They are the Lung (dragon), Xuanwu(black tortoise), Feng-Huang(phoenix), Ki-Lin(unicorn), and Baihu(white tiger). In the west, they loosly correspond to the dragon, phoenix, unicorn, lion and sacred bull. There are numerous other sacred beasts, but these are the most primal to use.
The Lung. He is a symbol of rain, weather, water, spring and the east. It is the guardian of the emperor and the city of Kyoto. It is a part of the Chinese zodiac and is a constellation in the sky. It is a symbol of yang, the positive and masculine energies of the universe. They are generally benevolent. The Lung are full of power, and the only animal that is their equal would be the white tiger. Some well known dragons are the four dragon kings, worshipped as the gods of weather, the yellow dragon that is the symbol of the Emperor of China and the Azure dragon, a great warrior of the heavens.
The western dragon is seen more as a symbol of fire and power. They are usually malevolent and slaying them represents the climax of a heroes quest. They are greedy and love gold and beautiful virginal girls. Their blood gifts heroes with power or knowledge. They usually lair in large caves, symbolizing their connection with the Earth. They are variously described as children of the gods or of the prime creator/creatrix(like Tiamat) or as cursed individuals (like Fafnir.) Their ferocious temperment and power got them identified with Satan in the Christian mythos and because of that they were demonized even more as the symbols of sin. But, they can be used for good as well. The Welsh turned the red dragon into their symbol. In the pagan community dragons are regarded now as guardians of knowledge and so must be contended with to learn more advanced techniques. They are seen as forces of nature and the epitome of natural power
The Fenghuang is actually 2 immortal birds. The male is the Feng, and the female is the huang. Together they represent harmony and marriage. Over time, the fenghuang came to symbolize the Yin, the female energies of the universe, and so became a symbol of the empress to balance out the Yang of the Lung(dragon.) The 2 birds are now usually depicted as single female entity. They came to be identified with fire and the south direction and is called the King of birds. It is a symbol of grace and virtue, justice, the sun and the power of heavens sent to man.
The phoenix has become very well known in the west. It is a symbol of rebirth, rising from the ashes of it's own destruction. It used to be a symbol of the sun, but has also become a symbol of fire. It is the king of birds and can live for a thousand years before it needs to immolate itself. It is a much loved and well remembered symbol. The church took this beast as a symbol of Christs resurrection and so it was saved from demonification (poor dragon.) The phoenix was given a power boost by the comic book characte Jean Grey, when it became a creature made of all the psychic energy in creation and a cosmic entity, giving it a cult status among fans.
The kilin is the symbol of grace, speed, wisdom and the wind, for it is able to walk across grass without bending a blade and can walk swifter than any animal and can even walk across water. After the Lung and the Fenghuang, it is the third ranked beast. It is the herald of sages and benevolent rulers. One came to Confucius' mother, and told her she would have a son that would be "a king without a crown." It also used to be sighted during the reign of great emperors and kings. The Kilin looks like a mix of dragon and deer covered with flames and bearing a single horn, but is not feirce at all. While is usually a pacifist, and a vegetarian, it will spout flames from its mouth to punish those whom sin.
The unicorn is a symbol of raw nature, purity, healing and virginity. The unicorn can heal poisons and will protect innocense. It is not a horse with a horn! It has a head like a horse, with a goats beard, a deers body, a lions tail, cloven hooves(like a goat) and a single horn upon its head. In classical times, the Unicorn was simply thought of as a fierce exotic animal, it wasn't until the medieval times that it got it's power and beauty. The unicorn has both pagan and christian associations. The Catholics saw it as a symbol of Christ and gave the name of a herd of unicorns a "Blessing" of Unicorns (like a murder or crows.) The pagans saw it as raw, pure nature. The unicorn hunt is a symbol of taming that power, but also of destroying purity. The unicorn was kind to those who were pure, virginal and peaceful, but was a fierce warrior to those whom would harm it or those it regarded as pure. The enemy of the unicorn is the lion, both of whom are symbols of England.
Baihu, the white tiger. The king of beasts and the strongest of all, able to equal the power of the dragon. He represents the dark, negative yin, to the dragons postive, good yang. He was not evil though and would appear to a ruler when he ruled with absolute virtue. He is the lord of the west and is connected to the element of metal. He represents the fall, when the world is dying, but I have also seen him represent winter and the cold.
The Xuanwu, black tortoise, is the symbol of the north. He represents the earth in some cosmologies, in others he is the water. He is actually two entities, the tortoise and the snake. At times he is pictured as chimeara like beast, with a turtles body and head, but a long snake tail (with its own head.) Other times it is depicted as a tortoise with a dragons head, with or without the snake tail. It is the symbol of guardians and warriors, and also of longevity and good fortune.
The only other animal that is widly known and worshipped in the west that could roughly correspond to the Xuanwu would be the sacred bull. The sacred bull is a symbol of the earth, of fertility and of life. It is also a symbol of the maculine forces of creation and of virility. They have had cults all over the West and some parts of the East, with Hindus being the only people in the world that still openly worship and/or adore it. It has been thought of as a blessed beast by most pagans, but at times also demonized. The Greeks demonized the sacred bulls of the Minoans into the Minotaur, while the Jews demonized the sacred bull into form of the golden calf. Most pagans in modern times think of the bull as a symbol of the horned lord or nature.
With these beasts being sacred in the East and adorning their temples and altars, I feel that they should regain so much more importance in the west. I know many pagans adorn their altars with dragons, but they should also think of the other beasts here. I have had the phoenix be part of my spiritual life for a while now. I know many people love the unicorn, but many think of it as a girlish symbol or as childish. Break out of the box and think of them as beasts of power to be honored and respected.