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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.