List of supernatural beings in Chinese folklore
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The following is a list of supernatural beings in Chinese folklore and fiction originating from traditional folk culture and contemporary literature such as Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. This list contains only common supernatural beings who are inherently "evil" in nature, such as ghosts and demons, and beings who are lesser than deities. There are also ghosts with other characteristics. They are classified in some Chinese Buddhist texts.
Ba jiao guiEdit
Ba jiao gui (Chinese: 芭蕉鬼; pinyin: bā jiāo guǐ; literally: 'banana ghost') is a female ghost that dwells in a banana tree and appears wailing under the tree at night, sometimes carrying a baby. In some folktales from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, greedy people ask for lottery numbers from the ghost in the hope of winning money. They tie a red string around the tree trunk, stick sharp needles into the tree, and tie the other end of the string to their beds. At night, the ghost appears and begs the person to set her free. In return, she will give him/her a set of winning numbers. If the person does not fulfil his/her promise to set the ghost free after winning, he/she will meet with a horrible death. This ghost is similar in some aspects to the Pontianak/Kuntilanak in Malay and Indonesian folklore.
Di fu lingEdit
Di fu ling (traditional Chinese: 地縛靈; simplified Chinese: 地缚灵; pinyin: dì fù líng; literally: 'Earth-bound spirit') refers to ghosts who are bound to certain locations on Earth, such as their place of burial or a place they had a strong attachment to when they were alive.
Diao si guiEdit
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Diao si gui (Chinese: 吊死鬼; pinyin: diào sǐ guǐ; literally: 'hanged ghost') are the ghosts of people who died from hanging due to various reasons (e.g. execution, suicide, accident). They are usually depicted with long red tongues sticking out of their mouths.
E gui (traditional Chinese: 餓鬼; simplified Chinese: 饿鬼; pinyin: è guǐ; literally: 'hungry ghost') refers to ghosts that appear during the Ghost Festival. They are the spirits of people who committed sins out of greed when they were alive, and have been condemned to suffer in hunger after death. The e gui is usually depicted as having green or grey skin, a mouth too small for ingesting food, and sometimes with a potbelly. The ghost suffers from insatiable hunger and roams the streets and kitchens in search of offerings and decomposed food. These hungry ghosts consume anything, including excreted waste and rotten flesh. There are various types: some have fire-breathing abilities while others suffer from anorexia.
Gui po (Chinese: 鬼婆; pinyin: guǐ pó; literally: 'old woman ghost') is a ghost that takes the form of a peaceful and friendly old woman. They may be the spirits of amahs who used to work as servants in rich families. They return to help their masters with housekeeping matters or take care of young children and babies. However, there are also evil gui pos with disgusting and violent appearances.
Jian (Chinese: 聻; pinyin: jiàn; Wade–Giles: chien) refers to the "ghost" of a ghost. A story in volume 5 of Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio contained the following line: "A person becomes a ghost after death, a ghost becomes a jian after death."
The jiangshi (traditional Chinese: 殭屍; simplified Chinese: 僵屍; pinyin: jiāngshī; Wade–Giles: chiang-shih; literally: 'stiff corpse') is also known as the "Chinese vampire" even though it behaves more like a zombie rather than a vampire (in Western cultures). They are reanimated corpses that move by hopping around and they kill living beings to absorb their yang energy.
Niu tou ma mianEdit
Nü gui (Chinese: 女鬼; pinyin: nǚ guǐ; literally: 'female ghost'), is a vengeful female ghost with long hair in a white dress. In folklore, this ghost is the spirit of a woman who committed suicide while wearing a red dress. Usually, she experienced some form of injustice when she was alive, such as being wronged or sexually abused. She returns to take her revenge. A tabloid story tells of a funeral ceremony where family members of a murder victim dress her in red, in the hope that her spirit will return to take revenge on her murderer. In traditional folklore, the colour red symbolises anger and vengeance. On the other hand, some ancient folktales tell of beautiful female ghosts who seduce men and suck their yang essence or sometimes kill them. This type of female ghost is likened to the Succubus. Paradoxically, the male counterpart of a nü gui, a nan gui (Chinese: 男鬼; pinyin: nán guǐ; literally: 'male ghost'), is rarely mentioned.
Shui gui (Chinese: 水鬼; pinyin: shuǐ guǐ; literally: 'water ghost') are the spirits of people who drowned. They lurk in the place where they died, drag unsuspecting victims underwater, and drown them to take possession of their bodies. This process is known as ti shen (Chinese: 替身; pinyin: tì shēn; literally: 'replace the body'), in which the spirit returns to life in the victim's body while the victim's spirit takes the shui gui's place and constantly seeks to take control of another living person's body.
Wutou gui (traditional Chinese: 無頭鬼; simplified Chinese: 无头鬼; pinyin: wútóu guǐ; literally: 'headless ghost') are headless ghosts who roam about aimlessly. They are the spirits of people who were killed by decapitation due to various causes (e.g. execution, accident). In some tales, the wutou gui approaches people at night and asks them where his/her head is. The wutou gui is sometimes depicted as carrying his/her head on the side.
You hun ye guiEdit
You hun ye gui (Chinese: 游魂野鬼; pinyin: yóu hún yě guǐ; literally: 'wandering souls and wild ghosts') refer to the wandering spirits of the dead. They roam the world of the living in the Seventh Lunar Month (typically August in the Gregorian calendar) during the Ghost Festival. These spirits include vengeful ghosts seeking revenge on those who offended them before, hungry ghosts (see the #E gui section above), and playful spirits who might cause trouble during that period.
Some of these spirits have no living relatives or resting place, while others might lose their way and cannot return to the Underworld in time, so they continue to roam the world of the living after the Seventh Lunar Month. In Taiwan, there are shrines and temples set up for the worship of "You Ying Gong" (traditional Chinese: 有應公; simplified Chinese: 有应公; pinyin: Yǒu Yìng Gōng), a name which collectively refers to such "lost" spirits, in the hope that these spirits would not cause harm to the living. There are classified by some scholars from various universities in Taiwan. Some of these spirits may become deities known as "Wang Ye" (traditional Chinese: 王爺; simplified Chinese: 王爷; pinyin: Wáng yé; literally: 'royal lord').
The Chinese idiom gu hun ye gui (Chinese: 孤魂野鬼; pinyin: gū hún yě guǐ; literally: 'lonely souls and wild ghosts'), which describes such spirits, is also used to refer to homeless people or those who wander around aimlessly.
Yuan gui (Chinese: 冤鬼; pinyin: yuān guǐ; literally: 'ghost with grievance') are the spirits of persons who died wrongful deaths. Beliefs in such ghosts had surfaced in China from as early as the Zhou dynasty and were recorded in the historical text Zuo Zhuan. These ghosts can neither rest in peace nor be reincarnated. They roam the world of the living as depressed and restless spirits who constantly seek to have their grievances redressed. In some tales, these ghosts approach living people and attempt to communicate with them to lead them to clues or pieces of evidence that point out that they died wrongful deaths. The living people then try to help them clear their names or otherwise ensure that justice is served.
Ying ling (traditional Chinese: 嬰靈; simplified Chinese: 婴灵; pinyin: yīng líng; literally: 'infant spirit') refer to the spirits of dead fetuses. The idea of such spirits are purported to have originated in Japan. Memorial services are held for them in Taiwan. A writer identified as "Zuigongzi" (lit. "drunk gentleman") wrote an article on thinkerstar.com in 2004 to claim that the stories of ying ling were fabricated.
Zhi ren (traditional Chinese: 紙人; simplified Chinese: 纸人; pinyin: zhǐ rén; literally: 'paper person') are dolls made from paper that are burnt as offerings to the dead to become the deceased's servants. These dolls usually come in pairs - one male and one female - and are sometimes called jin tong yu nü (Chinese: 金童玉女; pinyin: jīn tóng yù nǚ; literally: 'golden boy and jade girl'). These dolls are not exactly spirits by themselves, but they can do the bidding of their deceased masters.
Zhong yin shenEdit
Zhong yin shen (traditional Chinese: 中陰身; simplified Chinese: 中阴身; pinyin: zhōng yīn shēn; literally: 'intermediate yin body') refers to a spirit in a transition state between his/her death and when he/she is reincarnated, as described in Mahayana Buddhism. This period of time is usually 49 days.
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