Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

WINGED PESTILENCE – THE CHINESE HUA FISH


The Chinese hua fish – an extraordinary assimilation of fish, snake, and bird (© Una Woodruff)

In a recent ShukerNature blog post (click here), I discussed the celestial stag – just one of several obscure monsters and entities from Chinese folklore that were documented in Jorge Luis Borges's classic work, The Book of Imaginary Beings (rev. ed. 1974).

Another of these mythical creatures was the Chinese hua fish, of which Borges, sadly, had very little to say - though the little that he did say made it sound a fascinating if decidedly ill-omened beast:

"The Hua-fish, or flying snakefish, appears to be a fish but has the wings of a bird. Its appearance forebodes a period of drought."

Elsewhere I have also seen it said that this creature's appearance presages an outbreak of pestilence. In short, therefore, it is not something that one wishes to see if all is going well!

The hua fish is just one of several curious beasts of fable that were included in the T'ai P'ing Kuang Chi ('Extended Accounts of the Reign of Great Tranquillity and Prosperity'), which was completed in 978 AD, and published three years later.

So obscure is this legendary animal that I know of only one excellent portrayal of it – the spectacular illustration that opens this present ShukerNature blog.

Within my library are quite a few delightful works of what I refer to as pseudozoology. Most of these are large, lavishly-illustrated books purporting to be republished tomes of arcane natural history, but which upon reading are swiftly recognised as adroitly-constructed fiction penned with tongue very firmly in cheek. An excellent example of this highly-specialised genre is a truly spectacular tome entitled Inventorum Natura: The Expedition Journal of Pliny the Elder (1979), compiled and exquisitely illustrated by celebrated fantasy writer-artist Una Woodruff – and this is the work from which the above illustration of the Chinese hua fish is derived. Moreover, as seen below, it also features on this book's front cover.

Although Woodruff's book is spoof fiction, the mythological creatures documented in it are all genuine creatures of legend as opposed to invented ones. Consequently, if anyone has additional details concerning the hua fish, I'd greatly welcome seeing them submitted here as comments.

The front cover of Inventorum Natura's French edition (© Una Woodruff)





3 comments:

  1. Interesting article! I am not familiar with the hua fish, nor it's legend, but it does remind me of the genus Periophthalmus, a mudskipper, found in China and other locations.

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  2. Could the hua fish be related to some form of arowana? Scleropages species are found in some regions of asia, and have beautiful coloration, as well as an elongated body, and more importantly ,flamboyant wing-like fins. They are also notorious jumpers, like the silver arowana of South America.

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  3. The scleropage identity is intriguing, as they are certainly famous for their jumping abilities. I'm not so convinced about their fins being wing-like based upon the photos of these fishes that I've seen so far, but the human imagination seldom has problems with exaggeration. So I can well believe how fairly modestly-proportioned fins could be enlarged by vivid imagination into veritable wings, especially when coupled with these fishes' jumping talents.

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