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Home | Creature Profiles: The Jiang-Shi

Creature Profiles: The Jiang-Shi

The Asian countries are probably best known, where monsters are concerned, for their depictions of vengeful female ghosts. It should come as no surprise that these ancient lands would also be home to a host of strange demons, spirits, and monsters unlike anything with which most Westerners are familiar.

One of the most intriguing of these Asian monsters comes from China. Called the jiang-shi, it is a bizarre hybrid of vampire and zombie known primarily for its habit of hopping after its victims. While this is an unintentionally humorous aspect of the creature, the jiang-shi is far more sinister than its stunted mobility would imply.

Jiang-shi translates to “stiff corpse.” Its most famous feature is its movement by hopping, arms outstretched, because its body has already succumbed to rigor mortis. The jiang-shi, though frequently referred to as a “vampire,” developed independently of Western vampires—it likely arose as an extension of the Chinese “hungry ghost.”

It is in fact more akin to the modern zombie than to the vampire. Like the zombie, it does not retain knowledge of its former life, nor any sort of willpower; it is driven purely by the instinct to feed. Typically the jiang-shi drains its victims’ life energy, or qi, but Western influence has given some jiang-shi the ability to drain blood.

The jiang-shi also bears little physical resemblance to the Western vampire. While it may look like a normal human if created soon after death, post-decomposition jiang-shi take on a horrifying appearance. They are pale, with moss or mold growing on their skin, and their hair is long and white. They also possess sharp black fingernails, serrated teeth, and may radiate a phosphorescent green light. Because they cannot see, jiang-shi often detect their victims by breath; thus one can avoid them by holding one’s breath. Due to anti-Qing sentiment during the early days of jiang-shi films, these monsters often wear the robes of Qing Dynasty officials.

Like Western vampires, the jiang-shi was created if a person had died violently or suddenly, or as a result of improper burial. Legend has it that the first jiang-shi were created by priests who taught them to hop home for burial in their ancestral burial grounds. The priests transported them only at night and would ring bells to warn people of their presence, since it was bad luck to see a jiang-shi. As a creature originally resurrected through the use of magic, this links the jiang-shi to the legends of Haitian zombies who, like their Chinese counterparts, had no will of their own and were under the control of sorcerers.

While a hopping vampire/zombie may seem somewhat ridiculous to those unfamiliar with the legend, the jiang-shi is more vicious than most modern portrayals of either vampires or zombies. Aside from a tendency to rape women, it was not uncommon for a jiang-shi to rip off its victims’ head or limbs, and this became their most frequently reported attribute. Lacking the hypnotic powers common to Western vampires, the jiang-shi typically surprised its victims instead. In time the creature would grow stronger, leave its coffin behind, and learn to fly. At this point it produced a covering of white hair and might also obtain the power to turn into a wolf. Once the jiang-shi reached this stage, it could be killed only by a bullet or by thunder, though fire—representative of purification in so many cultures—was the ideal solution. Some believed that one could also kill a jiang-shi by sucking out its dying breath.

In vampire lore there is no shortage of strange methods by which to ward off a vampire, and the jiang-shi is no different. It can be controlled, for example, by a parchment inscribed with runes upon its head. Other methods peculiar to the monster are the blood of a black dog, peach tree wood, a hen’s egg, sticky rice, and the urine of a virgin boy. The jiang-shi is also reportedly frightened of its reflection.

Aside from appearances in various Chinese films and TV shows, the contemporary jiang-shi can be found in several novels, and in popular video games like Super Mario Land and Kingdom Hearts II.

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Creature Profiles: The Jiang-Shi

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