The jiangshi, meaning “stiff corpse”, is a monster from Chinese folklore somewhat similar to Western vampires and zombies. There are several different ways a person can become a jiangshi, and while they are usually dead beforehand, some living people can turn into jiangshi after being bitten or attacked by one. People who commit suicide, aren’t buried after death, or whose corpses become possessed by malicious spirits can all become jiangshi. Daoist priests can also reanimate the dead and turn them into jiangshi.
Jiangshi tend to vary in appearance, an individual jiangshi’s looks depending on how exactly long it had been dead. Some that had just recently died look like ordinary human beings, while others that had died a long time ago look just like rotting corpses. All of them are known, however, for their peculiar way of movement. Because of rigor mortis, a jiangshi’s arms and legs are very stiff, so they’re forced to hop and keep their arms stretched forward to grab victims easier.
In popular culture, especially in Hong Kong movies, they are usually depicted with claw-like fingernails, greenish-white skin, and wide open mouths. They wear the uniform of a Qing official, the period of Chinese history (1644-1912) when the Han Chinese were ruled by the Manchu.
Jiangshi avoid the sun, and because they’re afraid of rooster calls, rest in caves or coffins during the day. Once night-time comes around, they emerge from their hiding places and look for victims whose life force they can suck up. There are many ways a jiangshi can be defeated, including showing them their reflection in a mirror, setting them on fire, or throwing the blood of a black dog on them.
The word “jiangshi” has been used in Chinese literature as early as the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), but this early usage referred to a corpse. By the time of the Qing, it had come to denote a supernatural reanimated corpse. Jiangshi stories were quite popular during the Qing-era, and their conventional costume might be a reinforcement of anti-Manchu backlash.
The source of the jiangshi monster might have come from the practice of “transporting a corpse over a thousand li”, a common method of moving dead bodies in the region of Xiangxi. Dying away from home was considered a very big deal in traditional China, and families who were too poor to afford transportation to bring back a relative who died in a far away location would buy the services of “corpse walkers”. Corpse walkers, typically a team of two men, would tie corpses upright upon long bamboo rods that were carried horizontally. When seen from far away, because the rods would bump up and down, the corpses looked like they were hopping. This practice was often done at night, to avoid seeing people and because it was cooler outside.