Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Jiangshi

The Chinese have long spoken of horrific, once-human creatures that come out of their graves at night to feed on the qi or lifeforce of their victims. These undead beings are a curious blend of the vampire and the zombie, in that it possesses traits belonging to both creatures, and yet it is neither one. It is known as the Jiangshi, the "Hopping Corpse" of Asia.
 
The Jiangshi appears all over China (but is also known throughout Asia), and is thus known by many names. These include: Chiang-Shih, Kiang-Shi, Kuangshi, Chinese Vampire, Hsi-Hsue-Kuei ("Suck-Blood Demon"), Kyonshi (Japan), Ch'ing Shih, Ch'iang-shih, Giang Shi, Kiang-Kouei, Kuang-shi, Kouei, Pinyin, Xianh-shi, Xi Xie Gui, and "the Hopping Vampire of Asia". The word jiangshi (pronounced “jong-shee”) itself comes from the Mandarin Chinese language, meaning “stiff corpse.”
 
The Jiangshi hails from China, where it haunts graveyards, ancient tombs, and places of death. It is often said to live underground, where it may slumber during the day and avoid the sunlight until it rises at dusk to feed.
 
The Jiangshi is a Vampire through and through (although more recently, some folklorists have begun to classify the Jiangshi as a type of zombie or ghoul), and takes great relish in ripping its prey limb from limb before feeding on the gushing blood. According to legends from before the westernization of China, however, the Jiangshi feeds not on blood, but on the victim’s qi (the energies that flow through the human body). Some accounts tell of the Jiangshi feeding on human flesh as well.
 
Opinions differ on what the Jiangshi actually looks like. However, most folklorists seem to agree that, most of the time, the creature looks quite human, even from a distance. The revenant uses this advantage to draw its prey close enough for an attack. However, according to Chinese folklore, there are rarer, more powerful species of the Jiangshi. One is described as a ball of flickering light. The other, however, is a tall, gaunt walking corpse with pale green-white skin or is covered in wild white or green hair. This creature has razor-sharp serrated teeth, long talons, flaring red eyes, and breath so foul that it can kill just by exhaling in an unfortunate victim’s face. Other stories describe the creature as having bulging eyes and long tongues that hang loosely from the monster's mouth. On a more bizarre note, the Jiangshi is always found to be clad in Qing Dynasty burial garments. However, there is a very unique aspect to this vampire. Due to the fact that the Jiangshi is a decaying cadaver, it has an extremely difficult time walking due to the pain and stiffness of rigor mortis, so the creature is forced to hop along instead. This may both look and sound hilarious to one that is unfamiliar with the vampire, but this revenant is no laughing matter.
 
The Jiangshi is an insanely violent creature, driven solely by its hunger for blood and heedless of the consequences that its attacks may lead to. The reason for its madness is that the Jiangshi epitomizes the irrational aspects of the human soul. This makes the vampire vicious and sadistic, and the Jiangshi thoroughly enjoys tearing its prey apart before feeding on the spurting blood.
The Jiangshi has been known to sexually assault women, favoring virgins or nuns, as the resulting despair of being raped by this aberrant undead monstrosity is pure ecstasy to the Jiangshi. Usually, the creature will kill the women afterwards. The revenant attacks using its long claws and teeth, biting the victim on the neck and draining them of blood in a matter of minutes. Other times, the creature will strangle their prey. The Jiangshi’s thirst for human blood is unending, no matter how many victims the creature has claimed that night.
 
Unusually, the bloodsucking aspect of the Jiangshi is not a part of the original Chinese folklore. In the original folktales, the Jiangshi is portrayed as hungering for the lifeforce of its victims (the victim's qi or Spiritus Vitae, or “Breath of Life”). But regardless, the creature must still tear the body of its victims apart in order to consume the ebbing life from the corpse.
 
The evil spirit that inhabits the Jiangshi’s body gives the vampire many unnatural powers. The Jiangshi has supernatural strength and speed. It tears its victims apart with relish, and the creature is impossible to escape from on foot. The Jiangshi’s breath reeks of coagulated blood and decay, and the creature's breath itself is so rank that the mere scent of it is lethal. It is also a shapeshifter, able to take on the form of a wolf at will. Apparently, rigor mortis doesn’t affect the creature in this form.
 
While the Jiangshi is blind, this does not seem to impede the creature very much. It has an unnatural sense of smell, and tracks its prey by the smell of their breath (so, the only way to evade a Jiangshi is hold one's breath for short time). Obviously, one cannot hold his breath for very long before the creature smells him.
 
As is the case with some folkloric Vampires, the longer the Jiangshi is in existence, the more powerful the revenant becomes. Eventually, the rigor mortis wears off, granting the creature far more freedom of movement. According to some legends, the creature’s measure of intelligence and evil greatly increase as well. Most folktales and legends say that, when the Jiangshi's hair is long and entirely white, the Vampire is considered to be fully developed and at its most powerful The creature is able to leap great distances with an enormous amount of force. In some cases, the revenant even learns to levitate and fly. With this increase in power, the Jiangshi becomes far more dangerous to the living. In addition to these abilities, the Jiangshi is said to possess gale-force breath and very long eyebrows that can be used to capture and bind its victims. The Jiangshi also possesses incredibly long and sharp swordlike talons that are extremely deadly. Undoubtedly these clawlike nails are clotted with blood and dirt, and may be capable of infecting the victim with disease (that is, if it doesn’t kill them). In some instances, the creature is said to be able to kill with a single touch. There are legends of the creature actually missing its victim and burying its talons so deeply into a tree trunk that it couldn’t pull free, and was trapped. Upon the dawn, the creature reverted to an inanimate corpse.
 
Fortunately, the Jiangshi has several weaknesses and limitations to its abilities. The revenant fears sunlight (which can destroy it), has an intense aversion to garlic, is very afraid of eight-sided Taoist mirrors, cannot cross running water, and is said to fear fresh chicken blood as well. The creature has poor eyesight, and relies on its senses of smell and hearing while hunting. If a victim holds his breath, the Jiangshi cannot sense him and hops right past a potential meal. Sadly, there are few who can hold their breath long enough to elude this creature. As with many other vampires, the Jiangshi is compelled to stop and count tiny objects (known as arithmomania). Scattering long-grained rice, seeds, dried peas, or even tiny iron pellets will ensure that the revenant doesn’t stray too far from its grave. If the Jiangshi is still occupied with this task at dawn, the morning rays of the sun will destroy it. A circle on the ground made of iron filings, red peas, or rice can trap the creature. In some legends, the Jiangshi is able to be literally swept away with a common household straw broom.
 
One method of controlling the Jiangshi, used by Taoist priests, is to prepare special charms. Powerful spells or death blessings are inscribed on small pieces of yellow paper (which may also be made of red and yellow paper), using chicken blood instead of ink. Then, the charm must be affixed to the revenant’s forehead, which is far easier said than done. But if the priest is successful, the Jiangshi is instantly immobilized and completely helpless. Of course, every now and then, the slip of paper falls off, with catastrophic results. The paper charms, however, are said to only work on adolescent Jiangshi. A fully-developed adult must be dealt with in a different, much more dangerous way. The creature should be captured and buried in a grave in the burial grounds of the ancient ancestors, using Buddhist or Taoist magic to bind the Jiangshi to its new gravesite. Again, this is much easier to say than to actually do it.
 
While the Jiangshi is very much afraid of thunder, garlic, and loud noises, the only being that the creature truly fears is the White Emperor, to whose court the Vampire must pay homage.
 
Despite the creature’s inherent savagery, there are a few ways to kill this revenant. As mentioned earlier, sunlight is lethal to the Jiangshi, and fire is able to ensure that the creature never arises again. Decapitating the revenant will work as well. According to legend, lightning is fatal to the Jiangshi, but is extremely difficult to arrange (obviously). Interestingly, it is said that upon its evolution to its stronger, green-haired form, the Jiangshi can only be killed by a bullet or lightning (or alternatively, the sound of a bullet being fired or a thunderclap). To avoid the possibility of the creature's resurrection, the body must be cremated immediately after it is slain. 
 
It is highly unlikely that silver, holy symbols, stakes, or blessed weapons will have any detrimental effects on the Jiangshi, as the creature was created in a Buddist or Taoist culture. . However, folklore dictates that monks and heroes used the martial discipline known as kung-fu to fight the revenant. However, kung-fu is an extremely difficult discipline to master, taking years to gain proficiency and even longer to become an expert. Nonetheless, kung-fu seems to be a viable option against the Jiangshi. Legends have spoken of weapons that are able to inflict great harm upon the Jiangshi, and are used by monks to do so. One of these is the peachwood sword, a sword carved from the wood of the Peach Tree. It is used by Feng Shui masters to exorcise demons, dispel malevolent energies, drive away ghosts, and to inflict physical harm upon the Jiangshi. It is mentioned in the Jingchu Suishi Ji that “Peach is the essence of the Five Elements. It can subjugate evil auras and deter ghosts.” Another such weapon is the coin sword. This is made by combining copper coins and red thread, with the thread being used to bind the coins into the shape of a sword. The Chinese people believed that, if the sword was made of one hundred and eight individual coins and prayed over by a Taoist priest, it can be used to drive away evil, as well as destroy ghosts and to inflict grievous wounds upon the Jiangshi.
 
Another unusual household item that was often employed against the Jiangshi is the straw broom. Apparently, this cleaning utensil could be used to literally sweep the creature back into its grave. One could also use the broom to sweep seeds or grain back towards the revenant's grave, and the Jiangshi will undoubtedly follow because of its compulsion to continue counting.
 
The Jiangshi is a curious creature that is the reanimated corpse of an individual whose soul could not ascend to Heaven for whatever reason, usually due to the manner in which the person died. Those who committed suicide and people who were executed as criminals were considered to be at very high risk of becoming a Jiangshi. When a cat jumps over the corpse or a person has been previously cursed during their lifetime to never rest after death, becoming a Hopping Vampire is the most likely result.
 
Recent studies show that some of the earliest vampire tales originated in the Far East, in China. The ancient Chinese spoke in hushed whispers of the Jiangshi, a vampiric form of the Undead whose legs were so stiff with rigor mortis that, instead of running after its victims, the creature hops after them instead, intent on draining every last drop of blood from the unfortunate victim’s body. To children, this creature was nothing more than the local form of the bogeyman.  However, their parents knew better…
 
Apparently, the Jiangshi’s origins lie with the Chinese Taoist religion. The idea of this creature comes from an ancient Chinese story, "The Corpses Who Travel a Thousand Miles." In this tale, wizards use their sorcery to enchant corpses and enable them to hop, so that they can make the long journey home for a proper burial. It is this story from which arose the belief that, if a person died far away from home, the Taoist priests could reanimate the corpse. Then, the corpse could hop back to their village, where the corpse would “die” once again and would be able to receive a proper funeral and burial rites. However, every now and then, one of these reanimated corpses would become lost on its way home, and the concept of being unable to find eternal rest eventually drove the reanimated corpse insane, resulting in the creature known as the Jiangshi. It would then proceed to take its revenge by slaughtering any travelers it came upon, draining them of their blood and leaving the grisly, dismembered corpse to be found by another the next day.
 
It has been speculated that perhaps thieves invented the legend of the Jiangshi, in order to scare off curious locals and law enforcements so that they could continue their smuggling operations in relative peace. On the other hand, what if smugglers didn't fabricate this story? Even if such is the case, the thieves would have readily taken advantage of the tale. They would have even dressed the part, using hideous costumes to frighten away any people who got too close to their operations. But...what if the Jiangshi isn't a myth at all, but a frightening reality?
 
So, how does one become a hopping vampire? According to legend, one had to die violently. This could’ve happened through murder, hanging, suicide, drowning, or dying during the commission of a crime. According to Taoist metaphysical beliefs, the body houses two different souls. One was the hun, a rational and very powerful soul. The other, the p’ai or p’o, was thought to inhabit the body at birth and then again at death. Usually, both souls depart from the body following the individual’s death, but occasionally the p’o doesn’t want to leave the body, creating an aberrant undead monster, the Jiangshi. If a cat were to jump over the corpse, it might accidentally "shock" the yin residing within the body. It was also believed that the cat's hairs could become snagged on the soul, effectively stealing the soul of the deceased. This Vampire is insanely violent, driven only by its own instinctive hunger for human blood, ignoring any consequences that may result.
 
But why is the Jiangshi such a strange creature? It is because it possesses traits of both the Vampire and the modern-day Zombie, and yet it is neither. But it has more in common with the Zombie or the Ghoul than anything else. Once initial reanimation has taken occurred, the creature seems to retain little or none of its human intelligence. Although the Jiangshi does become more powerful and smarter the longer it lives, it otherwise seems to possess only a degree of animalistic cunning. Even so, all that this creature feels is the unending need to feed on the lifeforce of living humans.
 
Sources
 
Bane, Theresa. Actual Factual Dracula: A Compendium of Vampires. Randleman, NC: NeDeo Press. Copyright ©2007 by Theresa Bane.
 
Maberry, Jonathan. The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead. Doylestown, Pennsylvania: Strider Nolan Publishing. Copyright ©2003 by Jonathan Maberry.
 
Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp. Copyright ©2006 by Jonathan Maberry.

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