Written by Jonathan Wojcik
October 2nd: Mythology of the Jiang shi!
If you're into those Japanese cartoons and video games, and it looks like around 101% of you are, you may have seen a character or two like my bad cartoon here, a sickly-colored corpse in a fancy suit bouncing around like some kind of morbid pogo stick, arms outstretched, hungry for the souls of the living. Often oversimplified as a "Chinese Vampire," Jiang shi ("stiff corpse") are a little more complex than just another blood-sucking cadaver, having only adopted vampire-like traits rather recently in popular culture.
In Chinese philosophy, the human body is governed not merely by a single, unified soul, but by three huns and seven pos. While neither are necessarily "good" or "evil," it's the po that embody your most primal urges, your lust, your hunger, your aggression, all those fun things that come with being an animal on a planet, barely balanced out by the more virtuous hun. When our bodies die, the hun are said to move on, seeking better things to do than stabilize an ape, while the po are left alone to fester in your corpse and think about what they did.
Hsien Ko from Darkstalkers!
It goes without saying that spiritual representations of pure aggression and anarchy aren't always content to sit and stew in a rotting husk forever, and po are said to sometimes animate a corpse in a crude parody of life, joints stiffened with rigor mortis, hopping from place to place and sucking the very life energy or qi from the living.
If you've ever heard it said that vampires can't resist counting things, this bit of lore actually belongs to the Jiang shi, which cannot pass spilled rice without stopping to count each and every grain. Another popularly portrayed weakness is the fu talisman, a simple spell written on a slip of yellow paper that may keep the monster under control, lock it in place or return it to rest. They're most frequently potrayed in the robes of a Qing dynasty official, especially since it's thought to take decades or centuries before the po get sick enough of lying around.
It's common to lump a lot of mythological beings under popular umbrella terms like "zombie" and "vampire," but creatures like the Jian shi deserve better than to just be seen as Dracula's weirdo cousins. They're older than our modern concept of the vampire. They have origins and characteristics all their own, and only lose something when shoehorned in with Edward Cullen.
HALLOWEEN 2012 ARCHIVE: