the zouwu is described as a creature that only appears during the reign of benevolent rulers. A Ming Dynasty emperor supposedly received one from a relative in Henan.

Scholars now believe the gift might have been less mythological, and really a giant panda.

(Watch: How pandas became a political tool)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald made nearly $13 million on its opening day in China, a record for a Harry Potter film in the country.

Eddie Redmayne poses in front of a zouwu painting during a promotional event in Beijing for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Eddie Redmayne poses in front of a zouwu painting during a promotional event in Beijing for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” / Photo: Reuters

Production companies have been keen on developing films with the Chinese market in mind, infusing elements of Chinese culture wherever they can.

The zouwu didn’t exist in Rowling’s original book of fantastic beasts, but was specifically created for the film.