This traditional Chinese Chiang-Shih folklore legend is about dead bodies that were according to ancient belief able to come back to life because of improper treatment at the end of life or during or after the burial process. One common reason given for the soul or po returning was because the person experienced a very violent or painful death. Another reason given was they became angry because their family members failed to give them the proper respect due to them after their death. Yet another reason for their return was because they were buried in the wrong spot * or their grave was disturbed or moved.
The Chiang-Shih were sometimes known as “hopping ghosts” because of the tradition of burying bodies dressed with their feet bound together--the result when they came back to life they had to hop to move about. These corpses were considered very dangerous when they became reanimated. Attributes assigned to them included the fact they were blind so they relied on their ability to sense the breath of their prey to track them. In traditional Chinese belief the Chiang-Shih could suck the breath out of their victims, they were described as having gale force breath. In modern Chinese stories they are just as likely to suck the blood of their victims--for this traditional legend has evolved, today Chiang-Shih are sometimes considered vampires.
Other legendary supernatural powers that are attributed to the Chiang-Shih include sword-like fingernails and incredibly long eyebrows that they can use to lasso or bind their enemies. They also have the ability to shape-shift and they can fly. Despite their evolution today into more scary creatures, I prefer the traditional stories about the Chiang-Shih--for they are also scary. The following story is one of my favorites.
The corpse in this story was not buried in a timely fashion therefore it became a Chiang-Shih because evil spirits were able to enter it.
Four male travelers in Shantung arrived at an inn in the middle of the night. The innkeeper told them no rooms were left but taking pity on them he led them to a little shack in the back of the inn. Early that day the innkeeper’s daughter-in-law had died but he being very busy had not arranged her burial. The four weary travelers bedded down not realizing her corpse lay on a plank behind a curtain in the same shack.
Three of the men fell asleep immediately but the fourth feeling a sense of impending danger couldn’t relax. He froze as he saw a boney hand draw the curtain aside. A monstrous corpse emerged surrounded by a green mist. It had glowing red eyes. He watched in terror as this apparition bent over his sleeping companions and breathed a foul stench of death upon each. All three now lay dead.
The fourth traveler pretended to be asleep and held his breath as the Chiang-Shih breathed on him. As soon as the corpse returned to its plank he ran out of the shack. Hearing him leave the apparition chased him. The man in a panic hid behind a willow tree. But the Chiang-Shih found him.
She lunged at him shrieking. Overcome with fear the man fainted. This saved him once more for the Chiang-Shih missed him and her claw like nails became embedded deep within the tree. She couldn’t extricate them. The next morning the innkeeper found her lifeless corpse no longer animated by the evil spirits. The traveler lay still unconscious nearby.
* This notion comes from the belief in feng shui.