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The History of Chinese Zombies

Zombies aren't just big news in the West - they're starting to catch on in China. Find out their weird history in the Middle Kingdom.

07·14·2011

When underground comics guru Chairman Ca released his comic “Zombie Pie” it created some serious zombie fever around the capital. According to a semi-recent article by The Global Times , not one but four Beijing expats are currently writing zombie novels. But how do zombies compare with their hopping Chinese equivalent, jiangshi?

Jiangshi (僵尸, literally “stiff corpse”) were taken very seriously by scholars in ancient China, who speculated on how jiangshi are created. According to one Qing Dynasty scholar, they can be divided into two groups: an old corpse that hasn’t decomposed or a freshly dead body returning to life . In Western culture though, the conception of zombies springs almost wholly from one film, George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”

Like Western zombies, jiangshi are repulsive creatures who suffer from rigor mortis and decomposition. They have to hide in caves during the day and come out after dark to steal your qi (气,life force). However, a jiangshi moves by hopping , rather than the shambolic shuffle of its occidental cousin.

Jiangshi are often depicted in the robes of Qing officials, a trope thought to have originated from the anti-Qing feelings rampant during the early days of jiangshi movies. Perhaps the biggest jiangshi film is “Mr. Vampire ” released in 1985 it spawned several sequels. The Mr. Vampire films offer a traditional portrayal of a rotting, hopping, biting jiangshi, though more recent media have updated the image, often adding elements from Western vampires .

The 1998 Hong Kong TV series “My Date with a Vampire” centered around a soldier of the Second Sino-Japanese War who was turned into a jiangshi by the vampire king and ends up in Hong Kong sixty years later falling in love with the heiress to a family of vampire hunters.

Unlike the older image of the jiangshi, the series’ protagonist looks the same in his zombie state as he did before, and he is able to pass as human, even working as a policeman. He is also an example of the modern moral vampire and teams up with his love interest to defeat an evil vampire/jiangshi who wants to turn the whole world into his kind.

Jiangshi have also hopped their way to Western shores; in the novel “Anno Dracula,” one worked for Fu Manchu . But on the flipside, Western-style zombies are gaining currency in China too. The “Plants vs. Zombies” videogame is hugely popular and all over Beijing you can see the spin-off toys being sold.

So, whether you’re in Beijing or Boston, how do you deal with a pesky jiangshi who wants to steal your qi? Over the years, a number of methods have been developed to defeat these hopping horrors. However, the most handy for the average Joe include the blood of a black dog, a peach wood sword or a rooster’s call . You can thank me later.

 

The horrors don’t end there, though, China also has bigfoot!

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