Jiangshi: Chinese Hopping Vampires

By | April 5, 2020

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.

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(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.

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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.