The Living Dead: Chinese Hopping Vampires

The Living Dead: Chinese Hopping Vampires

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The Hopping Vampires (jiang shi) are a type of undead creature found in Chinese folklore. Although its Chinese name is often translated as ‘Chinese hopping vampire / zombie / ghost), its literal meaning is ‘stiff corpse’. These creatures may be identified by their attire – the uniform of a Qing Dynasty official. Additionally, the jiang shi is recognizable by its posture and movement. The arms of these creatures are permanently outstretched, apparently due to rigor mortis, and they hop, rather than walk. As a result of the stiffness in their bodies, there are many ways to turn a corpse into a jiang shi, and as many ways to defeat them. These undead creatures appear in quite a number of Chinese films.

Whilst most jiang shi share the same type of attire, bodily posture and mode of movement, variations also exist amongst these creatures. For example, some of these beings look like normal humans, others are a little more decomposed, as a result of being dead for a longer period of time. Yet others have been depicted with sharp teeth, long nails, and emitting a green phosphorescent glow. In some versions of the story, the jiang shi are said to be able to grow stronger, thus allowing them to acquire skills such as flying and transforming into wolves.

Depiction of Chinese vampires

Depiction of Chinese vampires ( Image source )

There are apparently many ways for a dead body to turn into a jiang shi. For instance, according to one version of the myth, a jiang shi is created when a person suffers a violent death, for instance, suicide, hanging or drowning. Such deaths cause the soul to be unable to leave the body, thus resulting in a reanimated corpse. Another belief is that a corpse may become a jiang shi if it is not given a proper burial. For instance, if a burial was postponed after death, a dead body may become restless, and return to haunt the living. Another supposed way of a corpse turning into a jiang shi is that it fails to decompose even after burial. Corpses that have been struck by a bolt of lightning or hopped over by an animal (particularly cats) are also said to turn into this undead creature.

Stories about the jiang shi are not entirely without basis. During the Qing Dynasty, efforts were made to return the bodies of Chinese workers who died far away from home back to their place of birth. This was done so that their spirits would not grow homesick. It seems that there were those who specialized in this trade, and handled the transportation of the corpses back to their ancestral homes. These ‘corpse drivers’, as they are called, are said to have transported the dead at night. The coffins were attached to bamboo poles that rested on the shoulders of two men. As they went on their journey, the bamboo poles would flex. Viewed from afar, this would look as is the dead were bouncing on their own accord.

Traditional Chinese funeral march, circa 1900.

Traditional Chinese funeral march, circa 1900. ( Public Domain )

It is from here that rumors about reanimated corpses began. Initially, it was speculated that the ‘corpse drivers’ were necromancers who were able to magically reanimated the corpses of the dead. Under the supervision of the ‘corpse drivers’, the dead would hop back home. This was done overnight to minimize the decay of the body. Additionally, travelling at night meant that there would be a lower chance of encountering the living, and meeting the dead is considered bad luck. For added measure, a priest with a bell is said to lead the procession, thus warning people of their approach.

The jiang shi are commonly said to come out at night. To sustain themselves, as well as to grow more powerful, the jiang shi would steal the qi (life force) of living victims. The living, however, are not entirely defenseless against these creatures. There seems to be a number of ways to defeat a jiang shi.

Drawing of a jiang shi

Drawing of a jiang shi ( Image source )

These include the blood of a black dog, glutinous rice, mirrors, chicken eggs and the urine of a virgin boy. During the 1980s, the jiang shi was a popular subject in the film industry of Hong Kong. Whilst these undead were often featured as antagonists, they have sometimes been depicted as more human-like, and at times even served as comic reliefs. 

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