The Wildman of China

A costume of the Yeren featured in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. (Image source credit here.)

A costume of the Yeren featured in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. (Image source/credit here.)

Accounts of Bigfoot-like creatures in China date back nearly 3,000 years. One of the best-known of these creatures in modern times is the yeren, or “Wildman”, in the central province of Hubei. The earliest report of a Wildman appears in a local chronicle of Hubei’s Fang County in the 17th century, where the author claimed that a large number of them could be found on Mt. Fang. There were hundreds of sightings of Wildmen in the 20th century, and people still report seeing them today.

The typical Wildman is described as being about 6 between 8 feet tall, and covered in long red hair, although Wildmen with black or white hair have also been reported. They stand upright like humans and have long, powerful limbs. They communicate by grunting, but are also capable of laughing and crying. There are records of encounters with male, female, and children Wildmen.

While the Wildman had long been known by peasants, scientists only began to take an interest in the creature’s existence in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1940, while traveling on a bus through the province of Gansu, a biologist named Wang Zelin found a group of “Wildman hunters” who had shot and killed a female Wildman and planned to take it to the county government. Wang described the corpse as being about 2 meters (6.5 feet) and covered in thick grayish-brown hair. The locals had said this Wildman had been living in the area the past month.

Drawing of a Yeren. (Picture source credit here.)

Drawing of a Yeren. (Picture source/credit here.)

In the early 1950s, a geologist named Fan Jingquan claimed to have seen two Wildmen in the province of Shanxi. Over a period of three days, Fan and a local guide twice observed a mother and baby Wildman in a forest outside of Baoji City. While the mother was cautious, the child was more than happy to interact with the two men, and it even took chestnuts from them. Fan’s guide told him that the Wildmen lived in a near-by cave, and often came to the forest during the autumn and winter seasons to pick chestnuts.

The first serious effort by scientists to investigate the Wildman occurred in Yunnan province in 1961, after a group of construction workers claimed to have found and shot one. China’s official Academy of Sciences could find nothing to corroborate the workers’ claims, and although there were more investigations over the next dozen years, nobody paid much attention again until a series of Wildman sightings in Hubei in 1976.

On May 14th of that year, six government officials were driving through the border area between Fang County and Shennongjia when they noticed an ape-like creature about 5 feet tall standing on the road. After almost running the creature over, five of the men got out of the car to take a better look at it. The creature did nothing but stare, and it walked back into the forest after one of the men threw a stone at its hip.

A hair sample allegedly from a Yeren. (Image source credit here.)

A hair sample allegedly from a Yeren. (Image source/credit here.)

Several weeks later, a peasant woman and her four-year-old son were walking up a mountain ridge when they saw a Wildman rubbing its back against a tree. Once the creature realized the woman was watching it, it took off chasing her. The woman ran for more than a mile before she looked back and saw that the creature was no longer on her trail. When the Chinese Academy of Sciences investigated the encounter a month later, they found primate-like hair in two different spots on the alleged tree where the creature was rubbing its back.

A third sighting had happened on October 18th. A schoolteacher and some of her students were picking fruit on a mountain when they saw a Wildman walk past them and up a hill. Several large-scale investigations were then launched in Hubei over the next couple of years, but none of the investigators found anything more than samples of hair, feces, and 18-inch footprints.

In January 1999, after decades of searching, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the Wildman didn’t exist. Some scientists have suggested that reports of the creature are just confused sightings of primates like the golden monkey or the gibbon. Cryptozoologists, however, believe the Wildman could be a descendent of the Gigantopithecus, a sort of 10 foot ape that lived in Asia and went extinct more than 100,000 years ago.

The Jiangshi, a Vampire Zombie that Moves by Hopping


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.

A jiangshi from the 1985 Mr. Vampire movie.

A jiangshi from the 1985 Mr. Vampire movie.

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.

Another scene from Mr. Vampire. These jiangshi were put to sleep by a Daoist priest.

Another scene from Mr. Vampire. These jiangshi were put to sleep by a Daoist priest.

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.

A man wearing a Qing-era costume.

A man wearing a Qing-era costume.

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.

An illustration showing what the method of

An illustration showing what the method of “transporting a corpse over 1000 li” looked like.

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.