Talisman with a spell that will stop a a Jiang Shi in its tracks - 勅令大将军到此 (chì lìng dà jiàng jūn dào cǐ)
Jiang Shi were first mentioned in Chinese literature during the Qing Dynasty (清朝 qīng cháo) (1636–1912) in a book called Yuewei Caotang Biji (阅微草堂笔记 yuè wēi cǎo táng bǐ jì) (c. 1789 - 1798). They were described as corpses that were reanimated by Daoist priests in an effort to guide them to a certain location for proper burial at the behest of the family of the deceased. You see, the proper burial of a corpse is very important in Chinese culture, otherwise the deceased will be unable to enter the afterlife and continue the cycle of reincarnation. But when soldiers, for example, travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to fight in wars, their families were unable to bring their corpses back home, nor were the fallen afforded proper burial rights on the battlefield. And so, Daoist priests were called upon to reanimate their bodies and have them hop their way back home.
Daoist priests would use a talisman (符箓 fú lù) with a sealing spell (image below) to control Jiang Shi by sticking it on their forehead. This is also an effective way to stop a Jiang Shi in its tracks. However, if the talisman falls off, they would lose their control over them and the Jiang Shi would be able to roam wherever they chose.
Below are all the possible causes of a Jiang Shi to rise from the dead:
- The use of supernatural arts to resurrect the dead (Daoist priests).
- Spirit possession of a dead body.
- A corpse absorbs sufficient Yang Qi to return to life.
- In accordance with the Chinese belief system, a person is made up of 3 Hun and 7 Po. When a person dies and their 3 Hun leave the body, and their 7 Po dissipate. However, if the 7 Po (or a portion of them) remain in the body, they can reanimate and take possession of the corpse.
- The dead person is not buried properly. The corpse comes to life after it is struck by a bolt of lightning, or when a pregnant cat (or a black cat in some tales) leaps across the coffin.
- When a person's soul fails to leave their deceased body, due to improper death, suicide, or just wanting to cause trouble.
- A person injured by a Jiang Shi is infected with the "Jiang Shi virus" and gradually changes into a Jiang Shi over time.
Since Jiang Shi are the reanimated corpses of the deceased, they are often portrayed with varying levels of decomposition – with the recently deceased appearing virtually human, and the long-deceased as decaying, rotten corpses. More often than not, Jiang Shi have pale-white or greenish skin and hair, with a green fungus or mould growing all over (sometimes depicted with a green glow). In some versions of the stories, Jiang Shi also have long, lolling tongues (much like Hei Bai Wu Chang 黑白无常) and long, sharp, black finger nails that cannot be broken.
The Eight Types of Jiang Shi
Below is a descrption of the eight different types, of "levels," of Jiang Shi:
- Purple Jiang Shi (紫僵 zǐ jiāng): This refers to a Jiang Shi created from a corpse that has not been dead for long. These types of Jiang Shi have purple skin and are unable to move of their own accord and are therefore considered an ‘incomplete’ type of Jiang Shi.
- White Jiang Shi (白僵 bái jiāng): These Jiang Shi have pale white skin and though they can hop, they are extremely sluggish. They are afraid of the light, fire, water, chickens, dogs, and even people. They are very easy to manage.
- Green Jiang Shi (绿僵 lǜ jiāng): These Jiang Shi have green skin and secrete a green gas. That are much faster and can hop further than their White Jiang Shi counterpart. They are not afraid of people or livestock, however, they are still afraid of the sun and of fire.
- Hairy Jiang Shi (毛僵 máo jiāng): The infamous “copper skin, iron boned” Jiang Shi have hair growing on their bodies. The longer they are cultivated, the stronger their bodies will become. These Jiang Shi are extremely agile, can jump to the top of houses and trees with ease as if taking flight, and are no longer afraid of (normal) fire or the sun.
- Flying Jiang Shi (飞僵 fēi jiāng): As the name implies, Flying Jiang Shi have the ability to fly. Jiang Shi must cultivate themselves for a thousand years before they can reach this level, and once they do, they are virtually unstoppable. Not only are they no longer afraid of sunlight, they also no longer fear mortal weapons like swords and spears. They can also cast magical spells. The average Daoist monk will be unable to defeat a Flying Jiang Shi.
- Wondering Corpse (游尸 yóu shī): A corpse that moves with the moon and doesn’t inhabit a fixed place.
- Fu Corpse (伏尸 fú shī): A corpse that has been decaying for a thousand years but is unable to move.
- Bu Hua Gu (不化骨 bù huà gǔ): After a person dies and their spirit leaves their body, their bones start to degenerate. Bu Hua Gu bones do not decompose, instead, they turn black and remain strong. Given time, if Bu Hua Gu absorb enough energy from the sun and moon, they will cause devastation on earth.
Defending Against Jiang Shi
If you ever find yourself confronted by a Jiang Shi, below is a list of methods you can use to escape:
- Hold your breath: First and foremost, it is important to know that Jiang Shi have an innate ability to seek out the living by their breath. So, holding your breath is a great way to keep your location a secret from nearby Jiang Shi.
- Mirrors: Jiang Shi are said to be terrified of their own reflections.
- Items made from the wood of a peach tree: "Peach is the essence of the Five Elements. It can subjugate evil auras and deter evil spirits." (桃者，五行之精，能厌服邪气，制御百鬼 táo zhě, wǔ háng zhī jīng, néng yàn fú xié qì, zhì yù bǎi guǐ.)
- A rooster's call: "Evil spirits withdraw when they hear a rooster's call" (鬼闻鸡鸣即缩 guǐ wén jī míng jí suō), because the rooster's call usually occurs with the rise of the sun.
- Jujube seeds: "Nail seven jujube seeds into the acupuncture points on the back of a corpse." (枣核七枚，钉入尸脊背穴 zǎo hé qī méi, dīng rù shī jǐ bèi xué.)
- Fire: "When set on fire, the sound of crackling flames, blood rushes forth and bones cry." (放火烧之，啧啧之声，血涌骨鸣 fàng huǒ shāo zhī, zé zé zhī shēng, xuè yǒng gǔ míng.)
- Hooves of a black donkey
- Ba Gua (八卦 bā guà) sign
- I Ching (易经 yì jīng)
- Tong Shu
- Glutinous rice, rice chaff
- Adzuki beans
- Recite Hanuman Chalisa: Guarantees its reciter full protection from ghosts, demons and any other types of evil.
- Thread stained with a concoction of black ink, chicken blood and burnt talisman
- Blood of a black dog
- Stonemason's awl
- Daoist talisman on the forehead to immobilise or take control
- Dropping a bag of gold coins: the Jiang Shi will be compelled to stop and count the coins
- A sword made of Chinese coins that is charged under the light of the moon
- Placing blood on a Jiang Shi’s forehead
Chi You and His Fallen Brethren
According to legend, thousands of years ago, Chi You (蚩尤 chī yóu) led his troops to fight with so many hostile tribes that the fields were covered in corpses and the rivers flowed blood-red. After one particular battle, Chi You and his troops were forced to retreat. As his soldiers carried away the wounded, Chi You decided he could not leave his fallen brethren on the battlefield. He commanded his troops to use their magic to reanimate the dead and send them back to their hometowns for proper burial.
After performing a ritual on the battlefield, all the corpses stood up and began walking southward in unison. They used magic (五更大雾 wǔ gēng dà wù) to fog the minds of oncoming enemies, giving the dead and the living a chance to escape.
Xiang Xi Corpse Walking 湘西赶尸 (xiāng xī gǎn shī)
During the Qing Dynasty, in a place called Xiang Xi – where there is a strong “witch culture” – when a person died far away from home, if a family could afford it, they would hire a corpse walker, or corpse driver, to bring their deceased family member home. In order to maximize their profit, these corpse walkers would often transport several corpses at once. The deceased would be held by two bamboo poles, and carried long distances by the corpse walkers. As the bamboo flexed and the living men moved, the corpses had the strange appearance of hopping by themselves.
Since corpse walking was looked down upon, and, in the end, was made illegal, corpse walkers would often use the cover of night to hide their actions from officials. This may well have been the inspiration behind the book, Yuewei Caotang Biji, and help explain some of the characteristics that define Jiang Shi.
Jiang Shi and Drought
During the Ming (明朝 míng cháo) and Qing Dynasties (清朝 qīng cháo) - 1368-1644 and 1636-1912, respectively - whenever there was a major drought, some villages in China would search the tombs of the recently deceased and burn the bodies that were decomposed in fear that they would rise again as Jiang Shi. They believed that only once all Jiang Shi were destroyed would it rain again.
Jiang Shi are reanimated corpses that feed on the life force of the living (also known as Qi or Chi (气 qì)). The term Jiang Shi can be literally translated to “stiff corpse,” and since these creatures hop around instead of walking, they are also known by other names, such as Tiao Shi (跳尸 tiào shī) – “jumping corpse”, or Yi Shi (移尸 yí shī) – “moving corpse.” According to legend, the reason they hop is due to severe rigor mortis of the body making it impossible for them to move like the living. As a result, they are often portrayed as rotting corpses hopping through the dark with their hands held out rigidly in front of them for balance. And though this might sound comical at first, beware, for once a Jiang Shi has fed on enough Qi, they can become extremely adept jumpers and appear behind you from a great distance making them an adversary worthy of your fear and respect. In fact, in some versions of the stories, Jiang Shi can transform into balls of light and float around in the night luring naïve wanderers to their death. Other stories tell of Jiang Shi that are able to fly and that gain more intelligence and strength with every Qi they feed on.
Unimaginatively, the English word “zombie” is translated to 僵尸 (Jiang Shi) in Chinese, despite them being two completely different entities, and just to add to insult, due to a few overlapping qualities with the western concept of a “vampire” – such as a fear of the light, returning to their coffins or a dark place during the day, and “sucking life” out of their victims etc. – Jiang Shi are often referred to as “hopping zombies” or “hopping vampires” in English. Neither term should be taken literally as they are completely separate creatures.
Jiang Shi 僵尸 (jiāng shī)
Gender: Male or Female
Pronunciation: (audio file coming soon)
Best known for: Hopping
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