Jingwei as depicted in the 1597 edition of the Shanhaijing

Jingwei (simplified Chinese: 精卫; traditional Chinese: 精衛; Wade–Giles: Ching-wei) is a bird in Chinese mythology, who was transformed from Yandi's daughter Nüwa (different from the goddess Nüwa who created mankind and repaired the heavens).[1] After she drowned when playing in the Eastern Sea, she metamorphosed into a bird called Jingwei.[1] 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.[1]

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" (精卫填海), meaning dogged determination and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

The story is recorded in the Shanhaijing:

Three thousand ninety li farther southeast, then northeast, stands Departing-Doves Mountain. On its heights are many mulberry trees. There is a bird dwelling here whose form resembles a crow with a patterned head, white beak, and red feet. It is called Jingwei and makes a sound like its name. She is the younger daughter of the Flame Thearch named Nüwa. Nüwa was swimming in the Eastern Sea when she was unable to return to shore and drowned. She then transformed into the bird Spirit-Guardian and regularly carries twigs and stones from the Western Mountains to fill up the Eastern Sea. The Zhang River emanates from here and flows eastward into the Yellow River.[2]

Professor Manyuan Long of the University of Chicago named a Drosophilia gene after Jingwei[3] because it is - like the princess - 'reincarnated' with a new function and a new appearance (structure). Other related genes were named following the legend.


  1. 1 2 3 Yang, Lihui; An, Deming (2005). Handbook of Chinese mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio. pp. 154–155. ISBN 1-57607-806-X.
  2. Translation in 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.
  3. Long, M., C. H. Langley 1993. Natural selection and the origin of jingwei, a chimeric processed functional gene in Drosophila. Science 260: 91-95.


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