Simians of various sorts are an important motif in Chinese poetry. Examples of simian imagery have an important place in Chinese poetry ranging from the Chu Ci poets through poets such as Li Bai, Wang Wei, Du Fu, and more. Various poetic concepts could be communicated by the inclusion of simian imagery in a poem, the gibbon type of simian was widespread in Central and Southern China, until at least the Song Dynasty, later deforestation and other habitat reduction severely curtailed their range. The macaque has the greatest range of any other than humans. Scientifically, humans do fall under the category of simians, Gibbons are apes in the family of the Hylobatidae. The gibbon family contains four genera, Gibbons are predominantly arboreal, with a specialized ball-and-socket wrist structure. They are also known for their extensive vocalizations, macaques constitute a genus, Macaca, of Old World monkeys of the subfamily Cercopithecinae. Along with the gibbons, they were well known in medieval China. Macaques are also known to vocalize, humans are of the genus Homo, primates in the family Hominidae, and the only extant species within that genus. Their range has included all of China from thousands of years ago, through medieval times, in poetry, humans may be metaphorically alluded to by implicitly comparative reference to other simians, this is generally a pejorative allusion. Many mythological simians were also alleged to exist in medieval China, some of their taxonomical descriptions defy modern zoology, and even some of the more wild speculations of cryptozoology. Often these mythological simians have features of birds, humans, or other creatures, examples include the xiao, shanxiao, and xiaoyang. Various vocabulary terms for simians are encountered in Chinese poetry, besides a certain pre-modern lack of modern bioscientific taxonomic precision, records of Chinese language usage in references to various simian species show evidence of variability over the ages. The terms for simians used in Tang and Song poetry may vary from the way the words or characters are defined today. And, the vocabulary is often not what is encountered in classical poetry. Modern 猩/xīng is used for orangutans, which were unknown in ancient China. One common character for monkey is 猴, representing the word hóu, meaning monkey, ape, monkey-like. In the Classical Chinese lexicon, some vocabulary distinctions were made that differ from those of later times, so that mí tended to refer to macaques, however, the mainstream of Classical Chinese poetry was not primarily concerned with simian species distinctions
Simian, with Chinese character "猴", meaning monkey, ape, primate, or so on.
Luohan (sometimes transcribed "lohan") with gibbons in background. Painting by Liu Songnian, Southern Song dynasty.
Image: Kuimen monkey
The Nine Songs verse Mountain Spirit and commentary from the Chu Ci, 1645 annotated and illustrated edition, with the title changed to The Illustrated Li Sao (離騷圖), depicting the Mountain Spirit together with a simian companion.