Episode 63: Chinese Hopping Vampires

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When we talk about vampires, we might think about they can just show up from no where in the middle of the night and disappear in a blink of an eye. Today we are going talk about the Hopping Vampires in Chinese mythology and folklore, yes those vampires are hopping around.

In Chinese, those creatures are called JiangShi 僵尸. It was interesting that the Chinese translation of the word “zombies” is also JiangShi. So for a long period of time I thought zombies was a concept from the west not realizing it was actually a Chinese term. In English, some people call JiangShi Hopping Vampires instead of Hopping Zombies, maybe due to more similarities between JiangShi and Vampires.

Jiang means stiff, and Shi means corpse. Today the typical image of JiangShi are those stiff corpse wearing official garments from the Qing Dynasty 清朝 hopping around with their arms out stretched. This is actually from a series of Hong Kong movies called JiangShi DaoZhang 僵尸道长 in the 90s. The movies are so popular and this image of JiangShi become a popular culture icon. You can see people today dress up like that in Hollyween in Asia. The idea is probably related to in Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty before the modern China, the officials were viewed as bloodthirsty creatures with little regard for humanity.

僵尸3

Aside from the movies, JiangShi can be found in the earlier books. In the book YueWeiCaoTangBiJi 阅微草堂笔记 from the Qing Dynasty 清朝, it descried JiangShi as a creature covered by white hair with red eyes, long curled fingers. Their teeth stick outside of their month like sharp blades. When they breath, you can smell blood. JiangShi has names like YiShi 移尸,ZouYing 走影 and ZouShi 走尸, all meaning moving corpse. In the book ZiBuYu 子不语, it mentioned different types of JiangShi including ZiJiang 紫僵, meaning purple stiff corpse, BaiJiang 白僵, white stiff corpse, LvJiang绿僵, green stiff corpse, MaoJiang 毛僵, hairy stiff corpse and so on. There is a story in the book XuZiBuYu 续子不语, it says there was a mine worker buried under the mine and after decades or hundreds of years, he became a dried corpse. So the earliest versions about JiangShi is more similar to mummies, just as the named indicated stiff corpse that not rotten.

僵尸1

There are myths and forklore about how it happens varying from the chemicals in the soil are not ideal for organic to grow, which is relatively scientific to the corpse is controlled by evil spirit or corpse get qi 气 or life force from the alive. The myth about JiangShi sucks human’s blood is again from the Hong Kong movies which was adopted from the western vampires.

Like garlic is the weapon to defeat vampires, there are ways to defeat or scare away JiangShi as well. In the book BenCaoGangMu 本草纲 目, it mentions JiangShi is scared of mirrors. In the book JingChuSuiShiJi 荆楚岁时记., it mentions using peach wood can draw off any evil spirits. Other methods includes sunlight, burning the corpse, blood from black hair dogs and eating sticky rice on the funeral day.

Some people say that the origin of this whole idea of moving corpse is from the folk practice called GanShi 赶尸, transporting a corpse over a long distance in XiangXi 湘西, a region in the south China. The families of the dead, who died in a another place other than their hometown would hire a Taoist priest to bring the corpse back home. This practice happens at night and the priest rings a bell to notify their presence. The corpses would to be set uptight in single file and tied to long bamboo rods on the sides. Two men carry the ends of the bamboo. When they walk, the bamboo flexed up and down and the corpses seem like hopping.

Mentioned:

僵尸 JiangShi /Chinese hopping vampires

阅微草堂笔记 YueWeiCaoTangBiJi

子不语 ZiBuYu

续子不语 XuZiBuYu

本草纲 目 BenCaoGangMu

荆楚岁时记. JingChuSuiShiJi

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