An Introduction to Chinese Ghosts

Every Sunday during October, Sci-Fi & Scary will be bringing you a fresh article from an indie horror author.  They’ll be talking about everything from why they love horror, to their favorite parts, and everything in between. Our second guest post comes from Kat Mayor. You can find more information about Kat at the end of this article.

Chinese Ghosts

by Kat Mayor

This time of year, everywhere you go, you see pictures or depictions of ghosts, vampires, and witches hanging in store windows or decorating lawns in the neighborhood. The ghosts that look like white sheets with black eyes, or the blood-sucking vampires with long fangs in black cloaks are the standard where I live.

But what about in other parts of the world? I’ve had a fascination with Japanese horror ever since I learned The Ring was based on the Japanese movie Ringu, and the legend of Okiku, the onryuu (vengeful ghost). The onryuu have a pretty typical appearance we’re all familiar with—dirty white burial gown, black hair covering her face. What I was less familiar with and what I wanted to know more about was China and its very interesting spectres.

Ancestor worship or veneration is an important aspect of Chinese culture and closely tied to their beliefs in the spirit world. There is a difference between the harmless spirit of a deceased ancestor and malevolent ghosts. But good or bad, ghosts will harm the living if provoked. For many, this fear of retribution is a strong motivator to lead a moral life.

In China, ancestors are remembered and honored during the Ghost Festival. It is a popular Taoist and Buddhist tradition held on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Its main purpose is to hold ceremonies to relieve ghosts from suffering. According to the tradition, the ghosts come out from the underworld on this day and move among the living. Families prepare food and other offerings and place them on a shrine dedicated to deceased relatives with the hope that the dead will protect and bring goodluck to the family. Unfortunately, some of the departed are unhappy and even vengeful.

Hungry Ghosts


Hungry Ghosts, or pretas, are an exceptional type of evil dead. There are several myths cited as the source of these beliefs, but in the Buddhist tradition, the tale of a greedy woman withholding food or money from a Monk is the typical story. When she died, she was reborn as a Hungry Ghost.
Hungry Ghosts are driven by an insatiable need or lust. They are often depicted with long, skinny necks so that they can never eat enough, and large bellies that they can never fill.


Egui / Hungry Ghost by Deviant Artist The Gregory Thomas.

How a spirit becomes a Hungry Ghost:

  • Violent deaths by murder or suicide are cited as possible reasons a person may be rebornas a Hungry Ghost. Desire, greed, and anger should be avoided as they lead to evil deeds such as murder, sexual misconduct and stealing.
  • Angry ancestors who have been neglected by the living can also become Hungry Ghosts.

Hungry Ghosts are considered highly dangerous, and can take the forms of both animals or beautiful men or women to seduce or possess the living. These possessions can cause mental disorders or physical illness.




What Not to Do: 

In order to safely celebrate the seventh month, or Ghost Month, certain activities should be avoided. These are but a few examples.

  • Don’t wear red. Ghosts are attracted to red.
  • Don’t go swimming. A drowned ghost may try to drown you and take over your body.
  • Don’t get married, move, or start a new business. A ghost could take this as an invitation to join you in your new endeavors.
  • Don’t pick up money found on the street.
  • Don’t go out at midnight, lest a ghost approach you for food.
  • Avoid selfies or videos as ghosts can be captured on the film.
  • Don’t sleep facing a mirror as it can guide a ghost to you.

Hopping Vampires


Hungry ghosts aren’t the only type of evil dead. The Chinese Hopping Vampire, or Jiangshi, is literally translated “stiff corpse”.  They are depicted with armsperpetually outstretched from rigor mortis setting in. They are unable to bend their knees because of the rigor, and thus “hop” rather than walk.

Long before The Walking Dead became a popular television program, Taoists priests were escorting corpses home to their families. Like most good tales, the legend of Jiangshi began with a grain of truth, and it all goes back to ancestor veneration. The belief that a spirit buried in a foreign land would never find rest made it necessary to bring the deceased relative home. This was common in the Xiangxi region, because so many traveled far from home for work. If the family could not afford to transport the body for burial, they would hire a Taoist priest to reanimate the corpse so that it could “hop” home. These corpse drivers were chosen based on two qualifications: they had to be brave and they had to be strong.

There was typically a corpse-driving team of two. The first would stand in front with a lantern to light the way, while the other carried the corpse. They only traveled at night and rang a bell to warn others to look away. It is considered bad luck for a living person to set their eyes upon a walking corpse. Although the Mr. Vampire movies of the nineteen-eighties are somewhat campy, and the vampires depicted are often for comedic relief, they provide a great visual representation of this practice.

Why did so many people believe the corpses were actually moving? There are two possible theories for this. The first is that the corpse was carried on the back of one of the drivers and covered with a shroud as the driver walked. The corpse driver was hidden by the shroud and the body appeared to walk on its own. The other is that the priest would tie the dead upright to bamboo poles and arrange them in single file. One man would stand in front and one in back with the poles on their shoulders. As they walked the bamboo poles flexed, and the corpses would bob up and down with the movement of the bamboo. From a distance, it would appear the corpses were hopping with their arms outstretched.

With modern transportation creating efficient ways to bring home the dead, and as society departed from more superstitious practices, corpse driving became a thing of the past. It all but disappeared by the nineteen-fifties.

Appearance and Attributes of Jiangshi

As it takes a long time for a corpse to become a Jiangshi, they are often depicted wearing a uniform from the Qing Dynasty—a dark coat/robe and a round hat. Some are well-preserved, while others are fairly decayed. A paper incantation or binding spell is affixed to the corpse’s forehead. In the movies, an attacking Jiangshi will stop in its tracks the moment the priest slaps the incantation on it. The Taoist priests use their magic arts to control and direct the Jiangshi to move where and when they want.

Jiangshi remind me a lot of the vampires in the Kate Daniel’s books—more like zombies who have to be controlled by masters of the dead. In this case, the masters were Taoist priests. Where western vampires feed on human blood, jiangshi feed on qi, or life force. There are many similarities to western vampires, such as pale skin, fangs, supernatural strength, and fear of sunlight.

How a corpse becomes a Jiangshi

  • Violent death or suicide
  • Improper burial
  • Death by lightning strike

Practicing the supernatural arts to bring the dead back to life, like in the movie Rigor Mortis. A dead man is inadvertently turned into a Jiangshi, by the actions of his loving wife and careless neighbors. The wife’s grief and desperation to see her husband again led her to do some wicked and stupid things. It should have been called, How to Create a Jiangshi in Five Easy Steps without even Trying, although that’s probably too long for a movie title.

How to defeat a Jiangshi

  • A sword carved from the wood of a peach tree. Peaches can deter evil spirits.
  • The call of a rooster. The corpses are afraid of sunlight, and the rooster’s call signals the approaching day.
  • Thread stained with black ink. In carpentry, it is used to keep things straight or “righteous”. Thus, it will keep a jiangshi away.
  • Glutinous rice. When applied to the sick or dying, spirits will believe the person has been dead for a long time and maggots have gotten to it, thus they will leave the person alone.
  • Holding your breath. The jiangshi cannot see or detect you if you hold your breath.
  • Mirrors. Jiangshi are terrified of their own reflections.
  • Fire. The flames will burn the corpse down to its bones.
  • Jujube seeds. One of the most time-consuming and difficult ways to defeat a jiangshi. You must nail the small seeds to the seven acupuncture sites on the back of the corpse. It is highly unlikely an attacking jiangshi will stand still and allow you to do this.
  • Paper incantations. One of the most effective ways to stop a jiangshi. Taoist priests brought the corpse back to life through incantations and used them to control them.
  • Other ways to defeat a jiangshi include a handbell, the blood of a black dog, the Ba gua sign and a broom.

I hope you found this information useful. I’ve always believed that in the event of a Chinese vampire or ghost apocalypse, it is best to be prepared. Take-away message: Don’t be greedy in life, and respect your ancestors and bury them properly.

Kat Mayor/ Kathleen Montemayor is an indie author and book reviewer. You can find her at:

She has 4 distinct works, including The Spirit Chaser, which received a 5 Coolthulhu rating from Sci-Fi & Scary.

The Spirit Chaser

Some places are too evil. Some places should be left alone.

Austin Cole has it made. Star of the hit television show Spirit Chaser Investigations, he has become the world’s most famous paranormal investigator. Although hard work, a talented investigation team, and favorable genetics have something to do with it, it’s his lack of fear and willingness to take risks no one else will that make Spirit Chaser Investigations cable’s number-one show. When a ghost-hunt-gone-wrong seriously injures his best friend and lead psychic, Austin is forced to find a replacement for a team member he considers irreplaceable.

Casey Lawson can’t catch a break. She’s been on her own since she turned eighteen and is scraping by as a part-time psychic and cashier at a New Age store. When a desperate Austin Cole calls her up and offers her a position on his team, has her fortune finally changed?

He’s a control freak; she’s stubborn and opinionated. It takes time, but when they finally realize they’re working on the same side, everything clicks, both on and off screen.

Just when things are looking up, a new threat emerges. Over the years, Austin has angered plenty of demons, and one of them has set her sights on him. Now he’s the one in danger, and it’s up to the team to rescue him from the riskiest investigation of their lives.

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5 Responses to An Introduction to Chinese Ghosts

  1. Thanks for letting me write a guest post! love how you presented it and those pics are CREEPY!

  2. Brian Bixby says:

    Kudos to Ms. Montmayor’s entertain description of Chinese ghosts and other undead. I have to wonder if the European-American fear of burial alive and the “evidence” of buried people struggling to get out of their graves might have had a counterpart among the Chinese to support their ideas about zombies.

  3. Pingback: Monthly Wrap Up: October 2016 Books, Movies, and Other Things - Sci-Fi and Scary

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