Friday, 10 April 2020

Jiangshi: Chinese Hopping Vampires

According to the Western world, when the Sun goes down, vampires rise from their coffins to venture out in search of blood. They turn into bats, can't enter a house without permission, and sometimes even sparkle. In China, however, vampires are completely different creatures. Sure, the jiangshi performs some of the same basic functions as a Western vampire, like draining the life force from their victims, but while Western vampires like Dracula or Edward Cullen are meant to scare young women away the dangers of lust, the jiangshi serve as a warning to adult children thinking about moving away from their parents. We all have our priorities.
(Ancient Pages/Golden Harvest)

The Jiangshi Are An Ancient Evil

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, spent the years between 259 and 210 B.C.E. expanding the size of the Chinese state through a series of land wars that left thousands of poor young men dead. The families of the soldiers who died during the war of unification couldn't afford to ship their bodies home, so they supposedly turned to Taoist priests, who performed rituals that enabled the bodies to get themselves home. The ritual was only meant to raise the body and soul of the fallen long enough to give them a set of instructions: "Go home." Since their bodies were stiff from rigor mortis, the priests suggested they hop.
Because the jiangshi are unthinking reanimated corpses with little sense of direction, it's believed that "corpse drivers" were employed to herd the creatures home under the cover of night to minimize decay and keep the living from being freaked out by a bunch of hopping dead people. Ahead of the corpse drivers, leading the jiangshi, a Taoist priest was said to ring a bell to warn people of the caravan of the damned.

The Unpredictable Corpse Drive

Even with priests and corpse drivers watching out for them, the hopping vampires never returned to their families. Instead, they ignored their orders and veered off the designated path to hunt. You'd think people would stop reanimating their loved ones like this after, like, the third missed delivery, but the news cycle was considerably slower in ancient China.
As time went on, the legend the jiangshi changed a bit. Rather than a finite number of vampires who died in the early days of the country roaming China, it's now believed that people who died violently or didn't receive a proper burial were also drafted into the army of the undead.
(Golden Harvest)

The Hopping Is Scarier Than It Sounds

As goofy as a bunch of undead creepies jumping around the place sounds, the reality of the situation is terrifying. These are creatures who've stiffened from rigor mortis, and their muscles can never relax. Their ups are magnificent, with leaps that can cover quite a bit of ground. They're trying to jump all the way home, after all. If you're out for a late-night stroll without your jiangshi-repelling equipment (more on that later), you don't stand a chance. They can hop up on you when you least expect it and suck your soul straight out of your face.
(Sup China)

Identifying A Jiangshi

Let's say you’re in China and you see someone hopping around. Are they a vampire coming for your life force or just a weirdo? While the jiangshi keep their human form, they're also extremely decomposed. They have pale white skin with a greenish tint, and in some instances, they can turn into a floating ball of light. Their teeth have transformed into jagged blades, and their fingernails are long, thick, and sharp. If you see someone like that and you're still not sure if you should run the other way, check their breath. If it smells like a 10-day-old onion and garlic stew, then you've got a hopping vampire on your hands.
(Golden Harvest)

They're Also Kind Of Zombies

Depictions of hopping vampires are a little more Night of the Living Dead than Dracula, but it's important to keep in mind that while there's some crossover, they're not vampires or zombies in the way that Westerners think of them. Jiangshi literally means "stiff corpse," which makes them similar to western, Romero-style zombies. Rather than blood or brains, however, the jiangshi feeds on a victim’s energy, also known as chi. The hopping vampire only travels at night, like a Western vampire, but while some modern depictions of the creature sleep in coffins, many of the original tales said that they slept in caves.
(Golden Harvest)

Getting Rid Of A Jiangshi

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to take down these undead creeps as long as you stay vigilant. You can't stake them like a vampire or destroy their brains like a zombie, but if you have an implement made from the wood of a peach tree, you can take them down. In a pinch, grab the nearest Taoist symbol and place it on their head—this won't kill them, but it will stop them from moving. If you happen to have the blood of a black dog or the urine of a virgin boy handy, you can use that to keep them from getting close to you. There are actually a lot of ways to get rid of the jiangshi in your life. Try any of these and stay safe:
  • The I Ching
  • Adzuki beans
  • Ringing a handbell
  • Glutinous rice
  • A stonemason's awl
  • Mirrors
  • An axe
  • A broom
  • Chicken eggs
  • Holding one's breath
  • Dropping a bag of coins (the jiangshi will have to stop and count them)
(Fortissimo Films)

Jiangshi In Film And Fiction

The jiangshi are extremely popular in China, similar to the zombie and vampire crazes of the West. Accounts of the hopping vampires were initially included in Qing collections of ghost stories, and they've appeared in various forms of fiction over the years.
The 1980s and '90s saw a boom in the jianghsi genre of Chinese horror films, but they've been onscreen since the 1936 film Midnight Vampire by Yeung Kung-Leung. Most modern depictions of these creatures represent them in traditional Taoist priest garb, like the 1988 B-movie Robo VampireAs Eastern and Western cultures continue to blend, especially in the cinema, the hopping vampires of China have mixed with the bloodsucking vampires of Europe to create a doubly powerful intercultural ghoul. They still don't sparkle, though.

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