The world just celebrated Halloween by dressing themselves in various movie characters or many kinds of ghosts from different countries. Zombie is always a good choice when people are trying to dress up and act horrifying. You must be too familiar with zombies image like those in The Walking Dead. However, the zombies in China are totally different from the appearance and even the way they “walk”!
The Chinese Walking Dead…? In China, it’s The “Hopping” Dead!
Yes, zombies (僵尸, Jiāngshī) in China cannot walk at all! In fact, one of the most classic image of Chinese zombies is that they can only jump around with their both arms raised forward. Zombies in Mandarin “僵尸” literally means “stiff corpse.”
Chinese zombies hopped, but they were actually hopped pretty fast in Chinese people’s recognition. Unlike the western zombies who seem to be slow, drunk and have difficulty moving, Chinese zombies are rather vigorous. So you’d better run faster to avoid the hopping dead!
Chinese Zombies Origins and Legends
But why Chinese zombies couldn’t walk?
Legend has it that in Qing Dynasty, there were a kind of occupation called “corpse-running warlock” (赶尸人, Gǎn shī rén) who transport the corpses to their hometown on foot. The common way to transport the dead bodies was to tied the corpses up on the bamboo poles. Two warlocks would carry the poles at night because the lower temperature could slow the decay of the corpse. Therefore, in the whole “corpses-running” job, the bamboo pole made those corpses bobbing up and down. People who saw this at dark night in a distance would have thought those corpses were “jumping” forward, following the warlock. This is one of the main origin of zombies in China.
Legend has it that if these corpses absorbed in yin energy under the moonlight; having resentment before they died, or their graves were destructed on purpose, some of them came alive and became zombies.
The Classic Images of Chinese Zombies
The image of zombies in China is pretty much different from those in Western zombie movies. Except for the way these zombies “move”, the appearances are also special. Following are the features of Chinese zombies appearances, their characteristics, and of course, their weaknesses:
- They wear Qing Dynasty official robes.
Compared to western zombies usually wear dirty rags full of blood stain, Chinese zombies actually dress pretty decently. The classic Chinese zombies wear the official garments of Qing Dynasty.
Most of the folktales about zombies originated from early Qing Dynasty, when many people died of the slaughter from Manchus and the corpse-running job was developed. What’s more, it’s also a tradition to bury the deceased with proper clothes at that time, especially official garments.
- Careful! They have long black nails and sharp teeth.
Just like Western vampires, such as the one in the film Dark Shadows, Chinese zombies normally are depicted to have long and sharp nails. You’ll find out Chinese zombies actually share more similarities with Western vampires, such as their extremely pale faces and dark circles around the eyes, sharp nails and teeth, and they’re afraid of sunlight.
- Afraid of sunlight and active at night.
This is also a trait that is quite similar to the Western vampires. During the day, zombies would sleep in the coffins or hide in the cave without sunlight. At night, however, they’ll come out to attack people.
- Yummy yummy human blood dinner.
Chinese zombies have this “vampire personality” to bite human (in their neck, in particular) and drink their blood to keep energy for themselves. People who were bitten by the zombie would be infected and become a zombie as well.
5. Freeze! Paste a sealing spell on their forehead and they’ll fall asleep.
If you’ve ever watched old Chinese zombies movies, you’ll know that the warlock would paste a sealing spells (符咒, Fúzhòu), or “fulu (符箓, Fúlù)” on the zombies’ forehead and stop them.
6. Basically they are blind, so hold your breath and they can not find you.
This is another weakness of Chinese zombies. In fact, this is also an element to add some fun scenes to the old Chinese zombie movies. Some Chinese zombies comedy include the interesting hide-and-seek between zombies and human.
Chinese Zombies Movies and TV Series
- (僵尸先生, Jiāngshī xiānshēng, 1985)
The Hong Kong movie Mr. Vampire starring Lam Ching Yin, who was also most well-known for zombies films. This film is so classic that shape people’s common recognition to Chinese zombies. It’s also one of the pioneering work that influences the following Chinese zombie films. The film contains comedy elements.
As mentioned above, Chinese zombies share a lot of similarities with Western vampires, and thus the translation movie name is “Mr. Vampire” instead of the literally meaning “Mr. Zombie.”
- Vampire Expert (僵尸道长, Jiāngshī dào cháng, 1995)
Another famous TV series starring Lam Ching Yin.
- Rigor Mortis (僵尸, Jiāngshī, 2013)
The most recent Chinese zombie film, Rigor Mortis is a 2013 Hong Kong horror film directed by Juno Mak. The film does not contain comedy features in it like the former films but real horror. What’s the most special is that the zombie in this film has escaped the traditional “jumping” zombies image, rather, the zombies in this film can even fly!
Rigor Mortis has received positive reviews because it created a new era of Chinese zombies. You’ll have the whole new experiences of Chinese zombies, horror, and excitement!
Extra Fun! Chinese Walking Dead in Music Video – Jay Chou “Eunuch with a Headache”
In this music video, you’ll see the Chinese zombies elements in the historical scenes. You may think Chinese zombies are creepy or ugly from the introduction above, now, let’s relax and enjoy the music video with Chinese zombies dancing!
Conclusion & Further Reading
The Chinese walking dead must have amazed you due to their differences to the western ones! Although the Chinese Ghost Month passed a few months ago, the worldwide Halloween does bring up people’s curiosity and interest in knowing more about the ghosts and dressing up like them! Chinese zombies may be historical and fictional monsters, but they do provoke people’s imagination and become a big part of Chinese culture. If you are interested in Chinese ghost month or superstitions about ghosts, please read:
Chinese Superstitions Part 1: https://www.tutormandarin.net/en/chinese-superstition-part/
[Guest Post] Chinese Ghost Month Taboos You Must Know: https://www.digmandarin.com/chinese-ghost-month.html