Female merfolk may be referred to as mermaids, although in a strict sense mermaids are confined to beings who are half-woman and half-fish in appearance. Male merfolk are called mermen. Depending on the story, they can be described as ugly or beautiful.
In the midst of the South Sea are the houses of the kău (Chinese: 鮫; pinyin: jiao; Wade–Giles: chiao) people who dwell in the water like fish, but have not given up weaving at the loom. Their eyes have the power to weep, but what they bring forth is pearls.
These aquatic people supposedly spun a type of raw silk called jiaoxiao 蛟綃 "mermaid silk" or jiaonujuan 蛟女絹 "mermaid woman's silk". Schafer equates this with sea silk, the rare fabric woven from byssus filaments produced by Pinna "pen shell" mollusks. Chinese myths also recorded this "silk" coming from shuiyang 水羊 "water sheep" or shuican 水蠶 "water silkworm".
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Jiaoren (鮫人 mythical fish-human, mermaid, merman). website