From fairies and pixies to genies and demons—Eurasian hinterlands are believed to be the home of many different mythical creatures and beings. In Taiwan, the local oft-tricksy neighbours are called mô-sîn-á.

The Taiwanese mô-sîn-á (móshenzǎi in Mandarin) translates roughly as “little devils.” These devious beings are spirits or mythical creatures often featured in Taiwanese folklore.

Photo: Light through a Hobbit's window

Counterparts in Other Cultures

Taiwan’s mô-sîn-á—like the fairies, elves and pixies of British and Icelandic folklore—are believed to be spirits that dwell in the island’s mountains, forests and countrysides.

Like the genies of the Arabian Nightsmô-sîn-á are mischievous and—according to Taiwan’s tales—interactions with them often do not end well for mortals.

Similar to the yāoguài or yōkai of China and Japan, the term mô-sîn-á is a catch-all term applied loosely in Taiwanese tradition to horrifying backcountry-dwelling mythical creatures of various shapes and sizes.

Photo: Taipei 101 New Years Eve Fireworks
Taipei 101 New Years’ Eve fireworks show
Sinchen.Lin [CC BY]

Characteristics of Mô-Sîn-Á

Taiwan’s mô-sîn-á are usually believed to be small in stature. They are thought to be hobbit-like creatures—nimble and often appear like small children.

Unlike vampires, the mô-sîn-á are not repulsed by sunlight. They are, however, averse to loud noises. So loud explosive fireworks are useful means for deterring these creatures. This is one of the reasons why the Taiwanese light countless firecrackers on festive days!

The mô-sîn-á are tricksters. It is believed that they rarely ever harm their victims directly; instead, preferring to play pranks on the elderly and small children.

The most common form of practical jokes played by these mysterious creatures is reportedly causing folks to lose a sense of direction and guiding them to the middle of nowhere.

Victims might find themselves wandering into unfamiliar places deep in the woods or the mountains and unable to return home. Not entirely unlike the so-called “changelings” in Icelandic folklore, Taiwan’s mô-sîn-á stories often involve missing small children.

Photo: Incense and smoke

A Pan-Taiwanese Belief

These beliefs about the mô-sîn-á, remarkably, are not restricted to any one of Taiwan’s many ethnic groups but are, instead, shared by all.

Belief in these mischievous creatures is adapted from continental East Asian folk religion, blended with Taiwan’s native traditions and have been taken up by all of Taiwan’s cultures—Hoklo, Hakka and even indigenous Formosans.

Each culture blends their own unique folk beliefs with the overall mô-sîn-á theme, creating a versatile mythical being with many different and imaginative incarnations!

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Posted by:The Island Folklore Society

A society for the collection, preservation, translation, promotion and celebration of Taiwanese Tales & Traditions. Visit islandfolklore.org to learn more.