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Jingwei as depicted in the 1597 edition of the Shanhaijing

Jingwei (traditional Chinese: 精衛; simplified Chinese: 精卫; pinyin: Jīngwèi; Wade–Giles: Ching-wei; literally: 'Spirit Guardian')[1] is a bird in Chinese mythology, who was transformed from Yandi's daughter Nüwa.[a][2] She is also a goddess in Chinese mythology.[3] After she drowned when playing in the Eastern Sea, she metamorphosed into a bird called Jingwei.[2] Jingwei is determined to fill up the sea, so she continuously carries a pebble or twig in her mouth and drops it into the Eastern Sea.[2]


Classic versionEdit

The story is recorded in the Shanhaijing:

The poet Tao Qian mentioned Jingwei in his Thirteen Poems upon Reading the Guideways through Mountains and Seas, where he made an association between Jingwei and Xingtian in their persistence to overcome tragedies but also mentions their inability to be free from it:[5]

"[Jingwei] bites hold of twigs, determined to fill up the deep-blue sea. Xingtian dances wildly with spear and shield, his old ambitions still burn fiercely. After blending with things, no anxieties should remain. After metamorphosing, all one's regrets should flee. In vain do they cling to their hearts from the past. How can they, a better day, foresee?"[6]

In popular cultureEdit

Jingwei has a dialogue with the sea where the sea scoffs her, saying that she won't be able to fill it up even in a million years, whereupon she retorts that she will spend ten million years, even one hundred million years, whatever it takes to fill up the sea so that others would not have to perish as she did. From this myth comes the Chinese chengyu idiom "Jingwei Tries to Fill the Sea" (精衛填海), meaning dogged determination and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Fruit fly geneticsEdit

Professor Manyuan Long of the University of Chicago named a Drosophilia gene (jgw) after Jingwei[7] because it is - like the princess - 'reincarnated' with a new function and a new appearance (structure). Related genes were named following Chinese mythology.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ This is not to be confused with the goddess Nüwa who created mankind and repaired the heavens (Yang & An, 2005).


  1. ^ Strassberg (2002), 132. "SPIRIT-GUARDIAN (JINGWEI) 精衛"
  2. ^ a b c Yang & An (2005), 154–155.
  3. ^ Strassberg, 132.
  4. ^ Translation in Strassberg (2002), 132.
  5. ^ Strassberg, 18.
  6. ^ Translation in Strassberg (2002), 18.
  7. ^ Long, M., C. H. Langley 1993. Natural selection and the origin of jingwei, a chimeric processed functional gene in Drosophila. Science 260: 91-95.[1]


  • Strassberg, Richard E. (2002). A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. Berkeley: University of California press. p. 132. ISBN 0-520-21844-2.
  • Yang, Lihui; An, Deming (2005). Handbook of Chinese mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio. ISBN 1-57607-806-X.