It’s the Witching Month, and though the Chinese don’t have Hallowe’en per se (though they do have a Ghost Festival), they do have a rich tradition of scaring the shit out of themselves with ghosts and goblins as much as the rest of us. While a lot of Chinese ghosts and monsters are actually benevolent, that’s boring as shit and not something anybody wants to hear about in October. Luckily, they have their share of fucked-up monsters too!
Hulijing, the Fox Spirit who wants to steal your ‘essence’
Fox Spirits are not only popular in Chinese but also Japanese mythology, because there’s apparently something enduring about the idea of a shape-shifting succubus who seduces unwitting men and steals their essence.
A fox spirit’s M.O. was pretty straightforward – shapeshift into a beautiful young woman, seduce man, repeat until the hapless young fella was bereft of ‘essence’. There was even one fox spirit who possessed a young woman, married a king, and then inflicted horrible tortures upon his subjects for her own twisted amusement.
The whole concept of the Fox Spirit is not overly dissimilar to that of Western succubi, and taps into an age-old male fear of female sexuality. This is especially pronounced in many Asian countries, where there is a cultural proscription on wasting ‘essence’ through such activities as masturbation, and even a psychological condition called ‘koro’ where men are convinced that their genitals are shrinking.
Whatever your take on it, if a hot woman who’s completely out of your league takes an interest in you, it might be worth asking yourself if she’s actually into you, or just a malevolent vulpine demon looking to turn you into a lifeless husk.
Jiangshi: the hopping vampires of China
Jiangshi are probably the most famous of the supernatural creatures to be found in Chinese mythology, and the one you’re most likely to have heard of (possibly rendering that title up there a lie).
Literally translated as ‘stiff corpse’, Jiangshi were created through a variety of methods: possession by an evil spirit, necromancy, pregnant or black cats crossing the coffin, a corpse remaining unburied, a person being murdered or committing suicide – there were so many ways to create a jiangshi it’s frankly a small miracle China’s not overrun with them.
Jiangshi, like Western vampires, only came out at night, and they moved around by hopping. Their arms were frozen rigid by rigor mortis, so they extended their arms out (like old-school Mummy flicks) for balance. They tended to wear old-school mandarin robes and had a greenish hue to their skin. When they caught someone, they sucked the qi (life essence) right out of them.
The methods for warding off jiangshi were as numerous as the ways they were created. Mirrors, black donkey hooves, the blood of a black dog, I-ching or Taoist talismans, fire and the call of a rooster could all be used to stop one. Axes and brooms could also despatch them, making you wonder why anyone would bother to hunt down donkey hooves and dogs’ blood.
The legend of the jiangshi supposedly has its roots in actual practices carried out in China during days of yore; it was terribly bad luck for someone to be buried away from their hometown, so ‘corpse walkers’ were hired to transport the body back. The corpse-walker teams would consist of two men and the corpse would be propped upright between them with a lantern, leading to the casually terrified observer thinking that a dead man was ‘hopping’ along dark midnight roads.
I mean there had to be an easier way of doing it, but none that would make for such a wicked prank.
Nian: the flesh-eating reason you can’t sleep past 6:30
Anyone who’s resident in China is familiar with the concept of being blasted out of sleep in the early morning by a whole bunch of firecrackers. As with most bizarre goings-on in China, it’s not usually worth your sanity to question this. Fortunately, in this case, we have an answer.
Once upon a time ago there was a creature called Nian. Nian was kind of a dick, in that he loved to scare people around the Lunar New Year. He wasn’t averse to eating a motherfucker if he could get away with it too, so people understandably hated him.
One day, Nian jumped out at the wrong guy. Said guy was wearing a red tunic and carrying a heavy bucket. For whatever reason Nian was a bitch when it came to red, and he turned tail and scarpered. The startled red-tunic guy dropped his bucket, and the sound of it clattering down the hill frightened Nian even more. The villagers reached the conclusion that the colour red and really irritating loud noises could keep the monster at bay, and that’s why red is China’s lucky colour and you can never ever have a lie-in.
Nü Gui, the eternal horror movie monster
If you’ve seen any Asian horror movies in the past 25 or so years, you’ve seen a Nü Gui. Literally meaning ‘woman ghost’, A Nü Gui is typically pale, has long dark hair, and wears long red robes.
Her modus operandi is not dissimilar to that of a fox spirit, i.e. seduce young men and steal their essence. Where they differed was in their nature; whereas a fox spirit was always a supernatural being, a Nü Gui is the ghost of a young woman who was wronged somehow and has returned for revenge. The colour red, in complete contrast to the above use, symbolised anger and revenge.
Whatever her reasons, the Nü Gui is the reason why Asian women who throw their hair over their faces are now universally terrifying. Also, Chinese men have a real issue with women stealing their essence.